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Made in America in a Global Age

You might not have noticed, what with all the news about Russia and health care, but this is “Made in America Week.” The week was so proclaimed by President Donald Trump to draw public attention to his plans to increase employment in the American manufacturing sector, and he kicked it off on Monday with a White House display of products from all 50 states and a nostalgic and dire speech warning that they’re all threatened by competition from those darned foreigners.
“Buy American” is always a crowd-pleasing slogan, and we can well understand why Trump would prefer to talk about something other than Russia and health care, and there were no doubt some good points somewhere in the typically hard-to-parse speech, but it was a nonetheless a risky public relations move. Pretty much everyone who covered the event mentioned Trump’s long history of building his properties with foreign steel and foreign labor and stocking his luxury hotels with foreign-made goods and having almost all of his Trump-branded products made in low-wage foreign countries, and that his daughter’s clothing and jewelry lines are entirely made far offshore, with the mentions ranging from begrudging on the right to downright gleeful on the left.
Everyone who voted for Trump knew all that when they voted for him, though, and either begrudgingly or gleefully accepted his explanation that he was just playing by the rigged rules the globalist establishment had imposed on the country. Many of those voters believed Trump’s constant promises he would re-write those rules to the benefit of the American workers he had previously declined to hire, and that he could do so without running afoul of either the Constitution or the far more iron-clad laws of economics, but keeping them happy until the next election cycle will probably prove tricky. Re-writing the rules of a multi-trillion dollar American economy is always tricky, and predicting its effects on a even more-multi-trillion dollar global economy is trickier yet.
Over the past three decades the manufacturing sector of the economy has dwindled to less than 8 percent of the American workforce, and that’s largely due to companies moving factories out of the country, but American manufacturing output has doubled over the same time period, which is entirely attributable to a technological revolution in productivity. When our parents were born the agricultural sector employed about half of the American workforce, now it’s less than 3 percent, yet Americans are fatter than ever, and the days of slopping hogs and plowing behind mules are no more appealing to the average American than any assembly line job of the ’50s. All the other technological revolutions wrought by the largely laissez-faire rules the globalist establishment has imposed have also delivered telephones that answer your trivia questions and Uber drivers who deliver you safely home from a drunken evening and drugs that keep you libidinous well into senility, along with the cheap t-shirts and countless other life-enhancing products available for everyday low prices at Wal-Mart, but life is also increasingly tough for the kinds of people who are willing and able to do an honest days work in a factory but can’t come up with those ideas.
Mitigating the harm done over the past three decades without impeding the progress that has been made is tricky indeed.
There truly are a lot of ridiculous workplace regulations in America that make foreign workforces appealing to American companies, and we begrudgingly credit Trump with a thus-far effective effort to undo many of them, but he’s going to have to go a lot further than that to make the American workforce economically competitive with the sweatshops that the Ivanka Trumps and Triangle Shirt Factories of corporate America are currently flocking to. Once Trump reaches that degree of de-regulation he’ll have reached the point of diminishing political returns, even with his staunchest supporters on the factory floor.
Trump would have to go even further to offset the economic benefits of all the robots and computer kiosks all the other newfangled efficiencies of the modern age, and if he did he’d threaten the highly-taxed livelihoods of all the people who are able to come up with such bright ideas, as well as the people they still have to man the reception desk and clean up the offices and ensure they’re in compliance with all those federal regulations. Those highly-taxed people with the bright ideas could easily relocate to more welcoming economies with lower tax rates and similarly fine restaurants, but it would be hard to explain to the rest of the workforce how that made America great again.
Still, listening to Trump’s speech we can’t help sharing some of his nostalgia. “Remember in the old days?,” the president said, “We used to have made in America, made in the USA.” He touted such iconic American products as Tennessee’s Gibson electronic guitars, Texas’ Stetson hats, and Oklahoma’s Ditch Witch excavators, and although he touted some baseball bat from Louisiana rather than the classic Louisville Slugger out of Kentucky he was admirably all-American in his choice of props. He also touted the Sikorsky Helicopters from Connecticut, boasting to his working class fans that “I own three of ’em,” and we thought he looked rather ridiculous pretending to be a fireman in a Wisconsin-built firetruck or a cowboy in a Stetson hat, which his more snarky critics had lots of fun with, but all in all “Buy American” was nonetheless a pretty crowd-pleasing slogan.
The conversation about what to do about it will quickly become very complicated, though, so the talk will probably soon get back to Russia and health care and all the rest of the stuff Trump would rather not talk about.

