America is Not the Greatest Country in the World Anymore

America is Not the Greatest Country in the World Anymore

by James Doogue

10 March, 2016


What do the Presidential candidates think of America? What are their key talking points, their ages,and outlook for serving a full term? What is Donald Trump’s strategy, and why he is getting so much support from the working classes?

This video from The Newsroom, a 2012 TV series, is doing the rounds again on social media. It is often promoted as the three most honest minutes in TV history.

Donald Trump is saying similar things to what Jeff Daniels’ character, Will McAvoy, was saying. Yet he is being savaged in much of the media for his slogan “Make America Great Again!

The chattering classes within and outside the media consider Trump a racist because they claim he has focused his campaign on illegal immigrants (primarily from Mexico), and controlling the entry of Muslims until they have a way of properly vetting them for security risks. This certainly appeals to people concerned about jobs and national security. But given that Trump is attracting more Hispanic votes than his opponents by a big margin, and many independent and Democrat voters, it seems that those who are allegedly the target of Trump’s “racist policies” actually support him.

If you listen to Trump’s campaign speeches, rather than the news and talk show sound bites, you get a much greater sense of what Trump is about. He talks a great deal more about trade and the economy, than about immigration and walls between the US and Mexico.

Clearly Trump thinks America is not great, but can be.

Meanwhile his major opponent, Hillary Clinton, says America is already great, and she said she wants to “make America whole again.”

Whatever that means, as if it ever were!

She seems to be spending too much of her time arguing why she shouldn’t be in jail for national security breaches or lies about her private server, or for ignoring security warnings about an imminent attack on the Benghazi consulate, lying about having received those warnings, and about refusing to send a Special Ops team who were on standby to save the Benghazi consulate staff, or for the lack of disclosure, and the obvious connection between millions of dollars in speakers fees paid to her husband, and financial and political decisions made by her State Department when she was Secretary of State.

On policy matters she has virtually said it will be more of the same as Obama, only better, because she is a woman! She will maintain ‘Climate Change’ as a number one priority. She has made noises about possibly re-negotiating NAFTA, but essentially supports it. And she tells the people she is a champion of the poor and supports black rights, women’s rights, and now LGBTI rights (though she is on record as saying she believed marriage is a bond between a man and a woman).

Bernie Sander’s official slogan I think is “A political revolution is coming.” Which I think he stole from Russell Brand, which is where he seems to get most of his ideas. Clearly Bernie does not approve of present day America and feels a revolution is in order.

But Bernie’s unofficial slogan is “Will I live another eight years? Let’s find out together.

That is a very good question because no one his age or older has ever survived a single term in the office of president. If elected Sanders will be 75 years at inauguration. In 1986, when Ronald Reagan turned 75, “Saturday Night Live” Weekend Update anchor Dennis Miller had a bit of fun at the expense of the President, who was elected at age 69.

I’d like to say a belated happy birthday to the President, who turns 7 … 75? Seventy-five, is that right? Seventy-five, and he has access to the (nuclear football)?” the comedian quipped. “You know, my grandfather is 75. We don’t let him use the remote control for the TV set!

Bernie Sanders would be 81 years of age at the same stage in his presidency!

Only five presidents were ever elected at age 64 or older. Two died in office in their first term, two only served one term, and only one, Ronald Reagan, who was six years younger than Sanders would be at inauguration, served two terms — but was pretty loopy in his last couple of years.

I am not picking on just Bernie with regards age. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump would be 69 and 70 at inauguration, so the statistics don’t look great for them either — at best they would likely be single term presidents. Statistically all three would have at least a 40% chance of dying in their first term, a 40% chance of serving only one term, and a 20% chance of losing their shit during any second term.

Bernie of course is a favorite with the liberals because he hits their sweet point, of giving them stuff paid for by other people.

Sanders says he has “very specific proposals” to increase taxes on the wealthy and corporations, offer tuition-free higher education at public universities, and pass a single-payer Medicare-for-All healthcare system.

