Gail Collins: Bret, I have to admit that when the subject of Donald Trump comes up these days, I tend to start telling sex-scandal stories. My bad.
Bret Stephens: Don’t let me stand in your way.
Gail: Right now, that very old Stormy Daniels mess seems to have produced some very scary stuff. Our former president is warning of “death & destruction” if the investigation into his cover-up attempts goes any farther. Yipes.
Bret: You’re referring to Trump’s late night social media post in which he warns of violence if he’s indicted by the Manhattan D.A., Alvin Bragg, whom he also called a “degenerate psychopath who truely hates the USA!” Truely.
Gail: Wow, you’d think by now he’d be a fan of spell check. And of course, we heard a lot about his innocence and Bragg’s “prosecutorial misconduct” during that long-winded speech he made in Waco on Saturday night.
Don’t know how much our former president knows about prosecutorial procedure, but he’s definitely got expertise when it comes to misconduct.
Bret: The way I read it, Trump is goading Bragg to indict. It would be an exceptionally weak case, resting on what is ordinarily a misdemeanor offense, one that the Justice Department and the previous D.A., Cy Vance, refused to prosecute. But an indictment would force every Republican, including Trump’s primary rivals, to line up behind him; shine a media spotlight on him that can only benefit his candidacy; and bring a lot of focus to bear on a left-wing D.A. whose priorities should be devoted to making his city safer from rising crime.
Gail: Taking one quick moment to point out that New York City has actually been doing pretty well in combating crime — in Manhattan, Trump’s longtime playground, the major crime rate is well below what it was in the 1990s.
Go on …
Bret: I think the more recent evidence is mixed. Shootings and murders are down from last year, but carjackings and robberies are up.
Gail: Let me interrupt again to point out that the states with the biggest soaring-crime problems are mainly southern and quite red. Continue ….
Bret: True. Also true is that, in 2021, not one of the 10 large cities in America with the highest homicide rates had a Republican mayor.
Back to the potential indictment. If I didn’t know better, I’d be tempted to think Bragg was secretly working for Trump’s re-election, though he just strikes me as being out of his depth.
Gail: Can’t argue Bragg has proved himself a prosecutorial genius so far. If you look at the bad stuff Trump has done in Manhattan, it’s amazing he hasn’t been indicted earlier.
But Bret, I feel obliged to move on to some non-Trumpian subject. Congress! Think they’ll ever manage to come up with a budget before the big deadline?
Bret: Gail, what I think this country really needs is to default on the federal debt right around the time we have a banking crisis.
Bret: Kidding! I think there’s a deal out there that looks something like this: House Republicans agree to raise the debt ceiling. The Biden administration returns unspent Covid funds. Both sides agree to higher Pentagon spending, especially to replenish inventories depleted by the war in Ukraine. The Supreme Court strikes down President Biden’s student-loan forgiveness plan at the end of June. And if all else fails, the government gets funded through a continuing resolution.
Gail: Don’t buy the Supreme Court part.
Bret: But the thing that mainly has me scared, Gail, is the state of the economy. A banking crisis is sure to hurt nearly every corner of the economy.
Gail: That’s why I like Biden’s approach about spending government money to buoy the economy, then penalize as many of the banking villains as possible.
Bret: For the banking villains, I think we’d probably have to start with the Fed chairman, Jay Powell, who kept interest rates too low for too long and thereby encouraged a lot of magical thinking that rates would stay low forever.
Gail: Hey, no fair! You always start with the Fed …
Bret: I’d also have to put Janet Yellen, the treasury secretary, in the dock for telling us she didn’t expect inflation to persist, and for bailing out all the wealthy Silicon Valley Bank depositors who should have lost their shirts. And then there were all the Covid big spenders, in both the Trump administration and this one, who poured so much money into the system that it helped spark inflation — aided and abetted, of course, by supply-chain bottlenecks and Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
Anyone I miss?