— Bud Norman

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Happy Bastille Day

Today is Bastille Day in France, and it’s a big deal over there. The holiday celebrates the date in 1789 when French revolutionaries stormed the notorious Bastille prison where political dissidents were being held, which proved a turning point in the civil war that toppled the despotic monarchy of Louis XVI, and July 14 still stirs a feeling of liberte, egalite and fraternite in French hearts in much the same way the Fourth of July makes Americans feel proud of their revolution.
The French Revolution didn’t work out quite so well as the American one, however, what with the Reign of Terror that shortly followed and the dictatorial rule of Napoleon Bonaparte that quickly ensued and all the wars that inevitably resulted. We can well understand why the French are still relieved to be rid that Louis XVI fellow, who really was a particularly despotic monarch, but we’re harder pressed to see how they think it all worked out well enough to celebrate. The French eventually settled into a reasonably peaceable and productive democracy, with scientists who pasteurized milk and painters who created that awesome Impressionist stuff and a military that maintained a profitable empire in Africa and Asia, but they had a bad 20th century. At this point in the 21st century they’ve arrived at a Bastille Day with French President Emmanuel Macron sharing the stage with American President Donald Trump.
Trump was ostensibly given the seat of honor because this Bastille Day coincides with the centennial of America’s entry into World War I, one of the two times in the 20th century when America’s military might came to France’s rescue, but we assume there were other reasons as well. Franco-American relations have been complicated as far back as the XYZ Affair, and in the age of Macron and Trump it’s all the more complicated. At first glance the two leaders seem polar opposites of one another, but on closer inspection bear some unsettling similarities.
Trump ran on a nationalist and isolationist and protectionist platform, Macron on a platform of cosmopolitanism and international cooperation and free trade. On the campaign trail Trump frequently cited France as an example of what America shouldn’t be doing with its immigration policy, usually citing a friend “Jim” who had ceased his annual vacations to the country because “Paris isn’t Paris anymore,” and Macron has been one of the European leaders frankly talking about the need for a post-American world order. During Macron’s race Trump “tweeted” some friendly words about Macron’s opponent, who was from a Vichy-derived nationalist and isolationist and protectionist party that was also backed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, and we’re sure Macron would have preferred Trump’s opponent, whose myriad flaws are surely well known to our American readership. They’ve also clashed over the Paris Climate Accord, with Trump ending America’s support because “I was elected to represent the people of Pittsburgh, not Paris,” and Macron quickly exploiting the European backlash by promising to “Make the planet great again.”
Trump’s a 71-year-old political neophyte with a 47-year-old photography model wife, Macron’s a 39-year-old career civil service technocrat with a 64-year-old school teacher wife, the former is more quintessentially American than we’d like to admit, and the latter is Frenchier than any self-respecting Frenchman would want to admit, so it does seem an unlikely pairing on a Bastille Day stage. Still, as the dined together with their spouses at a reputedly swank restaurant beneath the Eiffel Tower the two leaders probably found they had much in common.
Macron won election as the leader of his own newly-created and defiantly disruptive party, much as Trump did, and he prides himself on a pragmatism unmoored from any coherent political ideology, much as Trump does. Both are friendly to business interests and averse to needless government regulations, except for some disagreements on immigration policy they both take the same tough-on-terrorism stands, and we guess they’re both equally eager to make sort of deal about something or another. Macron shares Trump’s tastes for fancy dinners and big military parades, too, as well as the same distaste for all the constitutional restraints and constant press criticisms that stand in their way of getting things done. Macron has recently proposed doing away with a third of the French Parliament’s deputies, which is bold even by Trump’s standards, and the French press has likened him to “Sun King” Louis XVI by calling him the “Sun President,” which is about as harsh as anything the American press has yet come up with against Trump.
The two leaders agreed to disagree about the Paris Climate Accord, which will probably help both with their domestic political audiences, but didn’t announce any noteworthy agreements. Nothing was expected for the old Franco-American relationship celebrating Bastille Day and the centennial of America’s entry into World War I and world leadership, though, and the two leaders got along well enough that something good might come of it. Our guess is that Macron is pragmatic and unprincipled enough that he’s trying to find a sweet spot between an increasingly isolated but still significant America and the post-American European alliance he’ll be talking up again tomorrow, and our faint hope is that the savvy real estate developer Trump will hold his own in the negotiations.
The trip obliged Trump to take a couple of questions from the American press, and naturally one of them was about those e-mails his son released about a meeting he and Trump’s son-in-law and campaign manager had with someone they understood to be a Russian lawyer offering help in the election from the Russian government. Trump’s rambling reply described his son as a “good boy” and “young man” who didn’t do anything that wasn’t usual in American politics, but Trump’s son is the same age as the French President, whose leadership Trump had just effusively praised, so it was a bad setting for the argument. Macron declined the opportunity to gripe Russia’s meddling in his country’s past election, and although that was a characteristically shrewd French diplomatic move we’ll leave it to our Francophile friends to guess how that plays with his domestic political audience.
Both Trump and Macron will be back at the mercy of their domestic political audiences by Monday, if not sooner, and we expect the mobs of both countries will eventually grab the metaphorical pitchforks and storm the metaphorical Bastille against the both of them. Although we admit that both of them were arguably preferable to the people they ran against, we still don’t have much regard for either of them, and at this point we’re only rooting for France and America.

