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“Abstract And Brief”: Conservatives Argue For A GOP Platform Vague And Minimalist Enough To Accommodate Trump

For a political party known until quite recently for its virtually unanimous support for the dictates of conservative ideology, the GOP has got some shockingly large divisions on issues today, thanks to Donald Trump. His speech earlier this week on trade is an example: There is no way to identify a single inch of common ground between Trump’s attacks on globalization as the source of all evil and the views of the Republican-leaning U.S. business community (see this angry op-ed by U.S. Chamber of Commerce president Thomas Donahue). Slightly less heated but still important are Trump-GOP differences over social security and Medicare, treated by Trump as part of an inviolable social contract and by most Republicans as sacred cows that need to be slaughtered to bring federal spending under control. Immigration, of course, has created its own well-known intra-party fault lines. And there’s trouble all over the national-security landscape, beginning with Trump’s skepticism about NATO and his non-interventionist instincts, in a party where there’s a lot of lusty desire for Middle Eastern wars or maybe a nostalgic dustup with Russia.

All these divisions make the drafting and adoption of a party platform — normally a chore so routine and boring you don’t even hear about it beyond marginal arguments over the precise language of planks on abortion or guns — perilous. It would be natural for Team Trump to want to place the mogul’s personal stamp on the party’s statement of principles and proposals. And it would be tempting for those resisting Trump’s takeover of the GOP to start a platform fight at the convention.

How to avoid trouble? Well, two distinguished conservatives (one the president of Hillsdale College, the other a member of the actual platform committee) writing at the Washington Examiner have an idea: Make the platform so abstract and brief that none of the divisions even appear.

That’s not exactly how they put it, of course. Check out this lofty appeal:

On the eve of a convention that threatens disorder, Republicans should learn from the greatness of their party’s past.

The platform upon which Abraham Lincoln ran for president in 1860 was one and a half pages and 1200 words — quite a contrast to the 65 page, 33,000 word GOP platform of 2012. Written in the succinct and beautiful language of principle, it was meant to be read by all Americans, not just policy elites, and to guide great political action rather than make promises to special interests.

Might such a document today help to heal the divisions in the party as a preparation to healing those in the nation?

You betcha. The platform these gentlemen have in mind would focus strictly on the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence and the need for limited instead of expanded government. It would view America and its problems from such a great distance that you can’t see those messy differences over the actual issues that will confront the next president and Congress. Hell, it would be broad enough and vague enough to accommodate Trumpism!

The Trump candidacy, although unwelcome to many in the party, has the virtue of simplicity. He says that government belongs to, must respond to, and must in all cases seek to benefit the American people.

Every politician in either party would affirm the same principle, of course, but the whole idea here is not to get bogged down in details.

The devil, of course, is in the details. But platforms should not be about details. They should be about principles and broad lines of policy. The details will be worked out in due course between the President and Congress, as is right and good. The platform supplies a direction, not a specific route.

Or perhaps the platform is just a collection of platitudes supplying the directive that the future lies ahead.

Maybe that’s all a party can do when it is nominating a presidential candidate that so many of its leading members regard with ill-disguised fear and loathing. It’s so much easier to talk about the platform from a rarefied perspective so distant from the actual country with its actual challenges and choices.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, July 1, 2016

July 2, 2016 Posted by | Conservatives, Donald Trump, Republican National Convention | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“He’ll Magically Make Us All Filthy Rich”: Donald Trump Is Selling American Workers A Scam

Some of our wisest political observers informed us that Brexit would be great news for Donald Trump, because it shows (somehow) that there may be more support here than expected for his nationalist message of restoring American greatness through restrictionist immigration policies and turning the clock back on globalization.

So it’s a bit surprising to see that a new Bloomberg/Morning Consult poll shows that Brexit will not influence the votes of a majority of Americans, and if anything, may benefit Hillary Clinton marginally more than Trump:

A majority of U.S. voters — 57 percent — say they don’t expect the U.K. verdict will influence their vote in the presidential election. For the roughly quarter who say it will, almost half say it will make them more likely to support Democrat Hillary Clinton, while 35 percent say Republican Donald Trump.

This is only one poll, so don’t place too much stock in it, but I wanted to highlight it to make a broader point: There is simply no reason to assume that the debate over globalization, which Trump joined with a big speech on trade yesterday, will automatically play in the Donald’s favor. Indeed, Trump is running a massive scam on American workers on many fronts, and the contrast between his positions and those of Hillary Clinton on trade and other economic matters may prove more important in the end than his blustery rhetoric.

