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In Praise of Trump? Not So Fast.


Recently, The New York Times (“in the spirit of open debate”) reached out to Trump voters who are happy with the direction of the administration. They printed responses from 15 supporters in today’s Opinion section. I will assume that this is a representative sample of Trump voters because either (1) these were the only folks who reached out to the Times or (2) more likely, the Times editors printed a representative sample.

So what are Trump supporters thinking? Some of their responses avoid specifics, but for the most part, the comments did touch on substantive policies. I’ve grouped them into the following categories:

The Economy

The Trump supporters said that the economy was improving, and they had praise for the recent tax reform bill (“taxes are down,” said one). They also were satisfied with low unemployment, the removal of “a number of wasteful regulations”, and the “repeal of mandatory health insurance coverage”.

Tough Foreign Policy

People were pleased that “ISIS has lost most of its territory”. They agreed with Trump’s support for Israel and moving the embassy to Jerusalem, tough policies against North Korea and Iran (“foreign tyrants are afraid”), ending “bad trade deals”, and “getting out of biased United Nations organizations”. Curiously, another supporter praised Trump for an “end to needless foreign wars”.

Tough Domestic Policy

The Trump voters weren’t specific, but they praised him for “respect for the flag and the rule of law”. Other voters mentioned that “the entrenched interests in Washington and both political parties are angry and afraid”, praised Trump for being “combative with Democrats”, and said it is “better to be feared than loved.”

Immigration

This may have been embedded in some of the responses I’ve categorized elsewhere, but several supporters did mention immigration (Trump “has prioritized American citizens over illegal immigrants”).

Court Appointments

Several voters praised him for his conservative appointments in general, while a couple of them mentioned Justice Neil Gorsuch specifically.

That screaming you hear is from the echo chamber—and you and I are all a part of it. We are uncomfortable hearing positive statements about the president, and we have a hard time thinking of him doing anything right. But let’s try to address the merits of the above arguments. Here are my counterpoints:

On the Economy: Yes, the economy is rising and unemployment is down. But as my son Tim said, “The economy doesn’t get better right away; it doesn’t work like that.” True. The seeds of economic growth were partly planted in the Obama years. Moreover, a lot of this is cyclical anyway; most countries are experiencing rising economies. I admit that stock market growth is benefiting me in the short run, and that my retirement portfolio is up. The question is, will this last?

Arguably, the tax reform bill will have a negative long-term effect; either the expiring tax cuts down the road will drag the economy down, or Congress will cave in and extend them, adding to deficits. Finally, while big companies are investing right now and celebrating a team of corporate moguls running fiscal policy, it is likely that the overall effect will be to increase the income gap, which is likely to have significant implications over time. In sum, we may be living high now, but what may happen down the road? Did anyone say “bubble”? “1929”?

On Foreign Policy: Yes, ISIS is on the run. However, it is not clear that this will have a positive effect on terrorism. I don’t see evidence of leaders in Iran and North Korea being “afraid”, and I think a number of citizens are more in fear of the president’s provocative statements. I am supportive of Israel, but one that true to its communal founding spirit. I am also supportive of an overall framework for peace and prosperity in the Mideast, which seems like an impossible goal for sure, but is even more remote with a presidency that is so one-sided. In sum, toughness plays well at home, but a one-sided America-first mentality will isolate us and cause us to abdicate any role as neutral peacemaker. Finally, by withdrawing from the TPP and kowtowing to China, Trump has greatly weakened our position vis-à-vis global trade.

On Domestic Policy: Yes, he’s tough. Or is he? Talking and tweeting are one thing, but making brave decisions seems beyond this president. He seems to base his policy on whoever talked with him last, and is in large part just another corporatist president. Some see him “draining the swamp”; I see him making sure that he and his get their enormously large slice of the pie.

On Immigration: I will concede that a president must put U.S. citizens first, but deporting people back to dangerous countries, targeting the “Dreamers”, and rounding up immigrants for minor offenses are too high a price. Moreover, acting tough on immigration stands in the way of a comprehensive approach, will not fix the problem, and will continue the cycle in which people keep risking their lives to come back over the border.

On Court Appointments: The Trump supporters are praising appointments that roughly 50% of Americans oppose, so I would not argue that this is good policy. Beyond the idea that Gorsuch should never have had an opportunity to be appointed and seems likely to push the Court in a retrograde direction, the lower court appointments have been laughably inept—a circus tent of ideologues and incompetents.

In addition, there are so many other priorities these Trump supporters don't mention--civil rights, the environment, voting rights, infrastructure development, and poverty reduction, to name a few.

Finally, there is the larger point of history. Precedent shows that representative governments do not inevitably last; they require sacrifice and leadership. Many of the Trump supporters admitted that he tweets and bullies too much; others were okay with such behavior. But character matters. By denigrating our institutions, praising racists, targeting the press, insulting perceived enemies, blatantly lying, and supporting kleptocrats and tyrants, this president and his supporters may be dragging us toward a future with less democracy and more dissension and intolerance. And as I’ve said previously, there is no guarantee that it can’t get worse.

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