— Bud Norman

A Bad Weekend in Europe

All the president’s men and women took to the Sunday news shows to talk up his dramatic trip to Europe, with breathless accounts of triumphs we very much wanted to believe, but from our perspective it seemed as slapstick a comedy as Chevy Chase taking the Griswold family on “National Lampoon’s European Vacation.”
The trip began promisingly enough in Poland, where President Donald Trump delivered an uncharacteristically coherent speech before a large and adoring crowd. In his address Trump robustly urged Poland to defend western civilization’s unique values against its enemies, specifically cited the revanchist Russian government’s recent intrusions into Ukraine and other parts of its former Soviet Union empire as an example, and explicitly reiterated America’s Article Five commitment in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to back it up, which had been conspicuously omitted from his last speech in Europe. Even the most Trump-wary conservative commentators effusively praised the speech, which they found a welcome change from the apologetically morally-relativistic and multi-culturalist pablum that President Barack Obama had spewed to foreign audiences over his eight years.
We probably typed as many column inches of annoyance as any of those commentators during Obama’s interminable time in office, and are still as annoyed as any Pole or Czech about him canceling the missile defense deal his predecessor had negotiated with Poland and the Czech Republic as part of his ridiculous “re-set” effort with the Russkies, so we’ll concede that Trump’s speech was a marked improvement. Still, we found ourselves short of being effusive about it. The crowd was large and unanimously adoring because Poland’s government has lately taken an authoritarian turn that does not tolerate dissent any more willingly than did its communist predecessors, so a truly robust defense of Western values should have made mention of that, and it pains us to admit that even Obama’s apologetic and morally-relativistic and multi-cultural speech in Poland at the end of his interminable term did so.
Whatever points Trump might have have scored for western civilization in that speech, he promptly threw them all away in an ensuing joint press conference with Polish President Andrzej Duda. The Polish government has lately been restricting press freedom in ways that Trump can only envy, and Trump expressed his sympathy for the cause by damning most American media as “fake news” before a worldwide media audience. He was particularly irked by the unfavorable coverage of the National Broadcasting Company, explaining it was because he once had a hit reality show on the network, and although capitalism is indeed a western value we don’t think that Trump strike quite the right balance with a free press.
Worse yet, Trump also advised his international audience that it can’t necessarily believe it anything it hears from America’s intelligence agencies. In response to a question from one of those darned NBC reporters if Trump accepted the conclusion of America’s intelligence community that Russia had meddled in America’s past presidential election, the winner of that election said that he thought they might have but so had other countries he wouldn’t name and other people he wouldn’t speculate about, and he recalled how they had been wrong about all sorts of things including an Iraqi weapons of mass destruction program prior to the Iraqi war, and “nobody really knows for sure” what is true. During his winning Republican primary campaign Trump had alleged that Republican President George W. Bush knew from intelligence reports that there was no such program but lied the country into a disastrous war over it anyway, but the current story is that the intelligence agencies had knowingly misled him, and in any of the tellings of the story the Republican Party and America and its intelligence community and the rest of western civilization don’t look good.
All of this complicated the next day’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, of course, but naturally there was an attention-diverting “tweet” from the president early that morning. “Everyone here is talking about why John Podesta refused to give the (Democratic National Committee’s) server to the (Federal Bureau of Investigation) and the (Central Intelligence Agency), Trump “tweeted” from Hamburg, Germany, adding “Disgraceful.” In case you don’t follow the news diligently, Podesta was the campaign chairman for vanquished Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, there was some fuss about her e-mails during that long-ago campaign, and even such Trump-wary Republicans as us are still annoyed about it. Not even such an eager-to-believe sycophant as Sean Hannity will buy that’s what everyone in Hamburg was talking about on the opening of a G-20 summit of the world’s 20 largest economies, though, and Podesta was not the head of the DNC and had no authority over it’s e-mail server, so he was thus was able to plausibly “tweet” back about a “whack job president,” and all the president’s men and women seemed relieved it was overshadowed by Trump’s much-anticipated face-to-face meeting with Putin.
Before they got around to that, though, the European Union and the Japanese government had announced negotiations on a free-trade agreement that was clearly a preemptive measure against the protectionist trade policies that Trump had run on in his winning presidential campaign. Trump had treated Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to a round of golf at his high-priced Mar-a-Lago resort, and boasted of their personal relationship, but Abe explained his participation in a treaty that will leave the United States automotive industry disadvantaged in the European and Asian markets by saying it demonstrates “a strong political will to fly the flag for free trade against a shift toward protectionism.” A few days earlier German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who now seems to speak for 18 or so — minus Russia — of the countries in the G-20, had stated that “whoever thinks that the problems of this world can be solved by protectionism and isolation lives under a huge misconception,” and Trump is clearly negotiating his art of the deal to make America great again from an isolated position.
Even that disaster was overshadowed by the first face-to-face meeting between Trump and Putin, however, so all the president’s men and women did their best to spin that on on all the Sunday morning talk shows. They all noted that by all accounts Trump did bring up Russia’s meddling in the past presidential election, but Trump had already said that it was based on unreliable American intelligence and that everybody does it, and there was some discrepancy in the American and Russian accounts about whether Trump accepted Putin’s claim that Russia was entirely innocent in the affair. One of the only Russians in the meeting claim that Trump agreed, the American Secretary of State who was one of only three Americans in the meeting quite believably admit that Trump agreed the American media had overstated the extent of Russian meddling, and we assume that at least 19 of the G-20 reached their own conclusions.
We also assume that most of Trump’s die-hard supporters here in the USA don’t much care what a bunch of Eurotrash and Latin and Asiatic globalist opponents think, and take their opprobrium as a badge of honor, but in the long run it probably does matter. Negotiating all those great trade deals to make America great again with a now-unified front of 18 of the world’s strong economies seems trickier than ever, and here in the domestic politics of the USA Trump didn’t do much to quash all that press talk about the Russia thing with Trump and Russia. Over the same weekend The New York Times had Donald Trump Jr. admitting that he and the Trump campaign chairman attended a meeting with a Kremlin-tied lawyer in anticipation of possible dirt on the soon-to-be vanquished Clinton campaign, whose chairman had been undeniably hacked, even if that was Obama’s fault and not Putin’s, and any triumphs from Trump’s visit seem likely to get lost in the next news cycle.
Trump predictably skipped the traditional post-G-20 news conference but “tweeted” his own clarification of his meeting with Putin, unhelpfully explaining that he had already made his position on Russian meddling in the election clear, and added that he was working with Putin to create an “impenetrable Cyber Security unit” to prevent the sort of hacking that he may or not believe Russia perpetrated. Such Republicans as Senators Marco Rubio and Lindsay Graham and John McCain were showing up on the Sunday shows and “tweeting” their skepticism about such a proposal, with Rubio likening it to having Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad partnering in an anti-chemical weapons coalition,  a short time later Trump was “tweeting” his assurance that it wasn’t going to happen, and all in all it didn’t seem a very triumphant end to Trump’s European trip.

