I Love Trump: He Says What He Thinks

July 15, 2018

This is what one of President Trump’s supporters said of his recent trip to London. To be sure, a group of thousands protested him there. The media made much of how he failed to respect protocol with the Queen, and how he insulted Prime Minister May in his comments to the Sun, a respected British newspaper. Those comments were recorded and played back verbatim, making senseless his later denials that he said those things.

Yet, saying what he thinks is often a defense among Trump supporters. For those of us trying to be reasonable about a President who is highly objectionable, this kind of defense is exasperating. We hunger for something like this from his supporters: “I like his policy of America first because… {explaining how this will benefit us, addressing its negative consequences, such as trade wars, and explaining why it doesn’t matter if it hurts others in a needy world}. But, no. Often this is all we get: “We love him because he says what he thinks.”

There are two problems with his saying what he thinks: The lesser one is that what he thinks one minute can be totally inconsistent with what he thinks the next–as when he roundly criticized the British PM, and then later praised her the next day–over the same issues–trade. He has no stable set of principles or strategy. It seems that whatever  comes into his head at the moment is what we (and his staff) are left to try to sort out. In a world struggling for direction and predictability, this from the “leader of the free world” is far from comforting.

The second issue with saying what he thinks is that whenever he finally lands on a position, the opinion of millions of us is that what he thinks is not good for America or the world. Here’s a partial list of my own problems with what he thinks:

  • Focus on our trade deficit, when our savings rate is the real issue, and thus dragging us into trade wars destined to raise costs to Americans.
  • Moving our Embassy to Jerusalem without resolving issues with neighbors.
  • Backing out of the Iran Nuclear Deal, when other nations feel it is a good deal and is working.
  • Withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord.
  • Focusing on “bringing manufacturing back,” when the future of US work is in the knowledge economy.
  • Promising a “tax cut,” and then delivering benefit mostly to the wealthy, financed with debt.
  • Again, this is only a partial list.

He is rapidly losing any foreign support as the “leader of the free world.” That is being surrendered to Macron, Xi, Merkel, Putin and others, with some of whom he shares and admires strong man or dictatorial ambitions.

But, saying what one thinks apparently has appeal to millions. After all, this is a world where politicians and institutions have failed in many countries–failed to deliver prosperity for all, justice, fairness, and even safety, as some see it. This is a world where blunt criticism of the status quo is widely admired.

That’s all fine in the first stage of populism, which is where we are in the US and in Russia, Hungary, and many other nations, with many more moving dangerously in that direction–nationalism, objection to immigrants, and a desire to tear down existing institutions and dismiss the politicians who supported those institutions. So that is what Trump and others are doing–tearing down. Some periodic tearing down is good, as with eliminating regulations that are outdated or where benefits are outweighed by costs.  But Trump’s tearing down lacks an overall plan which does that.

Thankfully, second stage of populism is the critical part–after flawed institutions have been torn down. In this stage, the key is what replaces them, and what kind of leadership is chosen to take us into a future which can deliver shared prosperity and all the above–or at least an improvement over what caused all the discontent in the past.

This is not a role Donald Tump can play. He lacks a vision of the future which will make America or the world a better place. He’s just into indiscriminate tearing down.

PS. This writer is primarily concerned with the growth of inequality in the US and the world. I am driven to write about politics because what is happening, particularly in my country, is terribly troubling.  Understandable discontent is being stoked to anger against those not responsible and no plans for a better future are evident, two years into this administration. At the root of the discontent and the rise of populism, I argue, is inequality. If we had good jobs, rising wages, and reducing inequality, there would be less discontent, less populism, and less room for this kind of highly flawed leadership.

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