Trump Finds a Regulation That He Might Like

by Neil H. Buchanan

Is everyone a hypocrite?  In our personal lives, no one is immune to the occasional convenient flip-flop.  In politics, Democrats and Republicans often trade places depending upon whatever is happening at the moment.  For example, each side's high dudgeon over the other side's use of (or elimination of) the filibuster has made for great before-and-after sequences of clips on news and comedy shows.

Even though we are all hypocrites at various times, and even though politics is fueled by situational ethics, there are certainly people and groups who are better and worse at the fine art of hypocrsy.  Democrats have engaged in gerrymandering, but they support a system in which neither side could choose its voters.  Republicans do not.

Similarly, Democrats rely more than they should on wealthy donors, but they would thrive in a system with strict limits on plutocratic influence.  Republicans talk darkly about George Soros's supposed malevolent manipulations, and they gleefully screamed about Hillary Clinton's paid speeches, but they are absolutely committed to increasing the influence of big money in politics.

And of course, Republicans were against budget deficits until they had the opportunity to run deficits for their own reasons, whereas Democrats actually reined themselves in (even when increasing deficits would have been a good idea politically and economically) when they did not have to do so.

Even if everyone is a hypocrite, therefore, the current metastasized version of the Republican Party is simply better at it than everyone else.  Practice makes perfect.  I thus do not intend to claim that Donald Trump's latest hypocrisies regarding guns are a new low, because I have no way to measure him against his compatriots in comparative dishonesty.  Even so, his latest statements and actions are certainly both entertaining and scary.

In the surprisingly unsettled political environment after the Parkland mass murder, with seventeen people dead because a young man shot them with a legal assault weapon, Trump has been on the defensive.

The same man who responded to the Orlando nightclub massacre with macho talk about how it would have been "a beautiful, beautiful sight" if the club's patrons had shot -- "boom, boom, boom" -- the attacker between the eyes and bragging about how the shooting somehow made him right is now holding "listening sessions" and trying to figure out how to seem empathetic.  (He has not figured that out in 71 years, so a cheat sheet is the best he can do.)

Trump is also still deeply committed to his mutual love affair with the NRA.  Even while feigning sympathy for the victims and their families in Florida, Trump went out of his way to praise the gun lobby's leaders, calling them "Great People and Great American Patriots."

One of those objects of Trump's affection, meanwhile, made clearer than ever that the gun lobby is actually the reactionary grievance lobby.  "They hate the N.R.A. They hate the Second Amendment. They hate individual freedom," he bellowed, a three-sentence acid trip that somehow painted his unpopular lobbying group as angelic saviors of life as we know it.

It turns out that this is not ultimately about guns, however, because the NRA's biggest mouth says that it is all about fighting a grand socialist plot, "[a]nd oh how socialists love to make lists, especially lists that can be used to deny citizens their basic freedoms."  (Do not worry if you cannot follow the logic there.  There is none.)  Even as he and his followers have embraced paranoid fantasies ever more openly, the Republicans and Trump have moved closer rather than pulling away.

To the extent that Trump has shown any willingness to talk about substantive change, he is trying mightily either to do nothing or to make his paranoid backers happy.  He has thus decided to respond to gun violence by trying to arm more people, putting more guns in schools and fantasizing about an elite group of highly trained teacher-marksmen in every school in the country.

Trump said that the "right" number could be as high as 40 percent of the teachers in every school, but even if it were at the low end of his range at ten percent, he would be creating an armed force that would equal the total number of police officers in the country.  That would be a terrible idea on substantive grounds, and I am hardly the only one to have said so.

Unless we want to pretend that we can arm people and train them on the cheap, this would also be insanely expensive.  Trump's budget proposals certainly demonstrate that he loves anything that goes "boom, boom, boom," however, so he and his Republican enablers would surely be more than happy to prove their hypocrisy once again by wasting money, even though they have claimed endlessly that "Washington has a spending problem."

So Trump's gun-related hypocrisies include his belief that it is just fine to spend billions of dollars of federal money on something that has no chance of working, because it would make the gun lobby happy.  In some ways the more interesting hypocrisy, however, is his one attempt to back something that is at least a decent gun-control idea.  As minimal as it is, banning "bump stocks" might actually save some lives, because those devices radically increase the speed with which a shooter can dispense death.

Trump's hypocrisy is not in having apparently changed his mind.  (He will probably soon change his mind back again, but whatever.)  People change their minds all the time, often for very good reasons.  The Parkland murders might make even a semi-reasonable person see things differently, and there is no reason to disparage a change of mind for the better.

No, what makes Trump a hypocrite in his possible action against bump stocks is that he is insisting that it be done via executive action, specifically by having the Justice Department issue new regulations.  Why is that hypocritical, and even if it is hypocritical, is that such a bad thing in this case?

To answer the second question first, yes, it is a bad thing.  For one thing, going the regulation route is going to be time consuming.  Trump's order calls on DOJ to "dedicate all available resources to complete the review of the comments received, and, as expeditiously as possible, to propose for notice and comment a rule banning all devices that turn legal weapons into machine guns."  After the notice-and-comment period ended, however, further procedural hurdles would have to be cleared, and more time would pass (while more people needlessly died).  One might cynically suggest that this is the point, from the Republicans' point of view.

Why not instead ask Congress to pass a law that would make the new regulation unnecessary?  After all, Trump insists that he had to order an end to the DACA program (protecting the "dreamers" from deportation) because of Barack Obama's supposed executive overreach in creating that program.  (This has not stopped Trump from issuing dozens of his own executive orders, of course, most prominently including his lawless "Muslim bans.")

But the hypocrisy is even deeper, because Trump has been making all kinds of noise about how horrible regulations are.  He even ordered federal agencies to eliminate two regulations for every new regulation that is imposed.

Trump's Treasury has been bragging about "simplifying" people's lives by eliminating tax regulations, even though many of the repealed regulations were simply made moot because of changes in the underlying law.  The regulations had become pointless, and eliminating them is all well and good, but nobody's life was made simpler as a result of the elimination of a regulation that no one needed to comply with (or even think about).

Will that silly two-for-one rule apply here?  If so, what are the two regulations that DOJ will eliminate to make a bump-stock regulation possible?  If not, why is this regulation different from all others?

It is always entertaining (though unnerving, given the stakes) to watch Trump flail about in the face of his own ignorance and illogic.  In the end, his sudden infatuation with the smallest response possible will almost surely prove to be yet another lie.  Considering that this is all an elaborate ruse to avoid responding to the murder of children, however, it is an especially cruel lie.