— Bud Norman

A Not-So-Innocent Abroad

President Donald Trump’s second official foreign tour hasn’t yet gotten to the juicy part, which will be today’s long-awaited face-to-face meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, but it’s already generating plenty of news.
The trip shrewdly began in Poland, where Trump could expect a much-needed welcoming reception. Poles have been favorably inclined to Republican American presidents since at least the days of Ronald Reagan, whose staunch cold warrior stance did much to liberate Poland from the the totalitarian rule of the Soviet Union, and these days their government has a nationalist and protectionist and anti-immigration bent and is waging a war on the local media that make it all the more inclined to embrace such a Republican as Trump. With fans bused in from the Polish hinterlands, Trump delivered a scripted oration denouncing Russian meddling in Ukraine and elsewhere that revved up a huge Polish crowd and confounded the American media.
There was a brief news conference with the American media, though, and of course there were questions about the Russia thing with Trump and Russia that has been a bigger story here than it’s probably been in Poland. Standing next to the Polish head of state, Trump reiterated his view that no matter what his intelligence agencies say Russia might or might not have meddled in the past election to Trump’s benefit, and that if they did it was all the fault of President Barack Obama for letting it happen, and besides everyone does it, and we’re not sure how that will play. There’s no telling what the Poles will make of it, especially when you take into account the press crackdowns on fake news we’ve been reading about, but here in the states all of the putatively fake but still-free press was highlighting that Trump seemed more concerned about Putin’s meddling in Ukraine than his meddling in America’s past election.
All of which makes today’s face-to-face and officially bi-lateral meeting with Putin all the juicier, of course, and it was already juicy enough. That robustly anti-Russian speech Trump gave to the adoring Polish crowd included a robust and widely applauded affirmation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s mutual defense clause, which was conspicuously absent from his big oration on his first European and clearly annoyed all our western European NATO allies, but the following press conference probably exacerbated their more general annoyance. Most of those NATO allies have lately survived challenges by the same nationalist and protectionist and anti-immigration impulses that have lately prevailed in Poland in America, and have come up with some proposed globalist free trade arrangements that leave America out and rival the economic clout of the North American Free Trade Agreement that Trump has threatened to dissolve, so the geo-political and global economic implications of that Putin meeting are pretty darned complicated.
If you’ve been following the fake-or-not coverage of that whole Russia thing with Trump and Russia, it’s exponentially more complicated yet. Russia has lately been joining with China to propose that America abandon a longstanding alliance against with South Korea against the North Korean government that just launched a missile test that might deliver a nuclear strike against Alaska, and Trump had plenty of things to say about both regimes during his campaign, all of which have been changed since, so todays big meeting will be damned juicy.
The meeting with Putin will take place in Germany as part of the G-20 summit of the world’s twenty biggest economies, and Trump can’t expect such a friendly reception. There are already angry and violent protests against the globalist world order, which are too angry and stupid to realize that Trump is a sort-of ally, and of course all the establishment types of western Europe have a lingering disdain for Trump since his last foreign trip. There’s little chance that Trump will charm or bully Putin into abandoning North Korea, less chance that he’ll take a firm stand with Putin to defuse all that domestic talk about the Russia thing with Trump and Russia, and no chance at all he’ll come home to the heroic welcome he found in Poland.
The best-case scenario is the least juicy, with Trump and Putin having a boring feeling-out meeting that is full of sound and fury yet signifying nothing, but given the personalities involved that seems unlikely.

