Thursday, June 30, 2016

The United Straights

Donald Trump gave the closest thing to a policy speech during his campaign in what has been dubbed his "trade speech."  It really is more an anti-trade speech, as he constantly referred to all the trade agreements he would rip up, opting for bi-lateral agreements between favored countries instead.  He focused mostly on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which has yet to be ratified in Congress, but I suppose he would also ignore the EU and pursue direct bi-lateral agreements with select member countries, since he views the EU as a similar yoke around the neck of free trade.

The strange thing about his speech is that it echoed the trade speech Sarah Palin gave before a Milwaukee audience a few months earlier.  In that sense the recycled trash backdrop was very appropriate.  The only real difference is that Trump read from a tele-prompter while Sarah had some notes on the podium to guide her through her rambling discourse.

NPR graciously fact-checked Trump's speech, noting that many of the footnotes provided on his website linked to the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank often referred to by Bernie Sanders.  Seems Donald is making his play at Berniecrats, thinking he can outwit Hillary.

Donald stumbled over a few words, amusingly the United States at one point, quickly correcting himself.  Trans-Pacific Partnership appeared to be too much of a tongue-twister for him, so he constantly referred to it as the TPP, which I'm sure sailed over the heads of most of his audience.  The only Berniecrats were probably holding up anti-Trump placards in back.  What was even more amusing is that he cited the World Trade Organization and international trade law on several occasions to back up his positions.  The WTO is just as much anathema to the far right as the TPP or NAFTA.  For them, the only laws that matter are those in the good ol' "United Straights."  It's our way or the highway.

However, I suppose Donald felt the need to show that he could cite legislation as well as anyone, noting that he would invoke Article 2205 of the NAFTA agreement to pull out of this very bad deal, a clear reference to Brexit.  He pinned NAFTA to Bill Clinton and by association Hillary.  It doesn't matter that this was a deal drawn up by the previous George H.W. Bush administration and favored by Republicans in Congress, or that it has done nowhere near the harm to our economy that he implied.  The key here was to show that he is a man of action.  He would like to pull out of the TPP too, but given that it is not likely to be approved this year, it would have been better to say he wouldn't sign off on it.  However, that doesn't sound as decisive.

What we have here is another "decider."  Several times, Trump said he would use the full power of the presidency to push his policies.  A warning to those fence-sitting Republicans in Congress who have yet to give him their full support.  When it comes to trade, however, Congress has as much right to decide as he does, and it takes a concerted effort to get any trade agreement through Capitol Hill, even bi-lateral agreements, which he seems to think he can negotiate himself like his real estate deals.

It really is mind-boggling to listen to these speeches.  CNN cut it short and went to a table discussion.   Van Jones seemed to worry that the speech struck a populist tone that would appeal to a great number of Americans, by implication Berniecrats.   Trump's surrogate smiled broadly.  A former Romney strategist worried that all this would lead to a trade war, but Trump's surrogate poo-pooed this notion, saying it would only make us stronger.  Like so many of these discussions it went nowhere.  The panelists focused more on impressions than the substance of Trump's speech.  You have to turn to the Internet to find any detailed analyses.

Unfortunately, not many persons are going to fact-check Trump, or Hillary for that matter.  Their minds are made up and what they want to hear is a candidate who reinforces their positions.  This is where Trump does well, and now he is trying to expand his demographic range by making trade central to his campaign, equating bad trade deals with the slow growth and lack of good paying jobs in our economy.

He wants a return to the good ol' days when we had a 3.5 per cent GDP, not this measly 1.1 per cent we are currently experiencing.   It doesn't matter that the GDP is subject to fluctuations, peaking at 4.6% in July 2014.  He wants sustained high rates like China has, noting that all our woes began when we let China into the World Trade Organization.

Where before he was against high wages, he now advocates them, trying to appeal to Berniecrats once again.  Who knows, maybe he will even want to boost the minimum wage to $25 per hour, as that is what it takes to live in most states?  Of course, he never let himself be pinned to any specific figures other than some magical GDP rate he imagines us sustaining in perpetuity, evoking the mythical idea that each generation can double its standard of living.  We've basically flat-lined in this regard.

Of course, he offered the same caustic attacks against Hillary, claiming that she was for TPP before she was against it. implying that she and Bill cooked up NAFTA in the White House, and other such nonsense like Wall Street fat cats having "given her tens of billions of dollars."   He's the one who has benefited most from the banking and investment industry, which continues to float him in his development schemes despite so many going belly up.  Just ask Carl Icahn, his presumptive Treasury secretary.

It is shocking that CNN and other news organization continually refuse to call Trump out.  Rather they offer his former campaign advisers cushy jobs where they can promote their former boss with no remorse.  The television media has decided to thrust Trump upon us whether we want him or not, as he continues to pump up their viewer ratings, despite sagging in the polls.  Everyone loves watching a slow motion train wreck.

It is doubtful this speech will be remembered for anything more than its gaffes.  I would imagine, however, that he has raised even greater concerns among the GOP establishment as the trade deals he assailed were their own.  But, that's been his MO all along.  He's been playing a third of the GOP off against the other two-thirds to knock out its favored presidential candidates one by one.  How he brings the party together at the convention, much less the country to his side, remains to be seen.  Apparently, he has called on Mike Tyson and other "sports stars" to beat the GOP into order and in turn the nation.  Big Brother would be proud.

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