Saturday, July 23, 2016

Trump: The Caudillo Carter?

Donald J. Trump, 7/21/16
RNC Acceptance Speech

"Nobody knows the system better than me, 
which is why I alone can fix it."

This excerpt from Donald Trump's acceptance speech is, in many ways, the central tenet of his candidacy. If he can convince enough Democrats and Independents to believe this, he has a serious chance. 

This is because it may sound perfectly logical to the gullible, particularly when Trump's opponent is the ultimate insider, in an era of unprecedented disillusionment with government.

But anybody who actually believes this crap deserves to be taken for a ride.

The decline of American manufacturing is perhaps the most visible symbol of the disappearance of the traditional American status quo of fifty years ago. It makes it virtually impossible for even a faint-hearted demagogue to avoid promising to bring manufacturing jobs back. But it is not simply the product of "bad trade deals." It has been going on for decades upon decades. Ask the millworkers in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, the shoemakers in Massachusetts, and the steelworkers in Pennsylvania. Those jobs disappeared when Donald Trump was a little boy being chauffeured around New York City. American manufacturing has been decimated by automation, bigger and better ships, and changing economic conditions in third world countries. Trade deals have had an incidental effect on American job creation.

The dirty secret is that, in the end, there is very little a single country's government can do to resist natural market forces of this kind.

The President of the United States has maximum power in foreign affairs and defense. But even given that power, history has shown that American military and diplomatic power cannot achieve its aims in places where they are least effective--like winning alien nations' "hearts and minds." 

Thus, the idea that this poseur and dilettante is going to "defeat the barbarians of ISIS and ... defeat them fast," or do any of the other things in foreign affairs he promised to do "fast," is farcical. Getting Islamic nations, other than the few Shiite nations like Iran, to fight ISIS would be a phenomenal achievement, but who is going to convince Saudi Arabia to do it, Carl Icahn? 

As far as domestic affairs, the President can propose laws and veto legislation he (or she) doesn't approve of. But even with a majority of both Houses of Congress controlled by the President's party, the power of vested interests to thwart a President's agenda is awesome.

Even if Donald Trump knows "the system" well enough to obtain political favors for his interests by giving over $1,000,000 to federal political candidates (some Democrats, mostly Republicans), the idea that this gives him enough knowledge of "the system" to enable him to push through his agenda in D.C. is simplistic and nonsensical.  

The people who "know the system" are steeped in the art of working deals in the U.S. House and Senate and federal agencies. And anyone who actually knows the system knows that the President and his (or her) lobbyists are, most of the time, no match for the lobbyists for the major corporations who wield enormous power to keep Congress from messing with their privileges...from favorable tax treatment to serious regulation.

Remember, after the greatest financial collapse since the Great Depression, Obama, with a Democratic majority in both Houses, was barely able to get through Dodd-Frank, which strengthened regulation in some respect but has barely made a dent in the extent to which major financial institutions engage in dangerous derivatives speculation.   

It takes enormous political sophistication and political capital to change things in Washington, D.C. This guy, knows how to turn a phrase and knows how to play on people's fears and fantasies, will have precious little of either.

For one thing, if the GOP once again has a majority in the House and Senate, President Trump will discover, very fast, and I mean very, very fast, that it is one thing to holler at campaign rallies about unfair trade deals and imposing huge tariffs on Chinese goods, and quite another thing running the gauntlet of rank-and-file Republican Senators and Congressmen to actually accomplish something. (And, of course, if the Republicans lose their majority in either House, President Trump--assuming he actually tries to do anything he says he wants to do--then his proposals will be DOA.)

This is because the very strength that the GOP has gained by rigging Congressional Districts to make it easier for Republican candidates to win makes it a lot easier for anyone with big bucks to run a primary opponent against any GOP representative who would dare stand up and vote against the interests of the major corporations that, directly and through "voluntary" contributions by their employees, fund Congressional campaigns. If the far right can do it, so can the major contributors. 

With all of the encumbrances Trump brings to the table--the narcissism, the lack of respect for others, the absymal ignorance, the duplicity--how can anyone believe that he'll have the political ability to get anything done against the combined power of American business? 

Trump is the Caudillo Jimmy Carter. Carter, a political nobody, won the Presidency as a direct result of popular disgust with Watergate and Gerald Ford's pardon of Richard Nixon. Jimmy Carter was going to do things in a new way, ignoring traditional power centers in the Congress. And he got figuratively mugged within months of arriving at the White House. 

If Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine can't beat this guy, then Donald Trump's ascension will succeed in wrecking both political parties. Maybe, if you take the long view, that isn't too bad a result, but the damage this guy will do along the way is not worth the risk.