— Bud Norman

And So It Begins

The presidency of Donald Trump got off to a predictably contentious start on Friday, and we expect that will continue for a while.
Trump commenced his administration with a characteristically pugnacious inauguration speech, and pretty much everything in it promised a lot of fussing and fighting and back-and-forth-“tweeting” over the next few years. He did give the obligatory shout out to the past presidents in attendance, and thanked President Barack Obama and his wife for their “gracious” and “magnificent” help during the transition, but he seemed to have all of them in mind when he immediately launched into the part about “For too long, a small group in our nation’s Capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the costs,” and “The establishment protected itself, but not the people.” He assured the country “That all changes — starting right here, and right now,” and although he explained that is because “this moment is your moment, it belongs to you” he seemed as always to regard the moment as being all about him. He described his election as “part of a historic movement the likes of which the world has never seen before,” and painted a very dark picture of what America was like before it came to the rescue.
America’s infrastructure “has fallen into disrepair and decay,” “the wealth of our middle class has been ripped from their homes and then redistributed across the world,” “rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation,” and an education system “which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge.” He summed it all with the phrase “American Carnage,” which sounds like the title of a graphic novel soon to be made into a major motion picture, but again promised that it “stops right here and right now.”
We’ve been peddling our gloomy accounts of American decline since Trump was busy firing people on “The Apprentice,” and we’re not about to stop now, but even we thought Trump’s diagnosis a bit overwrought, and to the extent we glean them his prescriptions seemed likely to do more harm than good.
America’s infrastructure is always in need of repair, but that usually happens at the state and local level, and judging by all the orange cones and ditches being dug around here the country seems as busy with the task as always, and our old-fashioned Republican principles as just opposed to a pork-laden trillion dollar spending program as we were Obama was proposing one. The part about the prosperity of the American middle class being redistributed to the rest of the world suggests that Trump regards the global economy as a zero-sum game, with any gain in another country’s standard of living somehow being directly billed to the home of some Rust Belt opioid addict in a “Make America Great Again” ball cap, and Trump’s promise to “protect” us from such looting smacks of the protectionism that has always left all the world poorer. Some of those tombstone factories used to manufacture Kodak film and Betamax videocassette recorders and celluloid collars and other products that are no longer in demand, others were simply no longer any more viable than Trump Steaks or Trump University or Trump Mortgage or the Trump Taj Mahal casino and strip club or any of the other countless businesses that come and go in a competitive and creatively destructive economy, and we fear that any attempts to revive them will not prove fruitful. We’re more convinced than ever than America’s educational system is awful, but have an American president who writes a sentence about “our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge” does not make us any less pessimistic about it.
The foreign policy portion was all about “America First,” another pithy and movie-title phrase that sounds good, unless you were educated early enough to know about the last “America First” movement, which argued in the years leading up to World War II that an isolationist America would do just fine in world otherwise dominated by the worst sorts of totalitarianism. Ever since that proved tragically untenable there’s a bi-partisan consensus that international military alliances and economic cooperation between the more democratic and humane countries is needed to sustain peace and prosperity and ward off the ever present bad guys, but apparently that also ends right here and right now.
To our old-fashioned Republican and conservative ears it was probably the worst inaugural address ever, and we can only imagine how harsh it must have sounded to a Democrat and any other sort liberal. Some of them were literally rioting in the streets even as Trump delivered it, with the Starbucks shops seeming to get the usual worst of it, and many thousands more were already in the streets protesting more peacefully. By the next day the Washington Mall and its surrounding streets were filled with anti-Trump protestors, hundreds of thousands more took to the streets of many other American cities, and when you throw in a fair guesstimate of the turn-out in cities from Europe to South America to Australia there were more than a million of them. That’s a lot of angry opposition, far more than the usual newly-inaugurated president provokes, and it’s hard to imagine Trump either overwhelming them with his popularity or charming them into submission, so we expect that should last a while.
Trump had a pretty good turnout of his own, by the standards of the usual newly-inaugurated president, but of course he felt obliged to overstate that. His press secretary had a press conference that allowed no questions but instead merely castigated the assembled media for broadcasting their footing and publishing their photographs that sure did seem to suggest a smaller crowd than the one that assembled for Obama’s ’09 inauguration, and he huffily noted that there were no official numbers, as the Interior Department wisely bowed out out of the crowd-estimating business decades ago, and he went on to boast that Trump of course had the biggest numbers ever, and he flat-out lied about the ridership numbers on the District of Columbia’s subway and the security precautions that might have kept out some the people he insisted were there. When Trump spoke before a group of Central Intelligence Agency employees on Saturday he also groused about the media, and insisted that he could clearly see up to a million and a half people hanging on his every word, and we doubt that a group of CIA analysts bought a single word of it. Inauguration audiences are mostly drawn from D.C. and its surrounding counties, where Trump got tiny percentages of the vote and Obama was a landslide winner, and Trump’s most enthusiastic supporters surely had more pressing chores than traveling a long distance and coughing up the $800 a night for a stay at Trump’s hotel, and despite Trump’s apparent insecurities about such things size doesn’t really mean all that much in any case, so with all the fights yet to come it seemed hardly worth fighting.
Trump also took the occasion of his visit to the CIA to reiterate his belief in wars of pillage, wistfully remark that we might yet get another chance to appropriate Iraq’s oil reserves, and promised the spooks that “you’re gonna get so much backing, maybe you’re gonna say, ‘Please, don’t give us so much backing, Mr. President, please, we don’t need that much backing.” After “tweeting” that the intelligence community’s assessment of Russia’s meddling in the past election made him feel that he was living in Nazi Germany, Trump assured the audience that any impression he was not a big fan of the intelligence community was entirely due to that lying media, which allowed him to segue into the longer rant about the huge turnout for his inauguration.
All in all, we did not find it an encouraging start.