Neil Irwin has a good piece this morning on Trump’s big trade speech, in which he pledged to rip up our trade deals with his large and powerful hands and to bring manufacturing roaring back. As Irwin notes, Trump is right to highlight the very real possibility that trade deals have badly harmed American workers, and that elites have in many respects let those workers down. (Bernie Sanders, too, is rightly calling on Democrats to fully reckon with this phenomenon.) But as Irwin also notes, Trump is selling American workers a highly simplistic, anachronistic tale that doesn’t level with them about the likelihood of reversing trends in globalization and automation that are partly responsible for workers’ current plight.

I would add an important point: Clinton is offering these workers substantially more than Trump is. Clinton has also pledged to renegotiate trade deals and to oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Whether or not you see that as opportunistic, Clinton has also outlined detailed plans for programs that would try to use tax credits and federal spending to make American workers and businesses more competitive in the global economy. I am not aware of any detailed plans from Trump to do this. Trump’s message is that through his manly prowess, he will kick the asses of other countries and parasitic illegal immigrants and make us all insanely rich again, not that he sees a specific, programmatic role for the federal government in boosting wages, promoting domestic manufacturing, and helping displaced workers.

While it’s true that Trump has promised to spend on infrastructure at home, Trump’s tax plan — which confers an enormous windfall on the rich — would result in a nearly $10 trillion decline in revenues over the next decade. In practice this likely means that, unlike Clinton, he would not try to get Congress to spend substantially on helping American workers. While Clinton has vowed to invest money in helping displaced coal miners, and to invest in clean energy, Trump vaguely promises to put all those coal miners back to work again, which isn’t going to happen. Meanwhile, Clinton supports raising the federal minimum wage to at least $12 per hour. But while Trump has vaguely said workers need higher wages, he has come out for eliminating the federal minimum. Again, all he’s really saying is that he’ll magically make us all so filthy rich that we won’t have to worry ourselves with difficult policy choices. The vow that mass deportations will make the American workforce great again is also a straight-up scam.

The choice is not necessarily between Trumpian turn-back-the-clock proctectionism and throw-workers-to-the-wolves free trade. Clinton is offering up detailed plans for spending and tax credits and economic regulations that would help workers amid large economic trends she believes can’t be reversed. There is no reason to presume that Trump’s simplistic tale will carry the day politically.

 

By: Greg Sargent, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, June 29, 2016

June 30, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Workers | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Nobody Wins A Trade War”: Donald Trump And Bernie Sanders Are Promoting Dangerous Protectionism

As different as Donald Trump and independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders are, they have one important policy goal in common. It’s a dangerous goal, one that elites in both parties must counter, before a new public consensus is formed and grave damage is done to the economy.

Both Trump and Sanders are, at their heart, protectionists. They both believe in tariffs and other obstacles to prevent foreign-made goods from competing with American-made goods, and keep foreign worker salaries from driving down Americans’ pay. Trump is the most direct and vocal about it, calling for tariffs as high as 45 percent against China. Sanders has yet to call for a specific tariff, but he’s called for repealing the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico. Eliminating NAFTA would restore tariffs that ranged up to 25 percent and lead to other measures that hinder trade between countries.

At first glance, it seems like a great idea to raise tariffs to protect American workers from globalization. But nearly all economists say that protectionism is a beast that will gore us if set loose. Protectionist measures by the U.S. will lead to reprisals by other countries and the tit-for-tat escalation of tariffs in a trade war will likely lead to a global depression (as it did in the 1930s). And even when protectionism is successful in boosting wages, it boosts consumer prices even faster, so most workers are no better off.

All this is generally accepted by leaders and advisers in both the Democratic and Republican parties. But the downside of protectionism is complicated and not well understood by the public, whereas the call for tariffs and border-closings (Trump’s Mexican wall) is simple and emotionally resonant. Hence the problem: In political communications, it’s well known that if a falsehood is not promptly and effectively countered by respected senior public figures, it tends to become accepted as true by the public at large, regardless of the damage it may cause.

This time, the public will not accept that so-called free trade alone will restore rising standards of living and breathe new life into the American dream. Most working Americans, all except those at the top, have seen their standard of living erode over the past 30 years, and “trust me” is no longer an adequate response. That’s why insider candidates – former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and others associated with the failed status quo – are doing poorly, and outsider candidates are drawing far more support than expected.

To prevent a protectionist insurgency from wrecking the economy, the candidates who represent mainstream economic thinking need to do better. They need to offer more than a reminder of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930. Unfortunately neither party is well positioned to do this. Clinton has the albatross of NAFTA hung firmly around her neck, since her husband championed it while president. And until very recently, she’s been a strong supporter of the latest proposed trade treaty, the Trans-Pacific Partnership – which is pushed by President Barack Obama and supported by a wide range of Democrat-aligned pundits.

