Monday, September 10, 2018

T.A. Franks on Trump

Finally getting a lot closer to the real Trump. Not any kind of dictator, and not simply because he can't implement what he talks about. When he talks, he is often blowing off steam, knowing there are people out there who agree with him. He hasn't made move number one to restrict the press, trigger the impeachment of judges, or any of the terrible things he's been accused of dreaming about.

Closer to the truth: he was surprised himself at how he hit on a populist message that worked in 2016. He never had any idea how to implement, say, immigration reform, or even how to hire people who would do it. As Kaus says, the unstated thought is that Trump cares more about the McConnell/Ryan/Jeb Bush agenda, including tax cuts, than he does about the "Trump" agenda. In this light his successful attacks on Jeb may have been dishonest, but you could say the Republicans won the election, to some extent with the President running against mainstream Republicans, and then the mainstream Republicans are harvesting the victory. I would just say that except for the rather remarkable 2016 campaign, and Trump's remarkable tweets and utterances, Trump is a pretty ordinary guy of his age and background. (He actually has a sense of humour; I've never been convinced Obama has one. Obama's speech "put me to sleep").

Trump has had little to do with today's campus and its progressive agenda. It's not so much that he's against it--people he likes, like Ivanka, can probably sell him on substantial parts of it--as that he's never heard of it and/or it bores him. He likes people who succeed in business; he likes generals; he probably likes a fair number of the people at the golf course. When he actually becomes President, he focusses on implementing the things these people like. The big, looming issue is that these people mostly like open borders, both for the cheap labour and for the gloss of humanitarianism and historical progress you take on. Mainstream Republicans also like open borders, and they're hoping they can work with Dems in Washington to pass basically unpopular measures. Dems are at least smart enough to know that open borders is unpopular with a lot of people who were born in the U.S.; their hope is that the new people will vote for them. It's not clear the mainstream Republicans have thought this through. The Pentagon also likes open borders--they see diversity within the forces "at home" as a mirror to waging wars in fifteen countries at once, for decades if you feel like it. You can kill and maim a lot of people as long as you're not doing it in a blatantly racist way. And by the way, don't draft anybody. War is good business for the Pentagon. It's likely now that they're ginning up another fake chemical attack in Syria, to justify another real attack on Syrian civilians. One would think a successful military requires some kind of "nationalism," or patriotism tied to specific borders. With a free trade and open borders agenda, however, progressives might simply see the need for a "world police" to attack the worst regimes--the ones on which there aren't two or more sides, there is only one side. The U.S. military might do.

Franks acknowledges there may still be a re-alignment of parties underway, even if Trump doesn't lead it effectively. There is at least a debate about immigration in Washington, and it is pretty much entirely owing to Trump. Same with tariffs, or more generally trying to ensure that every trade and security arrangement benefits the U.S.

The Tea Party showed signs of aging boomers, no longer feeling like winners, wanting tax cuts, less government, a conservative approach to social issues and then (somehow) saving Medicare and Social Security (but probably opposing Obamacare). This didn't necessarily add up, the people who were prepared to run as Tea Partiers often seemed erratic (Sarah Palin), so the Dems and mainstream Republicans were successful in portraying this whole thing as crazy. They kept the "evil" card ready to be played at any time, but in a way they didn't need it. With Trump they seem to need to play both the crazy card and the evil card, and it is not working as well as they would hope. Trump is almost inadvertently acting on social issues by way of judicial appointments, and he has apparently saved some entitlement programs when his advisors wanted to cut them. We're supposed to follow the rule of "no whataboutism," and Scott Adams says the use of analogies is not thinking, it just feels like thinking. Still, examples can be compared. Franks mentions previous presidents saying stupid or crazy things in anger, and then being glad when it turns out no one took the indicated actions. Trump is not the first. On erratic policies leading to a possible re-alignment, I would mention the sainted FDR. He ran on a balanced budget in 1932 (the incumbent Hoover knew this was ridiculous). Hoover favoured "public works" as a way to put the unemployed to work, and get cash flowing through the economy; he opposed "relief," or outright welfare for the unemployed. FDR probably never entirely abandoned this approach, but he inspired more confidence that he was going to do something for "everyone." FDR created so many government agencies, including some that were "make work" projects for intellectuals and artists, that he was suspected of encouraging the idea that all good things came from government. He revealed his humanity, or his Americanism, by abolishing almost as many agencies as he created. If they weren't working well, or they generated too much controversy, abolish them. Out of all this came what seemed to be a clear alignment of parties. Republicans: what is good for business is good for America, since it is business that can be counted on to create jobs, and to respond to changes in the market, and changes in technology, much more flexibly than government can. Tax cuts, skepticism about government programs, especially welfare. Single-payer health care is attacked both because it is bad for doctors, who are seen as entrepreneurs working to bring the latest discoveries to patients, and because it resembles a kind of undeserved welfare for the poor. Democrats: the welfare state has proven to do more good than harm. Anyone who denies this, or restricts the welfare state's growth, must hate the poor, visible minorities, women, etc. The party division wasn't this cut and dried in the 1930s.

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