— Bud Norman

Capitalism and Its Current Respectability

Lately the reports from The New York Times and The Washington Post and the rest of the respectable press have a strange new respect for the old-fashioned Republican sort of free markets economics, which we attribute entirely to president-elect Donald Trump.
Although Trump won’t take office for another five weeks or so, he’s already made news by cajoling the Carrier heating and air conditioning company into keeping 800 jobs that were slated for Mexico in Indiana, “tweeted” the cancellation of an order with Boeing for a new Air Force One fleet over alleged cost overruns, and once again threatened any company that’s considering a foreign work force with a 35 percent tariff. All of which is news that poses a dilemma for the respectable press.
The current operational definition of a respectable press is its instinctive opposition to anything that any Republican might do, and especially Trump, but the president-elect’s unorthodox style of Republicanism is not susceptible to the usual criticisms. Trump’s meddling in Carrier’s affairs is precisely the sort of industrial policy that Democrats have long championed, and although they usually prefer the stick of punitive tax hikes to such carrots as the $7 million in tax abatements that the state of Indiana will offer it’s not enough to hang a scathing critique on. Boeing and the rest of the military-industrial complex are usually cast as the villains, and any attempt to shortchange them is usually cheered. All the tough protectionist talk that got Trump elected isn’t much different from what self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders eventually forced Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton to embrace.
Compelling arguments against Trump’s policies can only be found on the right, in the free market theories that until recently defined the Republican party’s economic platform, and in its desperation the respectable is suddenly willing to go there. All the stories now feature lengthy explanations of Trump’s inefficient market distortions by economists from such capitalist think-tanks as the Cato Institute and the American Enterprise Institute or the University of Chicago or some similarly red-in-tooth-and-claw economics department, and without the usual characterization’s of “right wing” or mention of any funding they might be receiving from the Koch brothers. They’re the same names that have been in the respectable press’ rolodex the past eight years, quoted briefly in the tenth or eleventh paragraph for the sake of balance, but suddenly they’re showing up right after the lead and getting a chance to rebut the Trumponomics that is now being added for the sake of balance somewhere in the ten or the eleventh paragraph.
We’re glad to see it, being red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalists and no fans of Trump ourselves, but it seems a case of much too little and far too late. The respectable press wasn’t making such a fuss about Trump’s Republican heresies back during the Republican primary, when it might have done some good, and these days the respectable press doesn’t seem to have much influence even with with Democrats. Such disreputable Democrats as the party’s newest congressional leader, New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, have long been the beneficiaries of Trump’s political donations, and they’ve always come through for him in the past, it’s hard to see how they’re suddenly going to be swayed the think-tank theories of a suddenly swept away Republican party to oppose the same sort of tax-abatement-dealing and corporate strong-arming and old-fashioned protectionism they’ve always wanted, and the respectable press will also have a hard time with that news.
The old tried-and-true ideas will surely stick around to denouement, with all the variations from those think tanks and economic departments and the help of such respectably anti-Trump conservative presses as National Review and The Weekly Standard and The Central Standard Times, even if it is eventually relegated to the tenth and eleventh paragraphs. Eventually they’ll get another try. In the meantime we’re glad to see the likes of The New York Times and The Washington Post helping out, however begrudgingly.