At the same time, those in the Republican mainstream have either ignored stagnant wages, or they’ve blamed them on excessive taxes and red tape. That has convinced enough voters to date. But Americans have been tugging on their boot straps for several decades now without effect, and they are not inclined to believe that if they only tug a little longer or a little harder they will be themselves lifted up. Just as Clinton is not well positioned to be credible on this issue, neither is former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who has made much of his fortune by eliminating American jobs. The public senses this. That’s part of the reason Romney’s broadside against Trump had so little effect.

If Democrat and Republican elites intend to stave off a wave of protectionism, it’s time for some serious public discussion of alternatives that can meaningfully help ordinary working Americans and their families. The possibilities fall into three categories: The first involves investments that boost American productivity directly, like education and infrastructure. The second category requires steps that boost American incomes directly like radically expanding the earned income tax credit or strengthening unions. The third category involves measures that reduce what workers have to pay out-of-pocket in order to live, so that stagnant wages go further. These measures include tax-shifting (reducing the employee share of the payroll tax, for example), making higher education free (as it is in of the developed countries we compete against) and government-matching of employee contributions to retirement plans, so employees don’t need to save as much of their income.

Most of these ideas are anathema to conservatives, and many are considered outside the range of legitimate ideas that serious Democratic thought leaders can safely discuss in public. But a trade war and the jingoism that goes with it might be even more distasteful and is almost certainly more damaging. It’s time for elites of both parties to begin discussing the undiscussable, if for no other reason than to avoid worse.

 

By: David Brodwin, Cofounder and Board Member of American Sustainable Business Council; U. S. News and World Report, March 14, 2016

March 15, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, Protectionism, Trade Agreements | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Trade And Tribulation”: Protectionists Almost Always Exaggerate The Adverse Effects Of Trade Liberalization

Why did Bernie Sanders win a narrow victory in Michigan, when polls showed Hillary Clinton with a huge lead? Nobody really knows, but there’s a lot of speculation that Mr. Sanders may have gained traction by hammering on the evils of trade agreements. Meanwhile, Donald Trump, while directing most of his fire against immigrants, has also been bashing the supposedly unfair trading practices of China and other nations.

So, has the protectionist moment finally arrived? Maybe, maybe not: There are other possible explanations for Michigan, and free-traders have repeatedly cried wolf about protectionist waves that never materialized. Still, this time could be different. And if protectionism really is becoming an important political force, how should reasonable people — economists and others — respond?

To make sense of the debate over trade, there are three things you need to know.

The first is that we have gotten to where we are — a largely free-trade world — through a generations-long process of international diplomacy, going all the way back to F.D.R. This process combines a series of quid pro quos — I’ll open my markets if you open yours — with rules to prevent backsliding.

The second is that protectionists almost always exaggerate the adverse effects of trade liberalization. Globalization is only one of several factors behind rising income inequality, and trade agreements are, in turn, only one factor in globalization. Trade deficits have been an important cause of the decline in U.S. manufacturing employment since 2000, but that decline began much earlier. And even our trade deficits are mainly a result of factors other than trade policy, like a strong dollar buoyed by global capital looking for a safe haven.

And yes, Mr. Sanders is demagoguing the issue, for example with a Twitter post linking the decline of Detroit, which began in the 1960s and has had very little to do with trade liberalization, to “Hillary Clinton’s free-trade policies.”

That said, not all free-trade advocates are paragons of intellectual honesty. In fact, the elite case for ever-freer trade, the one that the public hears, is largely a scam. That’s true even if you exclude the most egregious nonsense, like Mitt Romney’s claim that protectionism causes recessions. What you hear, all too often, are claims that trade is an engine of job creation, that trade agreements will have big payoffs in terms of economic growth and that they are good for everyone.

Yet what the models of international trade used by real experts say is that, in general, agreements that lead to more trade neither create nor destroy jobs; that they usually make countries more efficient and richer, but that the numbers aren’t huge; and that they can easily produce losers as well as winners. In principle the overall gains mean that the winners could compensate the losers, so that everyone gains. In practice, especially given the scorched-earth obstructionism of the G.O.P., that’s not going to happen.

Why, then, did we ever pursue these agreements? A large part of the answer is foreign policy: Global trade agreements from the 1940s to the 1980s were used to bind democratic nations together during the Cold War, Nafta was used to reward and encourage Mexican reformers, and so on.

And anyone ragging on about those past deals, like Mr. Trump or Mr. Sanders, should be asked what, exactly, he proposes doing now. Are they saying that we should rip up America’s international agreements? Have they thought about what that would do to our credibility and standing in the world?

