Trump’s Speech to Congress was Better Than Expected, But He Didn’t Address Systemic Problems like the Federal Debt:Posted: March 2, 2017
I was pleasantly surprised by President Trump’s speech to Congress on February 28th, 2017. If I were to give it a letter grade, I’d give it a solid ‘B’.
Mostly because he stayed on-teleprompter and I could tell that whoever had sway in the content of Trump’s speech tried to be more aspirational and ‘presidential’ in tone.
Judging by this standard (and lower expectations), Trump’s speech was a success.
But make no mistake: Trump is still Trump, and one good speech isn’t enough to tell if this was more a one-off good performance or whether Trump has had something like a political Damascus Road conversion that months and years from now we’ll all be saying, ‘Trump’s first speech to Congress was the turning point’. . .
And while the moment where the widow of the fallen Navy SEAL received an extended (and very well-deserved) standing ovation was wonderful and genuinely powerful and moving, Trump’s policy prescriptions still leave much to be desired.
Political commentator Amanda Carpenter was right in pointing out the “Populism” of Donald Trump is very much like the “Compassionate Conservatism” of George W. Bush’s presidency, in terms of both being fiscally irresponsible.
And political commentator Ben Domenech’s point that if you’re a fiscal conservative, Trump’s speech leaving you feeling uneasy (to say the least) hits the bulls-eye.
When Barack Obama was campaigning for election in 2008, he said it was “unpatriotic” that the federal debt increased $4 trillion while George W. Bush was president.
But while Obama was president, the federal debt skyrocketed another $10 trillion dollars (does this mean Obama is 2.5 times more “unpatriotic” than Bush?)
The current federal debt is about $20 trillion dollars.
Trillion. $20 TRILLION dollars.
Think about that.
This is madness on stilts on roller-skates, and it’s unsustainable.
We’re mortgaging the future flourishing of Millennials and subsequent generations of Americans so this generation can feel good now.
It’s immoral and reprehensible.
Republicans and the Republican Party (at least some of its members) used to be known as the people and party of fiscal discipline.
But in the age of Trump – in the glow of victory and wielding power in Washington D.C. and ‘Make America Great Again’- will Republicans now become party to committing profligacy?
Is this how shallow and blinkered Republicans have become in so-called Trumpian ‘victory’?
Have Republicans and the Republican Party become the political equivalent of Belshazzar’s Feast, living high on the hog and sneering at reality until the handwriting appears on the wall when it’s too late?
Boy, I sure hope not, but the current signs are not encouraging.
On Thursday February 23, 2017, at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Donald Trump’s top adviser, Stephen Bannon, advocated for what he calls ‘Economic Nationalism’.
‘Economic Nationalism’ may sound innocuous, but in reality it is deeply misguided.
‘Economic Nationalism’ means the government picks economic winners and losers, instead of letting people compete for your business.
Another name for ‘Economic Nationalism’ is ‘Protectionism’, where the government ‘protects’ certain American industries it chooses from foreign competition by imposing tariffs on products made outside of the U.S. so the ‘protected’ industry can compete.
But government ‘protecting’ certain American industries also means Americans will pay more for products.
And the Americans most affected by rising prices caused by ‘protectionism’ such as what Bannon and Trump are talking about are the working poor – the folks who can least afford to pay more for things because of stupid government economic policies.
Watch Daniel Hannan, a British lawmaker who explains why ‘Protectionism’ doesn’t work and how free trade brings about higher standards of living for everyone in a free market:
Although I’ve been a registered Republican since 1980, I’ve never been a big political party man; for me a political party is a means to an end.
When Ronald Reagan won the presidency in 1980, he was instrumental in transforming the Republican Party into the home of conservative values, principles, and policies.
Since Reagan, the labels ‘Republican’ and ‘conservative’ were usually taken to mean the same thing.
No longer. Donald Trump, the Republican Party’s current leader, is the man who said, “This is called the Republican Party, it’s not called the conservative party“.
And now in the age of Trump, the Republican Party that used to be the home of rule of law, small government, free markets, and a certain modesty about the scope and competence of government has been up-ended.
Trump is wasting no time in making it clear he is no conservative, by openly advocating for and pursuing anti-conservative, anti-free market, crony capitalist, big government, president-centric policies.
Will constitutional conservatives in congress at some point find their voice and push back against the current Trumpian zeitgeist?
It’s a good question. Some conservative political pundits like radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt is currently busy hyping his latest book, ‘The Fourth Way – The Conservative Playbook for a Lasting GOP Majority’ where he lays out a road map for governance that if I understand correctly includes an attempt to integrate Trump’s populist/nationalist perspective with a more traditional constitutional conservatism he claims stands the best chance of giving the Republican Party a position of political dominance for the foreseeable future.
