The Republican National Convention is over. I didn’t blog about it; I spent the week without computer access, and now the Democratic Convention is happening. But I thought I’d offer some thoughts about the Republicans, by way of catching up.
It was a fearful convention. The speeches were full of fear; the appeal was almost entirely emotional. People are scared. My parents were in town recently, and when we talked politics I could sense their fear, not for themselves particularly, but for their grandchildren and great grandchildren. Everyday, we see it on the news; another mass shooting, another terrible terrorist attack. We feel vulnerable. A night club attacked, an airport, a public rally in a park. It’s not surprising that a political candidate would base his appeal to voters on those feelings. “We live in dangerous times. I promise to make you safe.” That’s an effective approach for a politician to take in these dark times. And Donald Trump’s nominating speech, the most important of his political career, played to fearful voters.
In addition, Hillary Clinton, Trump’s opponent, is not well-liked or trusted. It makes sense for Republicans to go after that vulnerability. But the tone grew uglier and uglier, with repeated called for her to be jailed, most especially in completely over-the-top speeches by Rudy Giuliani and Chris Christie. Honestly, watching the convention, I was afraid for her. I thought that if she had shown up to the convention, she would have been physically unsafe.
I understand why the appeal to voters was so dark, so authoritarian, so full of dark forebodings and portents. It’s important to emphasize that Trump’s speech was specifically factually inaccurate. When he said “decades of progress made in bringing down crime are now being reversed by this Administration’s rollback of criminal enforcement,” that’s factually untrue. Violent crimes are down, not up. The Obama administration has not ‘rolled back’ criminal enforcement. Trump may have plugged into real feelings people have, but those feelings have no basis in fact. When he said “nearly 180,000 illegal immigrants with criminal records, ordered deported from our country, are tonight roaming free to threaten peaceful citizens,” he’s essentially making things up. No such threat actually exists.
But politicians need to respond to feelings too. I’m not attacking Republicans for addressing the genuine fears that their voters do seem to feel. Polling shows that voters generally feel like the country is on the wrong track right now. I don’t necessarily see that as a rejection of President Obama, who is quite popular right now. I think people are furious at gridlock, at a Congress that seems incapable of compromising or governing, at the ideological divide. That said, I would have appreciated a bit more emphasis on policy. What specifically will President Trump do, if elected?
We know a few things. He wants to build a wall between the US and Mexico. He intends to deport undocumented workers. He plans to prosecute the war against ISIS more vigorously. But what else? Granted that his speech was light on policy specifics; still, we can make some educated inferences.
“I have a message to every last person threatening the peace on our streets and the safety of our police: when I take the oath of office next year, I will restore law and order our country.”
Law enforcement is almost entirely a local and state matter. The FBI investigates certain federal crimes, but they represent a tiny fraction of crimes committed. The only real way that the President can ‘restore law and order’ would be for him to declare martial law. If that’s not what he intends, he needs to clarify.
“We are going to defeat the barbarians of ISIS.”
He makes three specific proposals; to improve our intelligence-gathering in the Middle East, to work with allies, and “we must immediately suspend immigration from any nation that has been compromised by terrorism.’ The first two involve efforts the Obama administration is already doing. The third requires clarification; what does he mean ‘any nation compromised by terrorism.’ After the convention, he clarified. He meant nations like France. France.
“I am going to turn our bad trade agreements into great ones.”
In other words, he’s going to renegotiate trade deals. Specifically, he’s going to renegotiate trade deals with China, Mexico, South Korea, and the EU. This will almost certainly result in trade wars. Cycles of retaliatory protectionism rarely work out well, and even have a tendency to turn into real life shooting wars. Either way, they will not and do not result in economic growth. Expect another recession.
“I have proposed the largest tax reduction of any candidate who has declared for the presidential race this year.”
It’s very difficult to know what exactly the Trump tax proposal entails. As soon as his economic plans are scrutinized, he tends to change them. Still, he has made a proposal specific enough for the Urban Brookings Tax Policy Center to analyze it. Here goes.
Currently, the tax code has seven brackets. He would reduce those to three: 10%, 20% and 25%. He would raise the standard deduction to $50,000 (married filing jointly), and lower capital gains and dividends. The corporate rate would be cut to 15%.
This proposal is almost comically regressive, and would add trillions to the deficit. Rich guys would benefit tremendously. It’s not a serious proposal. William Gale, co-director of the TPC, calls it “pie-in-the-sky nonsense.” To be fair, Trump has also said that this would merely be the starting point for further negotiations with Congress. Otherwise, this proposal would be ruinous for the US economy.
In his speech, in other words, Trump’s nomination speech, the most consequential of his political career, didn’t just appeal to fear and hatred and other negative emotions. It has policy implications. And the policies he either espouses or suggests are uniformly unworkable. A political campaign needs to appeal to the mind as well as the emotions. I would suggest that Trump fails both tests.