A win for Trump and a loss for Trumpism26th February 2019
As time goes by, it becomes increasingly obvious that global populism has no coherent governing philosophy. Or if it does, it has no serious intention to implement those policies.
The most recent Economist has a number of articles discussing recent politics in Britain and France, which are both wracked by populist turmoil. It’s now clear that the Brexit hardliners have no governing vision for the UK, and that their ideology is essentially nihilistic. The same is true of the yellow jacket protesters in France. As with many other populist movements throughout the world, the yellow jackets began with a set of economic grievances and soon morphed into a crude nativist movement, full of racism and anti-Semitism.
Trump’s only major policy successes have been in adopting the traditional “Mitt Romney” GOP agenda, cutting taxes for big corporations, easing environmental regs, and nominating conservative judges. According to the FT, the rumored China trade deal is likely to continue that trend:
Yet there is scant evidence that Beijing has offered to make a big change in course, or to provide a mechanism to assure Washington that it will stick by any commitments. . . .
For Mr Trump, there is a clear desire to reassure markets and extend the momentum in the US economy ahead of his re-election bid in 2020. He wants to fulfil a key campaign promise to reset trade relations with China, especially as the prospects for other commitments, such as building a wall on the Mexican border, have faded.
The risk for the president is a backlash from China hawks both on the left and the right of the political spectrum, who are already grumbling that Mr Trump will settle for a weak deal. To them, he squandered much of his leverage by delaying the tariff increase.
“Lighthizer’s ability to get binding MoUs on the key non-trade barrier issues such as forced technology transfers can only occur if you execute the 1 March tariffs — otherwise the pressure comes off the Chinese,” Steve Bannon, Mr Trump’s former senior adviser, said in an email on Saturday.
China’s stock market was up 5.6% today. Good.
Obviously this rumored agreement won’t address the underlying economic issues that concern protectionists like Navarro and Bannon. It won’t reduce our trade deficit and it won’t bring manufacturing jobs back to America. But this is one of those rare occasions where I side with Trump, and I also believe this will be good for him politically. Most of his base doesn’t care about any actual policy changes, they are just interested in seeing him look like a leader who “owns the libs”. They don’t want to see empty shelves when they shop at Walmart. And a stock market crash would look bad to Trump’s upper middle class white supporters.
There are much worse things than a demagogue being a “market politician”, guided by stock market sentiment like an ox with a nose ring being pulling along by a farmer. Imagine if he were actually a 1930s-style populist, implementing actual populist policies.
Meanwhile, Trump’s attempt to close the southern border has failed, at least according to the metric used by the Trumpistas to claim success in early 2017. This NYT article provides numerous quotes of Trump gloating over the drop in detentions at the border, which occurred during the first half of 2017 (grey line):
By fiscal year 2018, things were back to normal according to this very same data source, and detentions are now well above the levels of previous years (red line).
As with Trump’s failure to achieve the Navarro/Bannon trade agenda, and as with his failure to get a big federal infrastructure program, this border failure is actually good news. We need more illegal workers to “Make America Great Again”. After all, poor Americans on welfare have zero interest in picking vegetables all day in the hot sun, unless you raised their wage so high that American consumers switched to imported vegetables and we started growing wheat in California. Illegal Mexican immigrants in construction will make new Texas homes more affordable for blue collar workers moving from Buffalo, fleeing New York state’s nightmarish fiscal policies and cold weather.
The Dems were willing to give Trump the wall in exchange for a DACA agreement, something overwhelmingly supported by his base. But ultimately his base cares more about Trump continuing to fight the elites, so he opted to forego the wall. Trump cares more about having the “fighting for the wall” issue than he does about stopping the flow of illegals.
I still think that Trump’s unique mixture of stupidity, cruelty, and dishonesty makes him the worst president in US history. But it would be even worse if he took seriously the demagogic populist agenda that he ran on. Instead, his primary goal seems to be propping up the stock market. We’ll see how the Dems react to that reality.
We live in the global era of populism, but actual populist policies are hard to find, outside of Venezuela.
PS. Next up is an entirely symbolic meeting with Trump’s love interest in North Korea. More “leadership” for his base.
PPS. For you alt-rightists depressed by all of this, consider that the new populist socialism on the left is every bit as empty of actual policy content as is Trumpism. No, America’s not about to become socialist, and, “You can keep your private health care plan.” I promise.
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