In terms of some policy box-checking and personnel, constitutional conservatives will likely find themselves in the dilemma of largely approving of many of Trump’s conservative-friendly policies and picks for the Supreme Court and other government positions, while strongly disapproving of his crony capitalist, protectionist economic approach that concentrates the economic benefits to a favored few at the cost of the many.
But for constitutional conservatives who believe that character is destiny, the wild card and area of greatest concern will always be Trump *the man*.
Peter Wehner, a conservative who served in the Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush White Houses said of Trump during the 2016 Republican primaries:
“I don’t oppose Mr. Trump because I think he’s going to lose to Hillary Clinton…my opposition to him is based on something completely different, which is first I think he is temperamentally unfit to be president. I think he’s erratic, I think he’s unprincipled, I think he’s unstable, I think that he has a personality disorder, I think he’s obsessive…I think the main requirement to be President of the United States isn’t where you check the boxes on policy…but it is temperament, it’s disposition, it’s the idea of whether you have wisdom and judgment and prudence. Not only do I think that Donald Trump is worse than Hillary Clinton on that score – and that is a low bar – I think he is worse than anyone I’ve ever seen in public life.”
Will good – or even superb – Supreme Court and cabinet picks, along with great policies like de-funding Planned Parenthood and strengthening border security, be enough to compensate for Trump *the man*?
I’ll let Wehner answer: “This isn’t going to end well.”
Please see this piece from American Enterprise Institute’s Mark J. Perry:
I’ve heard not a few of my friends and colleagues in person and on social media make the claim that Donald Trump is a “pragmatist” who, as a businessman, is only interested in doing “what works”.
But on closer examination, the claim that Trump is a “pragmatist” doesn’t hold up when it comes to economic policy.
It may be that because Trump is plain-spoken and a novice to political office that heretofore he hasn’t fully fleshed out and articulated his views and philosophy on economics.
But now with the presidential campaign and election behind us, it’s clear what Trump’s economic philosophy is: ‘Economic Nationalism’, also known as ‘Protectionism’.
Trump’s top adviser, former Goldman Sachs executive and former editor of the right-wing website ‘Breitbart’, Steve Bannon, describes himself as an ‘Economic Nationalist’.
But will ‘Economic Nationalism’ (i.e., ‘Protectionism’) ‘Make America Great Again’?
No. But it will benefit a few at the expense of the many.
It will also give Trump the opportunity to do what he loves to do: get in front of the cameras and talk up how his intervention saved a few hundred jobs here and a few thousand jobs there.
Interestingly, the relatively few that stand to benefit from Trump’s ‘Economic Nationalism’ appear to be those areas of the country where there was a high concentration of Trump voters (Obama did virtually the same thing with his ‘stimulus’, shoveling taxpayer’s money to folks who voted for him and donated to his campaign).
I am only half-joking when I say I’m considering putting together a GoFundMe drive to buy a few hundred copies of Thomas Sowell’s textbook, ‘Basic Economics’ and send them to the Trump White House and to Congress.
That’s because the bottom line of Trump’s/Bannon’s ‘Economic Nationalism’ is that it’s a recipe to ‘Make America Expensive and Poor Again’, not ‘Great Again’.
Remember when Trump said he’d release his tax returns?
Appearing on a Sunday show, Conway said Trump is not going to release his tax returns.
Speculation as to why Trump didn’t want to release his tax returns includes the possibility he isn’t as wealthy as he claims.
But more relevant than Trump’s ego is his unusual ‘bromance‘ with Russian strongman Vladimir Putin, a known thug and murderer who is arguably this country’s main geopolitical adversary.
In 2008, Donald Trump Jr. said, “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets” and “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”
By not releasing his tax returns, Trump broke a decades-long precedent where presidential candidates from both parties released their tax returns to the American people.
Understandably, Team Trump wants to change the subject, but the bi-partisan Senate intelligence committee is planning to interview senior Trump administration officials as part of its inquiry into Russian meddling in the US electoral process.
Trump was successful in blustering and playing out the clock on not releasing his tax returns before winning the election. Had he released them as he originally pledged he would, many of the questions now being raised would either have been answered or not raised in the first place.
Similar to how Hillary Clinton was dogged for months about her unauthorized email server, Trump’s refusal to release his taxes, his unusual praise for Putin, his son’s comments about “money pouring in from Russia” and other questions threaten to put a lingering cloud of troubling questions and uncertainty over the Trump administration.
I’m truly happy for the Carrier employees in Indiana who kept their jobs because Vice-President-elect Pence and President-elect Trump intervened to keep Carrier from moving their operation to Mexico.
But all politicians Pence/Trump did was put off the inevitable.