He wants to heavily regulate financial institutions and large banks, requiring them to increase lending to “creditworthy” small businesses and consumers. As if banks are reluctant to lend to anyone creditworthy at present!

Sanders also wants to dismantle the NAFTA and CAFTA trade agreements and stop the Keystone XL pipeline. He also promises to legislate for a federal minimum wage of $15 an hour, paid sick time, paid vacations, and access to paid family leave. All this of course will damage corporate America, destroy jobs, and reduce Federal tax revenues. So who knows how he will pay for all the things he’s promised.

On abortion he says, “Let’s say it loud and clear: Women control their bodies — not the government.” Yet he proposes to federally fund abortion on demand. Which is really saying women control their bodies, but don’t have to take responsibility because the taxpayers will do that.

Sanders says he will “demilitarise the police”, which sounds like it may save money, but who knows what that will mean for the safety and security of the population. Not to mention the police, who are seriously out-gunned by criminals.

One point the Liberals don’t like to talk about too much is Bernie Sanders support for Israel. Most liberals are pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli. But I guess being Jewish means that Sanders says that he supports a two state solution, or at least, “the Palestinians have a right to a state, while Israel has a right to security.” Not that he has any pearls of wisdom on how to achieve that.

Sanders’ whole Middle Eastern narrative is basically to remind us that he voted against the international coalition’s invasion of Iraq. He has little to say on how he’d fix the Middle East, deal with ISIS, screen refugees, approach relations with Russia, and so on.

In almost all areas of politics today social media presence and slogans seem to count more than ideas, substance, and successful experience.

The Real Donald Trump

I watched a couple of campaign speeches by Donald Trump (here and here) to see if I could get a better feel for him than they media’s presentation as a bombastic, sexist, racist, foolish figure who would be a loose cannon in office.

There seemed to be at least one loud anti-Trump protester at every rally, disrupting proceedings and getting themselves on the evening news. But that didn’t faze Trump, like it did Clinton. Rather than turn away from the protesters, he focuses on them. He calls for them to be thrown out, bemoaning the slowness of the police, saying that won’t happen under his presidency. A lot of his speeches involved showmanship, boasting, and even gloating about rivals. But in the speeches I watched, Trump spent a good part of his time talking about an issue which could be called left-wing — trade restrictions.

Judging by how much time Trump spent talking about it, trade may be his single biggest concern. Not white supremacy, or his plan to build a wall along the Mexican border, as the media would have you believe. He even talked about trade during the debate on 3 March: when asked about the criticisms by Mitt Romney, he dismissed it and chose instead to talk about trade.

Trump talks about “the destructive free-trade deals our leaders have made,” the many companies that have moved their production facilities to other lands, the phone calls he will make to those companies’ CEOs in order to threaten them with steep tariffs unless they move back to the US.

Trump has another favorite left-wing idea: under his leadership he says, the government would “start competitive bidding in the drug industry”.

Trump also described how the government is forced to buy “lousy but expensive airplanes,” thanks to the power of industry lobbyists. He says he will bring competitive bidding to the defense contractors.

Trade is an issue that polarizes Americans by socio-economic status. To the professional class, which encompasses the vast majority of media figures, economists, Washington officials and Democratic power-brokers, what they call “free trade” is something so obviously good and noble it doesn’t require explanation or inquiry or even thought.

Republican and Democratic leaders alike agree on this, but to the remaining 80% or 90% of America (just like in Australia), trade means something very different. They think that any deal which puts America at a disadvantage should been banned, without of course looking at the bigger picture. The instinct of the bulk of any country is that their existing industries should be protected.

This video shows a room full of workers at a Carrier air conditioning plant in Indiana being told by an officer of the company that the factory is being moved to Monterrey, Mexico, and that they’re all going to lose their jobs.

As I watched it, I thought of all the arguments over trade that we’ve had in Australia, and in the US since the early 1990’s. As an economist I support free trade, which forces countries to focus on their areas of comparative advantage rather than artificially supporting uncompetitive industries. But I know that the ‘average’ person just looks at industries and jobs which have moved overseas to areas of cheap labor.

