Saturday, January 28, 2017

My Qualms About the Trump Administration Have Little to Do with Those of the Left

I have my own qualms about the incoming Trump administration, so it takes a degree of mindfulness to discriminate between my concerns and those of people who seem to hate President Donald J. Trump for reasons that have little to do with mine, although, there is some overlap, which requires even more clarity on my part.

President Donald Trump

Unlike others, I doubt that Trump will abolish gay marriage. I know that people who are worried about such things do not want to be told that they are worrying about nothing, but the fact is that, as someone has pointed out, Trump is the first president to enter the office unopposed to gay marriage—in case you have forgotten, his predecessor, President Barack H. Obama, was officially opposed to same-sex marriage until the last year of his first term. “These cases have gone to the Supreme Court. They’ve been settled. And I’m — I’m fine with that,” Trump has said. And despite alarm-ism about Roe v. Wade being overturned, I will believe that when I see it. At most, Roe v. Wade might be narrowed from a federal mandate to a matter of state discretion, but even that seems far from Trump's genuine interest and, in any case, unlikely because at least seven justices on the current court would not allow it.

The false fears of so many of Trump’s opponents remind me of the stories of the Okinawans who, near the end of World War II, threw their children and themselves off of cliffs at the southern edge of their island rather than surrender to American troops. Japanese authorities had drilled it into them that if they were captured they would be raped and tortured by the Americans. The Americans actually treated surrendered Okinawan civilians with relative decency, which astonished the Okinawans, leaving many of them forever to blame the Japanese for their needless suffering, and the loss of family and friends who committed suicide because of the Japanese government’s false narrative. If it seems a bit steep to compare the experience of the Okinawans to that of Democrats ho are fearful of the Trump administration, consider the case of the man who tried to set himself on fire during the week before Trump’s inauguration.

Trump probably won’t abolish any departments (even though I personally think he should jettison a couple of them). Last time I checked, he had no plans to rescinded DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), which has allowed illegal aliens (I’m using the politically incorrect but accurate term, here) to stay in the United States if they came here before 2007, were under age sixteen at that time, and have legally kept their noses clean (disregarding the fact that they almost certainly have been guilty of numerous infractions just by being improperly documented while applying for schools, jobs and various services).

I am certainly not afraid that Trump is going to institute the policies of the Third Reich. No one will be forced to wear emblems of their ethnicity, culture or ideology—though I gather that many on the left would actually embrace the opportunity to show off their identification with whatever group they think they belong to.

I am equally doubtful that Trump is going to roll back civil liberties including the freedom of the press. I saw a video made by professorial leftist rabble-rouser and former Bill Clinton cabinet member, Robert Reich, in which he claims that Trump is a tyrant because he “belittles and intimidates” the press. It makes me wonder where Reich was when Obama belittled and intimidated the press. By Reich’s own definition, wasn’t Obama a tyrant when he spied on reporters or threatened news organizations that criticized him? The truth is that Trump and Obama have many faults in common including egomania and hostility toward political opponents—but not toward our actual enemies. Neither Obama nor Trump (yet) has opposed Russia, and each has made a foreign ally feel the president’s ire, Israel in Obama’s case and Mexico in Trump’s (more about that anon).

One of the memes that the late administration promoted, and which was parroted by an administration-friendly press, is that the Obama administration was remarkably scandal free; yet I can think of about seven scandals just off the top of my head. The press simply declined to cover these scandals or to call out the administration on their (often not subtle) cover ups. The press is already going after Trump in ways that suggest that he is not going to get away with the kind of highhanded behavior that Obama got away with. Trump is more likely to be over-criticized for things that are of no importance than to be allowed to get away with outrages. When Jesus complained of the hypocrite who strains at a gnat but swallows a camel, he could have been talking about today's American media.

While his left-wing critics fear that Trump is another Hitler, the new president’s protectionist economic philosophy is more comparable to that of Herbert Hoover who was president from 1929 to 1933. Like Trump, Hoover was a businessman who had not held an elected office before. When the country went into a depression less than a year into his administration, he started government spending programs and signed the protectionist Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act into law. The result was a deeper depression—and Hoover’s defeat in the next election.

Trump said in his inaugural address that “protection” will be good for our economy. By “protection,” of course, he meant protectionism, and by protectionism he means tariffs on imported goods. If protectionism turns out to be good for our economy, it will be for the first time in history. It did not work well for Hoover and is unlikely to work for Trump.

Sometimes, my concerns do seem to overlap with the concerns aspects of the Left’s, calling for that clarity on my part so as not to get my own concerns conflated with theirs. Take, for example, Trump’s linkage of political and trade issues in foreign relations. Trump himself seems unable to separate such issues as controlling immigration from Mexico with imposing tariffs on Mexican goods.

