Saturday, January 16, 2016

Good Trump, Bad Trump

The biggest problem with Donald Trump is that nobody knows just what he will really do after he becomes president. The man speaks with heart, but not with precision. Indeed, rhetoric notwithstanding, his statements are remarkably ambiguous.

Take the most famous one first:
Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on.
The implication (since clarified) is that the ban is temporary, but he's never specified for how long. It could be for 30 minutes or 30 years. Either way it sounds cataclysmic, though the reality may be much less so.

So what the hell does this guy have in mind?

The Bad Trump is an unreconstructed nativist who really hates Muslims. Any serious effort to ban their entry into the US will wreak havoc with our foreign policy, as Jeb! made clear during last night's debate. If consistently enforced it would damage our friends more than our enemies.

For the Good Trump, on the other hand, the plea is just a ruse. The total ban (if enforced at all) will operate only for a few weeks and then be relaxed after we've figured it out. What we'll end up with is something very much like what all the other candidates agreed to, namely a moratorium on war refugees from Syria, Iraq, and Libya. Trump's bombast merely serves to open the Overton window for this rather reasonable outcome.

Though I have no clue what he really intends.

His initial comments about Mexican immigrants was even more over the top:
When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best. They're not sending you. They're not sending you. They're sending people that have lots of problems, and they're bringing those problems with us. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.
Of course that's a slander. I don't think there's any evidence that Mexican immigrants (illegal or otherwise) are more prone to criminality than anybody else. And they're not sent by the government. On the other hand, he may have a stronger case about immigrants from Central America, especially El Salvador.

Asked by Univision's Jorge Ramos how he would deport 11 million people, Trump said,
We’re going to do it in a very humane fashion. Believe me. I have a bigger heart than you do. We’re going to do it in a very humane fashion. 
You know what it’s called? Management … I’m a great manager. I know how to manage things. I hire unbelievable people. What we’re doing here will work great. 
Once I win, you’re gonna see things happen.
The Bad Trump really believes this. Of course it's impossible--there is no way one could "humanely" deport millions at a low cost.

But the Good Trump isn't so sure. In the same exchange with Mr. Ramos he backs down a bit. Acknowledging that many Mexicans were "good people", he adds "and they're hopefully gonna come back in very soon."

The end result may be sensible immigration reform of the sort Mitt Romney and Marco Rubio have long advocated. This combines greater enforcement at the border with a big, beautiful gate for legal immigrants. As before, by expanding the Overton window he makes a practical solution possible. Though again I have absolutely no clue what his real intentions are.

Finally, this is what Mr. Trump has to say about tariffs on Chinese imports: "I would do a tax. And the tax, let me tell you what the tax should be … the tax should be 45%," But during last night's debate he claims he was misquoted about the 45% figure. But,
"They can't believe how stupid the American leadership is," Trump said of China. "I'm totally open to a tariff. If they don't treat us fairly — hey, their whole trade thing is tariff. You can't deal with China without tariff. They do it to us. We don't do it. It's not fair trade."
The Bad Trump is a devout protectionist--something that will destroy the American economy. The whole "fair trade" wheeze is just an argument for crony capitalism.

But the Good Trump...

Here I am unable to find the Good Trump. I have no quotes where he substantially backs down from this position. So I am afraid that on trade Mr. Trump means exactly what he says. Perhaps this isn't surprising--that a billionaire favors crony capitalism doesn't shock. But it does disappoint, and to my mind nearly disqualifies Mr. Trump from the presidency.

Nearly is the key word. Of course I much prefer either Christie or Rubio as candidates. Even Bush, Carson, or Kasich are better choices (though I'd hold my nose).

But compared to Ted Cruz? Sorry, but in that case I'll vote for Trump. Mr. Trump is a deal-maker. He can negotiate with people. It seems to me his instincts (except on trade) are mostly in the right place. So I can trust him--I think, at least sort of.

Donald Trump reminds me most of FDR. Like Roosevelt, he's not a man of principal. But he has an ability to communicate with the American public that can actually accomplish something. Like FDR, Trump cares not a whit about the Constitution or any other high-minded principal. For him it's all about the Deal. So it will depend on Congress and the courts to keep him in check.

A Trump/Roosevelt presidency is a very big risk. But perhaps we're in a place where such a risk is justified.

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