I know we can’t support uneconomic industries in Australia. The car industry is a classic example. All that happens is that rather than cars where they are cheapest to produce, every country pours billions of dollars into subsidizing their car industry. Imagine if those billions had been spent in an industry where we had a competitive advantage. In Australia for instance, by setting up down stream processing of what we mine or grow.

But when people see the videos like the Carrier one, where the company is moving its jobs to Mexico because of the North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA, they will immediately condemn that agreement. They don’t care that a dozen more industries will be able to import cheap components to keep their American businesses viable, or that the cost of living will drop for everyone because they can access cheap imports from food to cars.

I don’t particularly believe Trump is a racist, but I do believe he is hitting on a key hot point in America and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Labor Party do the same thing in Australia in the lead up to the next election.

Trump’s support correlates highly with areas of de-industrialization and despair, with the zones of economic misery that 30 years of Washington’s free-market consensus have brought the rest of America. (A few weeks ago, following the Republican Iowa caucuses, I pointed out an eerie correlation in the voting data. It seems that Donald Trump performed the best in places where middle-aged whites are dying the fastest.)

It is worth noting that Trump is making a point of assailing that Indiana air conditioning company from the video in his speeches. What this suggests is that he’s telling a tale about economic outrage which resonates. Many of Trump’s followers are probably excited by the prospect of a president who seems to mean it when he denounces trade agreements and promises to bring the hammer down on the CEO that fired you and wrecked your town, unlike Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Here is the most salient supporting fact: when people talk to working-class Trump supporters, instead of finding racism and bigotry they find that what most concerns these people is the economy and their place in it. This is confirmed by a study just published by Working America, which interviewed some 1,600 white working-class voters in the suburbs of Cleveland and Pittsburgh in December and January. Support for Donald Trump ran strong among these people, even among self-identified Democrats, but not because they are racists. Their favourite aspect of Trump was his “attitude”, the blunt and forthright way he talks. As far as issues are concerned, “immigration” placed third among the matters such voters care about, far behind their number one concern: “good jobs / the economy”.

Working class people are frightened about their future, and Trump gives them some hope. The Democrats just promise better welfare but Trump is promising jobs, and they understand how he can achieve that by ‘protecting’ American industry. Which is of course not what your typical Republican would run with because in the long run they believe, as I do, that protection hurts the economy. But that is a hard sell to someone losing their job now to overseas competition.

The survey confirmed what we heard all the time: people are fed up, people are hurting, they are very distressed about the fact that their kids don’t have a future and that there still hasn’t been a recovery from the recession, that every family still suffers from it in one way or another.

Tom Lewandowski, the president of the Northeast Indiana Central Labor Council in Fort Wayne, says of Trump supporters he knows:

When Trump talks about trade, we think about the Clinton administration, first with NAFTA and then with [Permanent Normal Trade Relations] China, and here in Northeast Indiana, we haemorrhaged jobs.

They look at that, and here’s Trump talking about trade, in a ham-handed way, but at least he’s representing emotionally. We’ve had all the political establishment standing behind every trade deal, and we endorsed some of these people, and then we’ve had to fight them to get them to represent us.

As Trump says, “we have rebuilt China and yet our country is falling apart. Our infrastructure is falling apart … Our airports are, like, Third World.”

Trump articulates the populist backlash against these trade agreements, garnering working class support. Clinton and Sanders are starting to see that, but the other Republican candidates don’t have a clue. They are like the factory boss at Carrier trying to calmly explain that to remain competitive Carrier has to move to Mexico and they all lose their jobs. And the Republican and many Democrat voters are yelling ‘Fuck You’ and are backing Trump because he will negotiate a better deal because he is a patriot!

If Australia is to avoid the same phenomenon, the government will have to do a very good job between now and the election of explaining to Australians who have lost their jobs or who fear for their future, how the raft of new trade agreements are better for them and Australia in the long term. I have no doubt the minority parties will hit them hard on the topic.