— Bud Norman

What’s Seen on the Front Page, and the Unseen Consequences

Some eleven hundred people are going to keep their jobs at the Carrier heating and air conditioning plants in Indiana, an early Christmas gift from president-elect Donald Trump, and we’re happy for them. We can’t help worry, though, how it will work out for the rest of us.
Trump can rightly boast that he hasn’t even taken office yet but has already saved those eleven hundred jobs from being shipped off to Mexico, having negotiated the deal that offered Carrier a compelling mix of tax incentives and veiled threats to only cut 300 to 600 jobs at the plant and 700 at another facility, so naturally he boasted at length Thursday during his “Thank You Tour” of ongoing campaign rallies and photo opportunities in the heartland. Even The New York Times and The Washington Post and all the alphabet television networks were obliged to run shots of Trump beaming in the company of grateful workers, and to quote his bold claim that “Companies are not going to leave the United States any more without consequences. Not gonna happen. It’s not gonna happen.” For the moment, at least, Trump’s populist economics seems triumphant.
As the great Frederic Bastiat observed about economic policies, however, “it almost always happens that when the immediate consequence is favorable, the ultimate consequences are fatal, and the converse.” One would have to be very hard-hearted not to feel good for those presumably hard-working Hoosiers whose jobs were spared, yet one would also have to be very soft-headed not to wonder what happens when every American company in search of tax incentives starts making veiled threats of their own.
Perhaps they can all be tax incentivized and otherwise bullied into unprofitable arrangements with their employees, but it’s hard to see how that works out for anybody over the long run. Perhaps the co-author of “The Art of the Deal” will make such great deals, such beautiful, huge deals that everyone winds up getting rich, but that’s not the way it worked out with Trump Mortgage or Trump Network or Trump University or Trump Steaks or the Trump Taj Mahal casino-and-strip-club or numerous other Trump-branded businesses, not to mention the New Jersey Generals of the United States Football League, although we hear that the made-in-China Trump ties are still selling briskly, so we’re skeptical that Trump can run every other business in the country any better. Perhaps all those foreign markets that Trump has promised to protect America from won’t decide to protect themselves from Trump and all his business partners in the American economy with retaliatory measures, too, but we think you’d find a better bet and at least a pair of bare breasts at a Trump casino if there were any left.
For the moment, though, Trump is indeed triumphant. It’s hard to argue with a front page picture of smiling Indiana furnace-makers, and corporate big-wigs in fancy offices shipping jobs off to Mexico are such central-casting villains that even Ayn Rand would have a hard time rising to their defense, and old quotes from long-dead French economists, no matter how time-tested, are now easily shouted down. The Democrats have been peddling protectionism and central planning for as long as we can remember, and although the self-described socialist and almost-Democratic-nominee Sen. Bernie Sanders is grousing about the tax breaks involved in the Carrier deal we expect that most of his congressional colleagues will be happy to make similar deals on behalf of certain of their constituents. We also expect that most of the Republicans who once stood steadfast against such nonsense back when President Barack Obama was picking the winners and losers will now be incentivized and bullied into going along as well, and those hardy few who resist will be angrily “tweeted” about and face difficult re-election races. For now most of America seems quite happy about having someone in the government run the entire American economy, even if they’re rather angrily divided about who that person should be, and Bastiat’s wise warnings about the unseen consequences of well-intentioned economic policies will go unheard, and for that matter the consequences will be mostly unseen.
You’ll be seeing lots of pictures of Trump posing next to grateful workers whose villainous boss has been incentivized and bullied into letting them keep their jobs, but none of the workers who would have been employed if free people and free markets had been allowed to continue along the circuitous and often bumpy route that has led to the past many years of rising global prosperity and relative peace and rapid technological and scientific advancement and widened scope of glorious liberty. The progress has been slowed by the past eight years of Obama’s meddling, indeed the past 90 or so years of varying degrees of government meddling, and Trump might slow it further yet. He’s also promising deregulation and tax cuts and all the other free market notions that Republicans have traditionally peddled, and he might incentivize and bully enough Democrats to make that happen, but we do hope he’ll refrain from trying running every business in America with American workers and American materials, the way he didn’t run his, no matter how tempting the photo opportunity might be.

