Making America Great Again… on paper: Anything’s a victory if you tweak the rules enough

US President Donald Trump has once again opted to change the rules of the game he’s playing – this time, nuclear waste disposal – in order to guarantee the American people really do get sick of winning.
Trump has shown himself the master at redefining problems to seem like solutions, a skill he’s honed since becoming president – to the questionable benefit of the country itself.

After all, what’s a little strontium, plutonium, uranium, and americium among friends? Millions of gallons of waste stored at sites in Washington, South Carolina, and Idaho will be “upgraded” to “safe,” based on the level of radioactivity – though experts say this is not the deciding factor in how harmful a substance is. The decision nullifies states’ existing cleanup agreements – construction of a massive nuclear waste treatment complex in Washington, stalled in 2012, is unlikely to start back up if the government can just bury its nuclear waste in a shallow grave – and puts locals and the environment at risk. Already, the underground tanks holding much of the waste from weapons-grade plutonium extraction are leaky and their future precarious.

It’s hardly the first time salesman Trump has made the American people a questionable deal. Last month, the White House Office of Management and Budget proposed changing the formulas used in calculating its “official poverty measure,” which determines who qualifies for federal benefits and programs like food stamps, Medicaid, and subsidized housing. By tweaking the way in which inflation is calculated, this statistical trickery could boot millions of people off the welfare rolls.

But surely getting people off food stamps is considered a victory? Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, actually floated a similar proposal in 2014, only to be torn to shreds by his own party; Republicans, however, have thus far gone along with Trump’s attacks on what remains of the social safety net. With the official poverty level for a family of four set at just $25,900 last year, it’s hard to see how welfare recipients could survive on less – but then, that’s Trump’s point.

“Millions of able-bodied working-age adults continue to collect food stamps without working or even looking for work,” he complained in December as he signed an executive order mandating strict enforcement of work requirements for welfare recipients and suggesting a raft of possible reforms, which included encouraging private sector involvement and promoting marriage as a way to escape poverty.

Trump has long boasted of his deal-making prowess, nowhere more than in the realm of foreign policy. His most effective strategy so far has been to antagonize his opponent, seemingly to the brink of war – a Twitter exchange with “Rocket Man” Kim Jong-un, trading insults over the size of their respective nuclear buttons. Relying on the press to work itself into a lather over his hair-trigger “Twitter diplomacy,” Trump then dials the rhetoric back to ‘1’ and extends a carefully-camouflaged olive branch.

Trump’s entire reputation is built on this kind of conceptual sleight-of-hand, whereby a builder whose poor business decisions have led him to file for bankruptcy more than once made his name so synonymous with “rich and successful” that other builders paid to license it for their buildings. The idea of running a country by simply shouting “WE’RE WINNING” loud enough to drown out any objections seems laughable – but so far, Trump has been frighteningly successful in rallying his base to that cry.


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