Trump’s Perverse America

by Dec 29, 2017

The election of Trump as president demonstrates the perverse attitude of a significant segment of the American electorate and his policies have validated this point. The definition of perverse is irrational, illogical, contradictory and senseless, and indicates support for actions that are inimical to the interests of the person. His policies have hurt the country, his base and his party rather than making America great as he frequently quips. This is the case even with his most recent “success”, the tax cuts. Why did Americans elect this man? As in any such decisions there are seemingly credible reasons to his supporters although the majority of Americans, in terms of the popular vote, which he lost, did not agree during the election and subsequently given the fact that he is the most unpopular president since polling started.

Trump’s election beggars belief. He was the least qualified of the candidates within his party and against his Democratic rival. He had no experience of government; other candidates and previous presidents had worked in government, as civil servants, in elected roles or the military. He had not distinguished himself in business, having inherited his wealth from his parents and was legally bankrupt four times. One analysis of his wealth concluded that he would have been better off if he had saved his inheritance. Candidate Trump asked for and presumably received assistance from America’s major military and strategic rival, Russia. He advocated spurious and unrealistic policies and encouraged and attracted racist organisations. He was accused of indecent actions against women and was caught on camera making lewd and sexist statements. Dr Elaine Kamarck, Senior Fellow in Governance and Director of the Center for Effective Public Management at the Brookings Institution said “we have elected the least experience person ever to hold the office of the presidency”.

Since taking office, Trump has implemented policies that are, contrary to his claim, caused America to lose its leadership position in many ways. He is loathed by the public and leaders around the world, including in states allied to the US. In a recent poll conducted by Pew Research in 37 countries, 22% had confidence in Trump doing the right thing in marked contrast to the 64 percent who agreed with that statement for President Obama; 74% had little or no confidence in Trump compared to 23% who expressed the same sentiment about Obama; favourable views of the US had dropped from 64% to 49% since Trump took over. His initial statements and/or lack of affirmation of core principles of NATO, the cornerstone of US/European defence since the end of the Second World War, made his European allies jittery and got them thinking that America under Trump was an unreliable ally. While, he has subsequently reaffirmed America’s commitment to the alliance, his allies are still wary because they view those initial statements as the true Trump, as confirmed by his desire to be friendly to what NATO allies consider to be the alliance’s biggest threat, Russia. In a meeting of the G20 last summer, he ignored allies and walked over to have a long chat with Putin at a dinner function. In a recent speech after the US published its National Security Strategy which labelled Russia and China as the two major threats to the US, Trump pointedly ignored that document and instead focussed on the need for a “great partnership” with Russia. He took America out of the Climate Change accord. He abandoned the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement that Obama had worked so hard to build, largely to counter China’s relentless rise. In both the climate accord and TPP decisions he gave China the opportunity to take up the space vacated by the US, thereby ceding America’s role to a key rival. His position on climate change is likely to see other countries edging the US from its leading role in new technology; other countries involved in TPP have subsequently signed up to an agreement dubbed TPP light. America, the beacon of democracy has lost that position as Trump has cosied to dictators and attacked the media, judiciary and the democratic process at home.

The American people and in particular, his base are paying a price for Trump dogma and ignorance. He has dismantled Obama’s environmental protection rules causing increased pollution. He appointed a man who is very hostile to environmental issues to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) who has subsequently allied himself with industry leaders, potential polluters, rather than advocates for environmental concerns. His attack on his predecessor’s rules protecting consumers from predatory finance companies will hurt the public. After several unsuccessful attempts to dismantle Obama’s healthcare legislation that provided healthcare to millions of people, his recent tax cuts have finally got rid of the Individual Mandate in Obamacare, a major blow to the programme. According to the Congressional Budget Office dismantling the scheme will result in thirteen million people losing healthcare as well as increasing premiums for everybody else. His major “success”, the tax cuts will, according to the Tax Policy Centre see 83% of the benefits accruing to the 1% wealthiest Americans while increasing the budget deficit that America’s children and grandchildren will have to pay. Trump and his family will obviously be major beneficiaries of these tax cuts. In addition to this lopsided benefit to the wealthy, The National Low Income Housing coalition have noted that the removal of subsidies in the private activity bond scheme will result in a reduction by 800.000 in rental housing construction for low income people. As a follow up to the reforms, largely to pay for the give-away to the rich, the administration is reportedly planning significant cuts to social programs like Medicare and Medicaid that benefit the poor and middle class. The tax cuts will result in what many commentators consider to be one of the major issues, namely, the huge disparities in income and wealth between the rich, like the Trump family and the middle and working classes and poor; this is particularly the case because of the steep reduction in inheritance tax.

Leaving aside the social implications of the tax cuts, the economic benefits touted are a mirage and rather than resolving some of the country’s major challenges, the bill will exersabate them. Most Economists, including banks have noted that the additional economic growth generated by the tax cuts will be minimal and short-lived. The additional growth rate, according to most Economists will not generate sufficient tax revenue hence US debt will balloon. The legislation will encourage tax avoidance, using new rules for Pass Through and C-corporations; consequently the 1.5 trillion dollar cost of the bill is likely to be even higher. These observations are not merely based on theoretical analysis but have played out in a much smaller scale in the state of Kansas where Republicans adopted similar policies; state revenues plummeted and the economic growth rate for that state was only a fraction of other states with much higher tax rates. In a meeting with business leaders when Gary Cohn, President Trump’s chief economic adviser asked them whether the tax cuts would result in increased investment only a handful put their hands up. Analysts have noted that companies are more likely to buy back their shares and pay off debts and shareholders rather than invest or raise the wages of employees. America’s huge trade deficit could rise because of the shift to a territorial tax system. The shift in taxes to only income earned in the US will encourage multinational corporations to shift operations abroad. Trump’s tax cuts which penalize California and New York, with high state taxes which used to have those taxes deducted from federal taxes but can now deduct only a small fraction of those taxes, will damage the US economy. Both New York and California account for a high proportion of America’s output and exports largely because they have developed good infrastructure. Trump’s bill therefor risks damaging two of its most productive states, a point made by the Wall Street Journal. Consequently the tax cuts which will have limited effects on the economic growth rate will only worsen America’s major challenges, output, government debt and trade deficit.

