Early Returns

What Trump and the Republicans Don't See Coming

The next Ebola or Zika is always around the corner. Plus, Jonathan Bernstein's morning links.

Want to be scared? Try Reid Wilson on the dangers of a new epidemic, how U.S. policy helped ward off the Ebola and Zika disasters (or at least bigger disaster), and how U.S. policy might make the next wave worse.

This threat is in the news because Wilson, an excellent politics reporter, is promoting his new book on Ebola. What about all the other potential sources of trouble that we're not currently aware of? 

The Republican Party is dysfunctional in ways that make it hard to govern well, and Donald Trump is unusually bad at the job of president. And yet, 15 months into his presidency and Republican unified government, the world obviously hasn't caved in. Oh, sure, there are problems, and those who oppose Republican policies will point to all sorts of bad effects they expect to show up down the road in everything from climate to banking -- and they may be correct! -- but there are always trouble spots. With the exception of hurricane relief in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, it's hard to argue that we are seeing any obvious, visible effects of poor government. 

And yet Wilson reminds us that a whole lot of the important things that government does are invisible to us normally because they consist of preparing for a wide variety of troubles that may or may not happen. The problem with assessing government is that failures in preparation and prevention can be invisible right up until the minute that the earthquake hits or the stock market crashes or a foreign crisis breaks out. Sometimes a president will actively cause major problems (e.g. George W. Bush in Iraq) but most of the time it's more a case of agency after agency becoming less prepared, less adept and less capable. Think Jimmy Carter's presidency and a general inability of government to handle ordinary problems. 

In other words, it's not just good foreign policy that's invisible. Plenty of good domestic policy can't be seen, either. Except that in both cases, bad policy can be extremely hard to observe up until the point at which it matters, and then all of a sudden it's very obvious to all. So the trick is to resist the easy conclusion that the world hasn't imploded yet and look for clues to distinguish between the good kind of invisible and the kind that's inviting future risks. And that's really why people should be concerned about the rampant corruption among Trump's executive branch nominees, the general chaos in the White House, and the ad hoc policy-making in trade and other policy areas in response to whatever Trump happens to see on Fox News. They're all strong signals that this is an administration and a government that isn't ready for whatever is coming. 

1. Christopher Baylor on Republicans after Trump

2. Madiha Afzal on schools in Pakistan.

3. My Bloomberg View colleague Eli Lake on U.S. options in Syria

4. Jamelle Bouie on Democrats and civil rights. Good piece. I'd emphasize a few additional things: One is that 1948 was only one key turning point; perhaps even more critical was the decision to end the two-thirds rule in 1936 and with it the full rule of the South over the Democratic Party. Another, which applies to 1936, 1948 and all the other key dates on the way to civil rights and the modern Democratic Party, is that it's important not to ignore the role of black Democrats in this intraparty struggle. Yes, some of it was fought by white altruistic liberals. But the northern Democratic Party was integrated, and included (as it still does) black Democrats who were very much fighting for their self-interest -- and who carefully forged alliances with other party groups to win the day. The idea that Hubert Humphrey and other white civil-rights liberals were just do-gooders is inaccurate. 

5. George Will on allowing felons to vote.

6. And John Harwood on Republicans and trade

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This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

    To contact the author of this story:
    Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

    To contact the editor responsible for this story:
    Brooke Sample at bsample1@bloomberg.net

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