What I find myself thinking about, in particular, is climate change — an all-important issue we can’t confront effectively unless all major nations participate in a joint effort, with last year’s Paris agreement just the beginning. How is that going to work if America shows itself to be a nation that reneges on its deals?

The most a progressive can responsibly call for, I’d argue, is a standstill on further deals, or at least a presumption that proposed deals are guilty unless proved innocent.

The hard question to deal with here is the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which the Obama administration has negotiated but Congress hasn’t yet approved. (I consider myself a soft opponent: It’s not the devil’s work, but I really wish President Obama hadn’t gone there.) People I respect in the administration say that it should be considered an existing deal that should stand; I’d argue that there’s a lot less U.S. credibility at stake than they claim.

The larger point in this election season is, however, that politicians should be honest and realistic about trade, rather than taking cheap shots. Striking poses is easy; figuring out what we can and should do is a lot harder. But you know, that’s a would-be president’s job.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, March 11, 2016

March 13, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Protectionism, Trade Agreements, Trans Pacific Partnership | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The New Politics Of Nostalgia”: Political Schizophrenia Is A Poor Guide To The Future

A specter is haunting the affluent societies of the West. Across the rich countries, and across the political spectrum, there is an unstated but palpable longing for a return to the 1950s.

This ’50s nostalgia takes different forms on the left and on the right. For progressives, the backward-looking wish is for the shared and growing prosperity when unions thrived and could enforce a relatively egalitarian social contract. Democrats in the United States and Social and Christian Democrats in Europe created systems of social insurance — they were more robust in Western Europe — that were largely endorsed by political conservatives.

On the right, ’50s nostalgia takes the form of a quest for order, social homogeneity, religious faith — or, at the least, public respect for traditional values — and strong families, sometimes defined as a return to old gender roles and a less adventurous approach to sexuality.

Neither side fully acknowledges its own nostalgia, partly because everyone wants their 1950s a la carte. The left, for example, will not brook any retreat from gender, racial or ethnic equality, any abridgement of sexual freedom or civil rights, any re-imposition of cultural conformity. The right wants no revival of inhibitions on the rambunctiousness of liberated economies and hails the decline of unions and their capacity to get in the way of labor-market dynamism.

And nostalgia for the 1950s can also split the left and the right, or create a kind of political schizophrenia. Globalization, for example, is often applauded by the left for obliterating nationalism and giving rise to an expansive and less parochial consciousness. Yet the left can also disdain the power that globalization confers on multinational corporations and the way it undercuts the bargaining clout of workers who must now compete with each other across national boundaries.

The right, particularly the more economically libertarian in its ranks, likes the way globalization diminishes the ability of national governments to enforce rules, taxes and bureaucratic inhibitions on the market. Yet many traditional conservatives dislike the free flows of immigration that globalization has let loose. They long for a firmer sense of national identity, and the kind of solidarity more homogenous societies can foster.

Worries about immigration run deep in parts of the Republican Party and pushed Mitt Romney to positions that have left him with an anemic share of the Latino vote. In the Netherlands, where politics has tended toward the pragmatic, the moderate and the practical, worries about Islamic immigration roiled the system and gave rise to the Party for Freedom, the PVV, headed by the 49-year-old Geert Wilders. Pragmatism made a comeback Wednesday as the PVV was projected to lose about half of its seats in Dutch elections.

In one sense, all of the nostalgia can be boiled down to a simple proposition: In the 1950s, most Americans and most Western Europeans had confidence that their children would do better than they had done, that they would grow up to prosper in a stable society with a growing economy. The collapse of this certainty is the prime cause of discontent, left, right and center.

In the end, of course, nostalgia is a dangerous form of politics and a kind of lie. The fact that left and right alike are ambivalent about the 1950s, albeit in different ways, suggests that bringing them back whole is not in the cards.

And it’s not possible, which is why nostalgia is always a poor guide to the future. The effects of globalization can be mitigated, but the economic developments of the last three decades cannot be repealed by fiat. The vast changes in communications technology that simultaneously bind people together and make it easier for them to retreat into their own social and political circles will not be rolled back. I see no mass movement that will get people in large numbers to toss their iPhones into the rubbish.

But understanding politics now requires an appreciation for the nostalgic roots of our current struggles. It’s not hard to understand the yearning of many of Romney’s supporters for past cultural certainties. Obama’s coalition is, in cultural terms, the coalition of the future — younger, and both ethnically and racially diverse. Yet Obama’s core pledge is to a new social compact that provides many of the guarantees of the old one.

Thus the choice in 2012 may be, more than we realize, about which parts of the 1950s we yearn for most, and whether there is any way to bring back the best aspects of an old era while leaving the rest of it behind.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 13, 2012

September 13, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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