Trump’s agenda – a little bit nationalistic, a little bit fantastic

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Donald Trump has released the agenda for his second term:

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A few random thoughts in response:

1) The biggest missing piece – as it has been from Trump’s agenda over his first term, even before COVID – is any commitment to restoring the Federal Government to some form of fiscal sanity. There is no mention of either budget deficit or government debt, which are reaching truly stratospheric heights, and so no indication that they are a massive problem that is casting a shadow over the country’s present and future. I guess we, fiscal conservatives (whether classical liberals or libertarians) have well and truly lost that battle with the left, not just in the United States but elsewhere throughout the developed world, where for a while at least the right-of-centre parties used to pay lip service to the ideas of balanced budgets and living within the means. Now everyone seems to believe, or in any case act as if they believe, that money can be conjured up – printed or borrowed – out of nothing in virtually unlimited amounts, with no short and long-term consequences for the economy. This is a dangerous ground for our side of the politics to have conceded because the left can and always will outbid and outspend us in any popularity context when money is not an object.

2) This is the sort of a nationalist and protectionist agenda that will appeal to many, but saddens me somewhat as someone who has always believed in free markets, free trade and America as the leader of the Free World. This is not to say that all three have always been pursued in a non-problematic way (Trump is certainly correct that most allies have been massive free-loaders, outsourcing their security to the US while spending their “peace dividend” on domestic welfare instead), but there is surely a happy middle ground somewhere as a correction, rather than swinging to the other extreme of quasi isolationism.

3) Having said the above, strategic considerations can and should trump (no pun intended) free trade. China if not exactly an enemy is certainly not a friend, and dependence on its good will, particularly where key strategic industries (health, communications, etc.) are concerned, is not just naive, it’s also dangerous. Western democracies between themselves need to be self-sufficient in matters crucial to their well-being and safety. It doesn’t really matter where your t-shirt comes from; it does matter who controls your 5G technology or a the supply of essential drugs.

4) Have you ever expected to see an American President whose official political agenda would include a category “Drain the Swamp?” Me neither, but then again Trump is not your typical politician. Which, in turn, accounts for much of his appeal and popularity (ephemeral and uncertain as it has been). Certainly you can’t imagine either of the Bushes, or for that matter McCain or Romney or even particularly Cruz or Rubio, aiming to “Drain the Globalist Swamp by Taking on International Organizations That Hurt American Citizens”. This is an unequivocal rejection of a long-term bi-partisan policy consensus, which is why the Establishment – or the Swamp – has been so viscerally hostile to Trump. I’m still a bit uncomfortable with the adjective – or the insult – “globalist”, as it reminds me of the old designations like “cosmopolitan”, “internationalist” or “rootless”, which often obscured and distracted more than illuminated. But I can’t say the instinct itself isn’t sound; much of the “international community” is a relativist, left-wing invention that is both a massive rort and a massive drag on democracies.

5) This is not a policy document but a wish list but even with that caveat it would be great to delve beyond the broad aspirations into more detail how all these things might actually be achieved – or even fought for in the first place. Never mind colonising Moon and Mars, how will the much more significant, if not as imagination grabbing, school choice be brought about?

6) Notice something else missing? Yes, the Wall. Both in reality and now on paper. Which is ironic, because it’s actually more achievable by the Executive than most of the new and rehashed policies in this second-term manifesto.

7) There is no way that Congress will ever pass term limits to in effect do themselves out of their jobs. But it’s a nice aspiration and it’s right in a sense that the professional political class of swamp creatures (like Biden), who have been in Washington for decades upon decades and keep on promising to finally solve all the problems if you elect them one more time, is a big part of the reason why politics doesn’t work anymore for most people.

8) Flowing from my first point, there is no inkling as to how in addition to holding the line in so many areas (“Protect Social Security and Medicare”), the Trump administration/Republican Congress will pay for all the new goodies promised. There is no mention of spending cuts or increased taxes, which I guess would spoil the rather optimist tone of the agenda, but it’s also a tad dishonest and infantilises the electorate by peddling no-pain-all-gain political visions for the future.

9) It’s difficult to compare this plan to the Democrats’ plan, since the latter seems to consist of Manichean platitudes like “ending the darkness” and essentially simply not being Trump. Presumably Biden/Harris (or, after a few months, just Harris) and a Democrat Congress would simply take what Trump has done and/or wanted to do and do the opposite, but if I were an Independent or a swinging voter I would still like to know what the next Dem administration has in store for America.

10) Overall, much to like, much to like less , but having said all that, the American left – and not just at its fringes but well into the mainstream – is now so deranged and so woke that were I an American citizen and thus able to vote (not a prerequisite for the Dems) I would crawl over broken glass to vote for Trump. This is probably the most important presidential election in at least a generation and the stakes couldn’t be higher. It would be lovely if the world’s only true superpower and its two major parties could offer the American people a better choice than a celebrity entrepreneur on the one side and a creepy dementia sufferer on the other, but we have to work with what we’ve got, not with what we would like to have. And on that account, whether you call it “the lesser evil” or are actually much more enthusiastic about what’s in front of you, there is absolutely no question what’s right this November.

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