Next week, Republicans gather in Cleveland to officially anoint Donald J. Trump their standard-bearer and presidential nominee. A year ago, nobody saw this coming.
Well, nobody, that is, except for Norm Ornstein, who wrote one prescient column a year ago. And of course me, who wrote dozens over the last three years.
Now, I must rush to clarify. I did not predict a major-party nomination for Trump per se (nor did Ornstein, despite vox painting it that way). What I have been doing, since December 2013, is writing weekly columns here about the rise of non-partisan populism in America, and how politicians ignore the wishes of the 51% and the working-class disenfranchised at their peril. Because Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have had a bigger 2016 than Jay-Z and Beyoncé, I’ve had plenty of chances to say “I told you so.”
However, at this moment, right now, in my last pre-GOP-convention column, I think it’s about time I stopped being coy and started coming clean about something for the very first time.
Despite the man’s ostensible populism, this space does NOT support Donald Trump for President of the United States. Because I believe him to be a fundamentally unserious candidate, and one that plays upon prejudice to boot. Because I believe that populists will be absolutely disappointed in any administration he leads.
In some ways, it pains me to say this. Trump and Sanders have disrupted the process in a manner that all populists should find utterly heartening. Essentially, they have each run with one foot in and one foot out of their respective parties. Not in anyone’s memory of any primary campaign had any “Democrat” criticized the Democratic Party as often as Sanders, nor any “Republican” criticized the Republican Party as often as Trump. Because the media ignores actual third-party candidates like Jill Stein of the Green Party and Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party, Sanders and Trump’s insurgencies from within may well have been the only way to truly challenge America’s ruling duopoly. One can only wonder if an unreconstructed hardcore leftist and a bombastic sexist/racist were the only types of candidates that could have squared that circle. Why not a retired general, or business leader (with fewer bankruptcies), or actor? But I digress.
Through their support of Sanders and Trump, Americans have clearly expressed their frustration with the two parties who continue to prioritize their own needs over the requests of majorities of Americans. And that’s why it’s more than a little painful and ironic that at the end of the day, Americans are apparently stuck with a choice between the two least-liked Presidential candidates in history.
Donald Trump is not relying on Republicans to beat Hillary Clinton. He’s relying on populists. He is painting Hillary as a Republican on issues like free trade, the TPP, and NAFTA. In his latest stump speeches, he has become far more assiduous at characterizing Hillary as “establishment” and himself as “anti-establishment.” His convention, next week, will be dedicated to calling Hillary a “conventional” politician. Anyone see an irony?
I like to think that someday, we will have a presidential candidate who gets as far as Mr. Trump has, with an actual record to prove it, and/or a populist outlook that’s more convincing overall. Someone like David Petraeus or Sheryl Sandberg or Oprah Winfrey. Sadly, Donald Trump does not have the right record or the right outlook.
Personally, I believe Trump when he says he would re-negotiate TPP and NAFTA and other “free trade” agreements. The problem is that I’m not sure he’s thought through how much backlash we may receive from other countries in the form of increased tariffs and potential boycotts of American products. And I’m not sure if I can trust that his new plans will truly put American workers, and the 51%, first.
My skepticism comes from a close reading of Trump’s tax plan, which favors the 1% at least as much as it favors working-class Americans. Trump claims that millions of low-income-earning Americans will no longer have to pay any tax at all, and that could be terrific if it wasn’t accompanied by a massive tax-cut for the top that will supposedly translate into “trickle-down” success, as though we haven’t seen that notion repeatedly debunked for 35 years.
As the non-partisan and even conservative experts have made clear, Trump’s tax plan will blow a massive hole in the deficit, to be borne on the backs of future generations, and I can’t help but suspect that future working-class people will have to pay that money back. That’s no populist plan.
Trump’s tax plan also inveighs against “corporate inversions,” meaning that Trump wants U.S. corporations to continue to avoid paying taxes by keeping their assets offshore. Let me understand: Trump doesn’t want jobs departing the country, but corporate tax revenue is A-OK? Yeah, that’s not in tune with what the majority of Americans desire.
The state of California taxes Silicon Valley companies far beyond any national tax rate suggested by any Democrat. Somehow, they don’t leave. This means that there’s clearly room to tax major corporations and the 1% more than we do, and clear majorities of Americans are asking for this. The government can at the very least tax them to a few dollars less than the next-lowest-taxing industrialized country, which would be Britain. Anyone want to predict any Fortune 500 company moving to Britain during the next four years?
Outside of trade, and based on reading the rest of his official website, I don’t see Trump as much of a populist. (By the way, Donald, did you have to wear a different red tie in every single one of the 20 videos you made for your “issues” page? Are you trying to make it easier for “SNL” to parody you, or what?) For example, 80% of Americans want better background checks for assault weapons; Trump is against them. Majorities of Americans agree with the Pentagon that 20% of U.S. military bases should be closed, but pork-happy representatives in each of the relevant districts always quash such deals, and there’s no sign that Trump would confront them. (I’m quoting his site: “I will make our Military so big, powerful and strong that no one will mess with us.”) Self-funding your campaign is not the same as reforming campaign finance or repealing Citizens United, which means the 51% would once again be let down. Majorities of Americans don’t want 11 million immigrants rounded up and shipped to Mexico. Majorities of Americans don’t want Obamacare repealed, much less replaced with the odd patchwork bullet points Trump lists on his site. A less partisan populist would have different solutions.
So, with a heavy heart, this particular populist has to agree with those who say #nevertrump. Sorry, Donald.
Now, does that mean I’m voting for Hillary Clinton, as the reputed only way to stop Trump? That will be a subject for another column, but I’ll say that at this moment I’m inclined to agree with Ron Fournier, who many months ago suggested that Hillary come clean about her email obfuscation, instead of stonewall and lie as she’s been doing for a year. Or as he concluded yesterday in The Atlantic:
The collapse of her credibility was totally predictable, and totally avoidable. That makes Clinton’s actions particularly galling to Americans like me, who would never vote for Trump but who don’t want to condone her conduct; who don’t know whether they can trust her; and who now face a hard choice: Vote for Clinton, vote for a candidate outside the two-party system, or don’t vote at all.
Now, who’s ready for a massive shitshow? Oh good, then let’s watch the Republican convention together…