Largely because of ‘Creative Destruction’, a concept economist and political scientist Joseph Schumpeter coined in 1942:
“The opening up of new markets, foreign or domestic, and the organizational development from the craft shop to such concerns as U.S. Steel illustrate the same process of industrial mutation—if I may use that biological term—that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one. This process of Creative Destruction is the essential fact about capitalism.”
‘Creative Destruction’ describes the process in a free economy where constant product and process innovations and new production techniques constantly replace older, outdated, less efficient ones.
‘Creative Destruction’ is a big reason why we enjoy increasingly higher quality products and services at less cost.
Computers, big-screen TV’s, appliances, home electronics, automobiles, medical treatment breakthroughs – the list of inventions and innovations is virtually endless that have become widely available to society because of entrepreneurs and inventors being free to create new, better products and services that people want.
It would not be possible for a society to increasingly flourish with the ever-increasing quality in the products and services it enjoys if it also did not eliminate the older, outdated, less efficient ways of providing products and services.
And this is where Pence/Trump’s Carrier deal comes in.
It’s not for nothing that Carrier considered moving their operation to Mexico. Of course, there will be those who will say it’s because Carrier executives were greedy, etc, but more typically corporations think of taking action such as this because they’re trying to create and keep a competitive edge against others who are competing for customer’s business – in this case, it’s reported Carrier would’ve saved $65 million in labor costs by moving to Mexico.
What Pence/Trump did with this Carrier thing was they focused on the tree and lost sight of the forest. Yes, it makes political/short-term sense in that Pence/Trump could claim they saved American jobs and they got positive media attention and it gave them the chance to spike the football in the end zone.
But the forest is this: to survive, Carrier must successfully compete against other manufacturers of heating and air conditioning units. Pence/Trump’s action has the effect of putting off the inevitable, which is that Carrier must do what it must do to remain competitive, or they will become the part of the ‘Creative Destruction’ process that eliminates those entities that can’t or won’t successfully compete for customers.
Most everyone remembers the ballad of John Henry, a brawny man competing against the steam drill to drive railroad spikes. It’s a romantic song extolling the virtues and dignity of mankind against pitiless technology.
Any time there is some innovation, scientific breakthrough, or technological advance, it affects how work gets done, and hence it affects real human beings. For those making top-shelf buggy whips when the Model ‘T’ came along, it meant they needed to adapt, or perish. For those working in Blockbuster Video stores when Netflix came along, it meant they needed to re-tool themselves and find another job, because, ‘Creative Destruction’.
And this is where Pence/Trump get it wrong with their Carrier deal: they’re trying to keep John Henry on the job driving railroad spikes when there’s a steam drill than can do the job better/cheaper/longer/etc.
Instead of simply putting off the inevitable for immediate political and media gain, it would be wiser for government, businesses, institutions of learning/training, and individuals to recognize the reality of ‘Creative Destruction’ and re-tool themselves to become more adaptable, more able to respond to changes and disruptions, and modify the social safety net to more effectively respond to those in their time of need while avoiding the mistake of the safety net becoming a long-term safety ‘hammock’.
The future flourishing of our society depends on us answering these questions the right way. We citizens must always remember that regardless of whether a politician has a ‘D’ or an ‘R’ after their name, they flourish more by telling us what they think we want to hear, not what is the truth/what we need to hear.
‘Creative Destruction’ is the economic equivalent of gravity and the sun rising in the east. To continue to flourish, we need to fashion our societal institutions and personal values and behavior in recognition of this fact, regardless of what the latest politician wants to try to sell us.
Remember President Obama’s “If you like your health care plan, you can keep it. Period.” whopper?
That lie is what won Obama Politifact’s ‘Lie Of The Year Award’ in 2013.
Remember when Obama promised healthcare premiums would drop an average of $2,500 a year for a family? Good times!
Obama and his allies told the American people that already expensive doctors, hospitals, and prescriptions would somehow become less expensive by adding a layer of federal government bureaucracy to it.
No, really, Obama and his surrogates all told this to the American people with a straight face.
Now we’ve got the husband of one presidential candidate saying this about ObamaCare:
“So you’ve got this crazy system where all of a sudden 25 million more people have health care, and then the people who are out there bustin’ it, sometimes 60 hours a week, wind up with their premiums doubled and their coverage cut in half; it’s the craziest thing in the world.”
Meanwhile, the other presidential candidate (who ran as a Republican but has been a New York liberal Democrat most of his life) is on record of advocating for universal government-paid healthcare (now he’s talking about repealing and replacing ObamaCare, but doesn’t say with what).
Do yourself a favor and read/listen to Speaker Paul Ryan’s ‘Better Way’ play for health care reform at http://abetterway.speaker.gov/
Here’s Speaker Ryan talking about the ‘Better Way’ for health care:
Unless you’re happy with skyrocketing premiums, higher deductibles, and less choice in your doctor, hospital, or pharmacy, that is.
Up to you.