Gail: Well, you missed that part about the anti-vaxxers who helped keep Covid spreading — wouldn’t have had to do nearly as much spending if there hadn’t been so much Covid.
And while I’m not going to the mat with you on Yellen right now, I truly don’t think we’d be in better shape if she had just let all the Silicon Valley depositors tank at that precise moment in time. Totally happy with going after them over the long haul.
Bret: The management of the bank didn’t exactly cover itself with glory. Same deal with First Republic, where relatives of the chairman were taking multimillion dollar fees as consultants. If I were the chief executive of any bank today, large or small, I’d immediately announce that I wouldn’t take a bonus, would never hire a relative and would cut whatever my salary is in half, at least until the bank proved capable of surviving this storm.
Gail: Bret for Banker-in-Chief! But before the phones start pinging, let’s go back to Congress for a minute. Do you agree the Republicans are just afraid to negotiate a budget deal? Because their base would kill them if they came around to anything … sane?
Bret: At this point, Gail, I think the caller is inside the house. Or House. Kevin McCarthy and the rest of the Republican leadership has as much to fear from Lauren Boebert, Matt Gaetz and their ilk as they do from the so-called base — most of whom probably aren’t looking too closely at the terms of any potential deal.
Speaking of Congress, did you follow the TikTok hearings?
Gail: Well, it was hard to miss all that yelling. Bret, I think the whole internet communications revolution is hugely important and frequently worrisome. But I can’t say I ever blamed the Chinese. You?
Bret: I definitely blame the Chinese government.
It’s bad enough that Amazon, Meta and pretty much every other digital company extract reams of data from their customers with only the minimum of consent; at least those companies are regulated by a free government and exposed to a free press. TikTok can extract the same data at the behest of a repressive Chinese government that keeps proving itself utterly untrustworthy when it comes to intellectual property, so why should they behave any better with personal data?
Gail: OK, you’ve won me over. I promise to fret about China.
Bret: I’m with the Biden administration on this: Either TikTok’s parent company sells it to an American owner, or we shut it down. Maybe it will even get our 12-year-olds to read a book or two instead of trying to go viral with stupid videos.
Gail: Somehow, I don’t think an American-owned TikTok would be trying to turn the nation’s 12-year-olds into denizens of the library.
Bret: Fact check: True.
Gail: Now, onward — Medicare! I’m sure you saw our colleagues’ coverage of the Biden administration’s plan to lower payments to private health insurers through Medicare Advantage. The health care industry is going nuts.
I’ve always been a fan of more activist oversight on this front. Any thoughts?
Bret: I’m no expert, and I’m always in favor of curbing waste and fraud in the system, of which there is always too much whenever the federal government is involved. But maybe one of our knowledgeable readers would like to explain how what the Biden administration is proposing doesn’t end up in higher premiums and fewer benefits. No medical system will ever square the circle of accessibility, affordability, solvency and quality. Just ask the Brits, whose beloved National Health Service is falling apart.
I’m sometimes tempted by the logic that people should voluntarily not seek extraordinary medical care after a certain age, like 80. Tempted — but not persuaded.
Gail: You’ll be hearing from the increasingly large number of friends I have who are over 90 …
Bret: Not to mention my mother.
Gail, before we go, our readers really mustn’t miss John Leland’s wondrous story from the Metropolitan section about the house at 64 East Seventh Street, which is the subject of a song cycle by several artists in collaboration with the writer David Hajdu. Over the years, the building housed everything from a pro-Communist newspaper to a literary hangout for the likes of Allen Ginsberg to a macrobiotic restaurant where Yoko Ono waited tables and apparently made a mean salad to a bookshop that attracted the likes of Lou Reed and Marianne Moore.
Like cats, Manhattan townhouses have nine lives, and when I’m wandering through the village or Chelsea I often find myself wondering about all the stories each building could tell. Rooting for this biography of a building to become a recurring Times feature.
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