— Bud Norman

A Crazy End to a Crazy Election

This crazy election year seems to have culminated with Republican nominee Donald Trump becoming president, and how crazy is that?
The good news, for those who insist on finding some, is that the awful Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton won’t become president, the past eight awful years of President Barack Obama have been rightly repudiated, those shockingly tawdry and vastly overrated eight years of President Bill Clinton are at long put to rest, and that entire awful Democratic Party finds itself out of power in the executive branch and in a minority of both chambers of the legislative and perhaps in the judiciary, along with historic lows at the state and local levels throughout most of the country. Ordinarily this would warm our old-fashioned Republican hearts, but there’s nothing at all ordinary about this crazy election year.
The bad news of this crazy election year, for those of us willing to face it, is that Trump represents an entirely newfangled Republicanism which is unlikely to bring any improvement. Our erstwhile party of free market capitalism is now led by an unabashed protectionist who has vowed to bully businesses into unprofitable arrangements that fit his nativist notions, and the alliances and treaties it championed that won the Cold War and generally maintained a peaceable and increasingly prosperous world are now up for negotiations based on a short-sighted financial bottom line. What was once the Party of Lincoln is now home to a neo-confederate “alt-right,” while the former defenders of “family values” and the canon of western civilization are now represented by a proudly-adulterous-and-thrice-married-to-an-illegal-immigrant-nudie-model casino-and-strip-club-and-scam-university mogul who boasts that he can grab women by their wherever because of his reality show stardom.
As awful as another Clinton presidency would have surely been — and we were publicly warning against that dire possibility way back in the days when the Republican nominee and President-elect was contributing to her campaign and inviting her to his third wedding and and praising her as the best Secretary of State ever — we’re now expecting a markedly different but just as disastrous awfulness. This time around a Republican president will be to blame, and we’ll be no more inclined to make excuses for it than were in these last awful Democratic years, but all along we’ve been resigned to spending another four years in futile dissent. As we search desperately for some good news we note that some recognizably old-fashioned Republicans are among those congressional majorities, several of whom polled far better in their states than the party’s newfangled leader, despite their open dissents from his leadership, and that much of conservatism’s intellectual leadership never wavered from their more old-fashioned Republicanism.
That old fashioned-Republicanism of ours also took a beating on Election Day and seems unlikely to make quick comeback, as the next four years probably won’t make voters more nostalgic for it than those awful but soon-to-be-overrated Obama years, but we’d like to think that crazier things have happened.

— Bud Norman

Free Trade and No Winners

At the same time the guy who is still doing the Doonesbury cartoon and the rest of conventional wisdom were for some reason or another were ridiculing the Republicans for their knee-jerk opposition to anything our first African-American president does, the congressional GOP was lining up behind fast-track authority for President Barack Obama to negotiate some sort of deal or another with the vast Asian economy. Given the instincts and the luck of the Republican party, it’s not surprising that the very rare occasions when they sided when with the president was also one on of those rare occasions when he might have been right and even one of those rarer occasions when it all turned out to be a political disaster.
Although we’re disinclined to believe anything the National Broadcasting Company’s news network has to say, we’re inclined to believe their latest poll showing that a clear majority of the American is either outright opposed or at at the very east skeptical about providing Obama with fast-track authority to negotiate a trade weal with the vast Asian economy. That number would naturally include all the trade unions and workers and voters in the susceptible-to-foreign-competition economies in both Republican and Democrat districts, as well as all the ideologically protectionists types in every district, nor matter how cushy their big-media sinecures might be, along with all the more economically insecure grumpy free-trade and laissez faire types living in export-economies such as ourselves who simply wouldn’t trust the president with any sort of authority to do anything. Throw in the president’s usual secrecy about the deal, and the nagging suspicion that at worst it’s some of redistribute-the-wealth-to-Asia and scheme and an old-fashioned snookering of the Iranian nuclear bomb that the president is also negotiating on on uncomfortably fast track, and the latest revelations that’s something about illegal immigration in there, along with all the phony-baloney arguments against a reasonably negotiated fair trade deal, and we’re surprised the numbers weren’t even more toxic.
There’s some consolation in the way the president is castigating his usual Democratic allies in the same way he usually castigates his usual Republican allies, and an undeniable amusement how the mainstream press suddenly doesn’t seem to know who’s side to take, There’s also a certain interest regarding the crowded Republican presidential candidates, with some of the more intriguing candidates taking careful position against the unpopular legislation and some staking a worth-considering argument for it, and a partisan reassurance that even the dumbest Republicans were at least taking a stand for free trade, but on the whole it’s a debacle. If the president and his suddenly chummy Republicans allies get their way it will likely wind up re-destributing America’s wealth, if they don’t it will mostly be because of wrong-headed protectionist arguments that the likes of the Democrats believe, and the best-case scenario is that a reasonable fair-trade agreement will await another two years for the possibility that one of those Republicans who figured it out winds up in office and there aren’t too many Democrats to along. We’ll cling to that long-shot chance, and hope to find something more heartening out there.

— Bud Norman