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Pro-Trump, annotated

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On the 17th, the New York Times did an excellent service, turning over its editorial page to backers of President Donald Trump. That offered a useful counterpoint to the Times‘ own views, which have run deeply in opposition to the president over the last year, and prior.

Those of us who have asked over the last year, “What can they be thinking?” when it comes to Trump support got some answers here, as a page-worth of letters to the editor pitched the Trump case. They offer up a clear picture of what their side of the argument looks like.

One noted, for example, “Some of the many positive results of his policies are a booming economy, low unemployment (record low for black Americans), soaring stock market, lower taxes, the repeal of mandatory health insurance coverage.” You can read the whole thing at the Times site.

Those arguments can be broken down to 10 core, frequently-made points (and I’ll throw in a peripheral, less-mentioned extra), noted here in no particular order. But each of them also cries out for an annotation, which is also here.

1. “The economy is up … low unemployment (record low for black Americans), soaring stock market …” The economy is in fact doing well – now. It is doing almost exactly the same as it did a year ago, in the last year of Barack Obama’s administration, and in the years before that, which is to say that nothing much has changed. The point has been made that the stock market made better progress in the early Obama Administration (after a severe crash at the end of the Bush Administration), and the point could be made that a high stock market these days often has more to do with stock buybacks and employee layoffs than it does actual national productivity or prosperity. But the larger point is that many of the same conditions which led us to the 2008 crash are now – blindly – being brought back as policy choices. You say the economy is doing well today? Great. Stay tuned. We’ll see how long it lasts.

2. “foreign tyrants are afraid … putting real pressure on North Korea and Iran … stronger plans to prevent North Korea and Iran from using nuclear weapons.” Here we move into fantasy. Whatever else they are, the leaders of Iran and North Korea seem to be not in the slightest intimidated; they’re seeing, to the contrary, a president who can be manipulated with astounding ease.

3. “has largely defeated ISIS in Iraq.” The ISIS news out of Iraq is indeed excellent, but this is much like the situation with the economy: The military pattern from 2016 – which involved United States military backup, but not a primary combat role – was in general continued through 2017, with similar results; this was a matter simply of leaving a reasonable policy to run on autopilot. Almost any president likely would have done something similar. You can fairly credit Trump for not trashing it, but that’s about as much credit as is reasonable to give.

4. “the repeal of mandatory health insurance coverage.” Well thank God we’re not required to get health insurance! Who knows what that might lead to? What this provision, slipped in at the last moment (without, God forbid, any hearings or study of impact) likely will do is destabilize the insurance marketplace for us all – which would mean higher prices and reduced coverage. The point of the mandate is to spread risk widely; spreading risk is the point of insurance, period. The ACA may be flawed, but many of its critics seem not to understand even in the most general terms what insurance is or how it works. They should educate themselves about that.

5. “our embassy will be moved to Jerusalem.” There are arguments to be made, and some people have made them for decades, about why this might be a good idea; those seem to be heavily outnumbered by the arguments for why it seems more likely to exacerbate tension and conflict in the Middle East. But my point here goes to none of that. It is: How does the location of an embassy in another country benefit us Americans at all? What’s the benefit for us? Why is this something for us to celebrate?

6. “tax reform is accomplished.” This – the massive bill passed in December – is a fraud. It is not tax “reform”; to call it that is an abuse of the word. When passed, it was so haphazardly put together that even the legislators voting on it did not know what was in it, and there was no time for public exposure or comment. (If there had been, the bill surely would have died.) Beyond that, this comment from conservative commenter Jennifer Rubin: “A tax cut that grows the deficit and gives disproportionate benefits to the rich is a ‘win’ and ‘conservative’ because, because … why?” And those recent reports of worker bonuses and the like? Call it a diversionary tactic.

Update: The makers of Kleenex announce layoffs in late January of more than 5,000 nationally. And (in a tweet the next day): “Toys R Us closing 180 stores, Sears closing 63 stores, Kmart closing 45 stores, Macy’s closing 68 stores, Sam’s Club 63 stores closing, JP Morgan closing several branches.” I don’t blame any of that on Trump. But don’t bother telling me about the job-creating wonders of this tax bill.

7. “has named a number of solid conservative judges.” If you’re philosophically conservative, I’ll give you this one (which would have gone to any Republican elected president). But bear in mind that for a whole lot of Americans, this is a bug, not a feature. Whether this is good or bad depends solely on where you sit, and for a lot of Americans the verdict is not positive.

8. “has prioritized American citizens over illegal immigrants.” In terms of rhetoric, Trump has done this, in his fashion. But his approach has had the larger effect of setting Americans against each other. Many Americans have views nothing like the hard-anti-immigrant attitude at much of the core of the Trump base. And much of what we’re seeing from that core, egged on by Trump, is cruel and heartless. America has had, since before our nationhood, an ambivalent feeling about its immigrants, but never a president who has whipped up that feeling the way this one has. Actual changes in border crossings, actual practical on-the-ground effects (apart from instilling lots of fear among millions of people) have moved hardly at all in the last year. The emotional climate in the country has changed much more, and not for the better.

9. “has gotten us out of several bad international agreements … getting out of biased United Nations organizations.” Um, no, with the main exception of the Paris climate change accord (which imposed no hard requirements on the United States at all) and to some extent the Pacific trade agreement, he hasn’t. We’re still in the United Nations. And not much else by way of international trade has much changed. Foreign policy analyst Daniel Drezner points out, “In his first year, Trump can point to no new alliances, trade deals or favorable basing agreements. Trump obsesses (wrongly) about trade deficits, but they increased with both China and Mexico in 2017.” And, “The United States is losing its global standing because the world hates Donald Trump. Anyone who tells you differently is selling you something.”

10. “has removed a number of wasteful regulations.” We hear a lot about “wasteful regulations” but remarkably little about which regulations, exactly, those are. Of course there are regulations that impose needless cost or imposition, and we ought to be targeting and getting rid of them. But that takes effort, time and expertise, none of which have been in evidence over the last year. What we seem to be seeing is a mindless meat-axe, the results of which will come home to roost when we start to discover why those regs were crafted in the first place. Rubin again: “It is not conservative to favor reversing everything President Barack Obama did without regard to changed circumstances or alternatives. That doesn’t make Obama’s political legacy wonderful; it makes those advocating blind destruction without reasoned alternatives anything but conservative.”

A bonus argument: “and respect for the flag and the rule of law.” Sigh. Respect for the rule of law? Does this really even require a response? Really?

A brief but useful comprehensive rebuttal to all this comes from TV host Joe Scarborough. It’s worth a read.

Now as for the list of arguments against Trump, I’m afraid we’d need a list much longer than a top 10 . . .
 

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