Trump’s tax cuts and approach fails to support areas where the US has comparative advantage, namely, education, science, technology and the creative sectors. The tax bill will impose new taxes on leading universities and the net neutrality rules change which reverses Obama’s policy will restrict access to internet content and encourage major providers to hike prices. Trump’s Education Secretary, driven by dogma is introducing changes that most experts believe will be detrimental to the educational sector. Unlike Obama who was lauded by the scientific and creative community, Trump is viewed with suspicion and even antagonism. This is partly because he has taken positions that are clearly at variance with science, notably his position on climate change and the people he has appointed to key position who share his ignorance and scepticism to established scientific findings. He has railed against leading actors and Hollywood in general which has largely been anti-Trump. It should also be noted that his treatment of California and New York in the tax cuts which host a large proportion of these sectors will have a detrimental effect on America’s most productive and promising industries.

Trump’s perverse America has exhibited a dysfunctionality that has huge implications for the country which will last a long time. Republican support for Russia and authoritarian rule is on the rise. In a YouGov poll in December 2016 37% of Republican voters had a favourable view of Putin, nearly quadrupling the 10% that had a favourable view of him in July 2014. Putin’s net negative had dropped from 66% to 10% among those voters and was much better than the 66% recorded for Obama during that period. A major reason given for this trend by Republicans is the strong leadership qualities shown by Putin. Trump is appointing a record number of very conservative and often unqualified federal judges, according to the American Bar Association, that will have life time tenures and work their way through the system. Both houses of congress continue to have historically low approval ratings from the American public and with Trump that applies to the presidency. Similarly, the public has a high distrust of the media and with the increasing reliance of voters on social and “trusted” partisan traditional media, the public, particularly Republican voters are becoming increasingly polarised and not open to objective analysis. These trends are very disturbing for America’s democracy.

Trump has not been good for the Republican Party. The party of Lincoln is now regarded as the nasty party, increasingly controlled by and/or accommodating religious and racist extremists who Trump panders to. Trump has received prominent support from the Alt-Right and openly racist organisations like the Ku Klux Klan. While these types of supporters were embedded in the Republican Party, dating back to the 1960s and 1970s due to the party’s southern strategy, explicitly outlined by Lee Atwater in early 1980’s, Trump has encouraged them to come out openly to support him. A notable case in point is Trump’s support for Roy Moore in the Alabama senate election. Trump went against his own Congressional caucus and leading Republicans in supporting this candidate who had been removed from office for breaking US federal laws, accused of sex with minors and had made racist statements. The party that had prided itself on financial prudence and had railed against Obama’s “reckless” spending which saw America recover from the great recession faster and stronger than all other major developed countries – remember the Tea Party – is now adding trillions to the national debt even though the solid economy Trump inherited from Obama makes such a move unnecessary. The party of defence hawks, fiercely antagonistic to America’s nemesis, Russia, now has a standard bearer who wants to embrace the Russian bear.

Why has America chosen an unqualified president? Why have working class Whites chosen a man that clearly does not have their interests at heart? Why has the Republican Party chosen and its congressional leaders cosied up to a man who clearly does not have its traditional interests on trade, global hegemony aspirations and fiscal prudence that it has always prided itself with? This is largely because he is the antithesis of the suave, intellectual and cautious Obama who was often accused of too much nuances in his policies and pronouncements, leading from behind and not being tough on foreigners. Here was a tough talking guy who was going to” make America great again” and foreigners were always taking advantage of America. Race is a major factor as The Atlantic magazine stated when it described Trump as the first White president. Trump started his bid for the presidency by questioning the legitimacy of the first Black president. While not explicitly stated, his support base views Obamacare and social programmes as disproportionately benefiting Blacks and other minorities. And then there is the demographic time bomb which will see Whites lose their majority status in the next 30 to 50 years. Trump is, to give him credit, a superb salesman as we all know how clever sales gimmicks often get us to buy things we do not need. Much of his appeal is to do with ignorance and prejudice, cleverly exploited by the rich who saw early on that Trump was going to make them richer; Trump confirmed this recently when he told guests in Florida that his tax reform would make them richer.

Trump, particularly to his White working class base, makes them feel good, speaks their language, is kicking asses and to hell with those foreigners and the coastal cosmopolites. Rationality does not come into play and because even though this guy is clearly part of the 1 percent, he is regarded as their kind of guy, now that is perverse.

America has elected the least qualified president who asked for and received help in his election from the country’s major adversary, Russia; it has abdicated its leadership role in key forums and lost favourable views around the world; implemented policies that adversely affect wide sections of the America environmentally, in consumer finance and health; adopted a tax cut which gives huge benefits to the rich while failing to address America’s key long term challengers and penalizes its most productive states; fails to spur sectors where it has huge comparative advantages and; moved away from the ideals and tradition of his party which is causing the Republicans to lose their appeal to the electorate as confirmed recently when the Democrats won a senate seat in Alabama, a feat they had not achieved in that state for a quarter of a century, a trend that polls suggest will continue and result in huge losses for the Republicans in the congressional elections in 2018.

J Boima Rogers is Principal Consultant at Media and Event Management Oxford (MEMO),