Like a barrel thrown to the whale, the people were to be amused with fancied amendments, until the harpoon of power should secure its prey and render resistance ineffectual. [Samuel Bryan], Centinel No 19 (Philadelphia) Independent Gazetteer, October 7, 1788.

It’s only days into the Trump administration, and already the flurry of actions and reactions has proved almost too much to absorb. Several columns, however, suggest at least one way to keep focused on what matters in the days ahead. 

Calling Trump a master of the “weapon of mass distraction,” the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank yesterday warned against Trump’s inclination to throw the proverbial “dead cat” on the table in order to change uncomfortable conversations about more important aspects of his policy initiatives, a theme he returned to as investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election dominated the news. As an animal lover myself, I prefer Herman Melville’s analogy of throwing the tub to the whale. Either way, when Trump says or does something outrageous, more serious actions tend to be lost in the fog of reporting.

Gail Collins’s column today raises an intriguing possibility about what this might mean. While it’s obvious that Trump is acting on his most prominent campaign promises, other issues that were never part of his appeal seem to have become part of his agenda, among them as Collins notes, anti-abortion.  Collins attributes this part of Trump’s frenetic activity to the vice president, assuring that she will get the president’s attention by concluding that Trump “has only gone on this anti-reproductive rights bender because he’s under Mike Pence’s Thumb.” Collins may be using provocative language as part of her established mode of writing, but there’s a larger lesson here.

As the new administration embraces a far right agenda, it’s a legitimate question to ask who is calling the shots and with what consequences?  Much of what Trump wants to do will add to budget deficits, a certain cause for friction within the GOP unless expenditures promised for homeland security and national defense, among other hikes, are balanced by cuts in programs. Handily, a blueprint for such cuts already exists, thanks to the Heritage Foundation, and it’s draconian. In the past few days, alarms have spread, following a report from The Hill, that the new administration plans to zero out funding for the national endowments for the arts and humanities. Not reported was that the source of that information in the Heritage budget outline also includes zeroing out funding for public broadcasting and a whole lot more.

In the days leading to the election, a host of conservative columnists wrung their hands about the likely breakup of the GOP in the aftermath of Trump’s defeat.  With his election, the party has clearly determined to get its own agenda implemented. No black cats there. In fact, it might work to the advantage of GOP majorities in Congress to have the president distract the public from what they are doing. They hold the pursestrings, after all, and this is one element of the looming political battles ahead that all of us should be paying attention to, whatever headlines Trump is generating.  

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