Trump takes business (and now politics) personally and tends to be reflexively combative in any negotiation. He currently is engaged in measuring penises with Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto rather than taking a position more conducive to negotiation. Trump thinks that throwing the other side of a negotiation off balance is always a good strategy, no matter who the other side is. The trouble is, Mexico is not actually an enemy and not much of a serious threat to American interests. The reason why Trump is tuning up Mexico’s president, presumably, is not anything to do with making Mexico actually pay for a wall between our countries, but has more to do with preparing for re-negotiation of the North American Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which Trump and his acolytes have it in their minds is responsible for America’s economic woes. They are wrong. There are many factors that have contributed to our economy’s lack of energy, but NAFTA is not one of them; yet it is an easy target of knee-jerk nationalists.

At the same time, Trump seems to be heading, at least in the short-term, for conflict-free talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who definitely is a threat. While it is absurd to believe that Trump is some sort of Manchurian candidate, somehow beholden to the Russians, it is troubling that he seems outwardly naïve about the threat Russia poses to American interests all over the world, not only in the Middle East but in terms of Russia’s rapprochement with China, which also threatens our interests and allies in the Pacific. (Why some Russians have, indeed, thought that Trump would be preferable to Hillary Clinton is not clear to me, unless it is because they believe that Trump is more of an unalloyed isolationist than Obama and Clinton have been; yet the two Democrats never mounted much opposition to Russian aggression or foreign intervention—and Clinton actually facilitated Russian acquisition of some U.S. uranium mines.)

Trump has said that the American taxpayer will ultimately not foot the bill for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. I have zero confidence that he understands economics well enough to be so sure of that. He recently made a vague claim that he will make Mexico pay for the wall through an indirect, complicated method, which he is not ready to explain. What is this complicated method? Is it tariffs on goods imported from Mexico? If so, then the American people will pay for the wall twice: once through our taxes and a second time when we pay higher prices for Mexican imports such as food, alcohol, electronics and clothing.

There is also a scheme that has been floated whereby money sent by Mexicans working in the U.S. to their families in Mexico would be taxed when it is wired across the border; this might work, but there is no guarantee that Trump will adopt such a plan, especially when he is obviously more enamored of tariffs.

The bother is that many taxpayers would be glad to pay for the wall through their taxes because they believe that it would benefit the nation as a whole. They would beg the president not to worry about making Mexico pay for the wall. That is an unnecessary goal, seemingly having more to do with the president’s ego than with any sound economic policy. Tariffs, on the other hand, do not benefit the whole country; they only benefit the particular American businesses that are the domestic counterparts of the Mexican industries on which the tariffs would be imposed. Tariffs would mean that American consumers would pay higher prices whether they bought Mexican or American. (The same goes for Trump’s threats to impose high tariffs on China and other trade partners; the only winners there can be from trade wars are the advocates of shooting wars.)

While conservatives and even libertarians claim that Trump’s proposed “trillion dollar” spending bill on infrastructure is different from the stimulus packages of presidents Clinton and Obama, others think it is too similar to its disappointing predecessors. (Obama himself noted that those shovel-ready jobs he had promised “were not so shovel-ready.”)

I do not get why the projects under the umbrella of Trump’s proposal are under the federal umbrella when some of them are already being financed and directed by state, regional and private interests. It almost looks to me as if the Trump stimulus plan would mean that the federal government will take over control of projects that are already planned, funded, and started by local authorities.

While proponents of Trump’s plan criticize Clinton’s stimulus bill for being “a grab bag of government spending projects includingpublic works expenditures… [and] funding for mass transit,”  Trump’s plan, so far (it has not been rolled out in its entirety), seems to fit the “grab bag” description. Trump’s proposal includes intercity mass transit in Texas and California, airport improvements in some states, and the repair of federal highways within state borders, which, theoretically, is supposed to be paid for by those federal airport and highway funds that have not been used for repairing airports and highways for decades. Why not just repair all of the federal highways and airports out of their respective funds instead of creating a new spending program to do it?

The title of Trump’s proposed package is to include the words “national security” and “infrastructure,” but none of the component projects named so far have anything to do with national security and several have nothing to do with infrastructure since they will be building something new (and probably unnecessary) rather than repairing what already exists. Maybe when the whole proposal comes out, its relationship to national security will become clearer. Will Trump’s proposal include the wall along the border (if it is ever built)? Will it include the reinforcement of our national power grid, which for a one-time cost of one billion dollars could be protected against an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack that might otherwise knock out power for the entire country for months or years? (I have never heard that Trump is interested in or even knows about this problem or the necessity of its solution.) At this point, all of these questions seem as murky as the question of why Trump’s federal package is even necessary.

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