I was in a physical therapy office, getting work done on my leg. Five different therapists worked on me, off and on, doing various things, attaching electrodes, fetching ice. Nice kids, most of them still in or just out of college, while the main therapist popped in and out as he supervised me and another half dozen patients in other rooms. And one of the therapists, a young woman, expressed her frustration over the recent Presidential debate. “They were just shouting at each other,” she said, sadly. “They just kept attacking each other. I don’t feel like I learned a thing about either of them.” And then one of them said ‘Mr. Samuelsen, you seem pretty smart. What do you think about this election?’ Another one chimed in quickly, ‘Don’t tell us who to vote for!’ and they all quickly agreed. ‘Just explain it.’
‘Okay,’ I said. ‘I’m not going to lecture. Just analyze. Let me know if this stops being helpful.’ Which they all agreed with.
‘Hillary Clinton,’ I said, ‘is an experienced professional politician. She’s served in both the executive and legislative branches of government. She knows how to use the resources of government to get things done. But she’s also aware that the two parties, Democrats and Republicans, don’t agree about much, and don’t get along. She knows she’s never going to get everything she wants. So she wants to improve peoples’ lives, but probably only in small ways. So she’ll try to pass a raise in the minimum wage. Obamacare doesn’t work very well, but with some tweaks, it could be a good program; she’ll try to fix it. She’ll work for a national maternity leave policy, so working women who have babies can afford to stay home for awhile and be with their children. She’s in favor of changing our energy policy to make it more environmentally friendly. She’s an incrementalist. She’s likely to be a solid administrator–her campaign for President in 2008 was a disorganized mess, but she learned from it, and this campaign runs smoothly and efficiently. She won’t fix a broken political system. But she might improve things in modest ways.’
‘Donald Trump is a revolutionary. He thinks the entire American political system is hopelessly broken; he wants radical changes.’
‘Is that why he’s so obnoxious?’ asked one of the kids.
‘That’s right,’ I responded. ‘His followers like that about him. They don’t mind that he can be rude and crude and impolite; they like the fact that he’s politically incorrect. If you’re going to be a political revolutionary, why not talk like one?’
‘So one big issue for him is international trade. Most countries negotiate trade agreements with other countries, setting rates for tariffs, for example. A tariff is basically a tax on imports. If you’re a businessman, and you want to import a product from another country, you rely on those trade agreements; you want to know exactly what your costs are going to be.’
‘Well, Trump hates all the trade deals America has with other countries, and he wants to get rid of them. He’s a radical; he thinks he can unilaterally, all by himself, renegotiate every trade deal every enacted. He thinks those trade deals don’t favor American businesses enough, and he wants to impose big new tariffs on other countries’ exports. He wants to blow up our entire trade policies, essentially.’
‘What would that do?’ asked one of the kids.’
‘No one knows,’ I responded. ‘It’s never been tried before, certainly not on this scale. Maybe it will really be good for the US economy. Maybe it will work out fine. But what if other countries retaliated with new tariffs of their own? That’s called a trade war, and trade wars are generally bad for everyone. They can even lead to actual shooting wars. That might not happen; nobody knows. It’s a revolutionary step. It might be dangerous. But it also might work the way Trump thinks it will. That’s the risk we take if we elect him.’
‘Trump wants to lower taxes, and especially tax rates for really rich people. That’s nothing new; most Republicans want to cut taxes. Reagan cut taxes, George W. Bush cut taxes. But Trump wants to lower the highest tax rate to 15%. Right now, the highest tax rate is 39.6%. That’s just a huge tax cut, unprecedented. It might be a disaster; it might drive up the deficit by massive margins. But it also might provide enough economic stimulus to pay for itself. Again, he’s a radical. He wants to try radical new solutions. They might work. They might not. Probably they won’t, but we don’t know. Nobody’s ever tried it before.’
Another pause. One of the kids said ‘so we’re really taking a chance if we vote for Trump. And Hillary may be less inspiring, but she’s also a heck of a lot safer.’ ‘I think that’s right,’ I said.
Another longish pause. And then one girl said ‘well, I think I’m a fairly adventurous person. But I don’t want to play chicken with the American economy.’ Another pensive pause, and then she said, ‘now, how do I explain to my Mom that I’m voting for Hillary Clinton?’
‘Don’t,’ I said. ‘It’s your vote. None of her business who you vote for.’ ‘You don’t know my Mom,’ she replied, laughing. And with that, a buzzer went off, and it was time for me to exercise.