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trump characature

Donald Trump could take just about any position on any issue and defend it with conviction and blustery passion… until he changes his mind. At this point in his presidential bid, there is nothing on his campaign web site in the way of specific policy statements. Here is an “On The Issues” post showing the evolution of Trump’s positions in a number of policy areas. Just about anyone on the left or the right should be able to get a few chuckles out of this list. It’s truly astonishing.

A few of Trump’s current policy positions are discussed below, but before getting into that, it’s interesting to consider the overall tenor of his rhetoric. Most observers will happily admit that they find his bombast entertaining, and I do too. He’s outspoken and unapologetic, confronting his critics head-on, often to powerful effect. Many are drawn to this sort of candidate, and his popular image as a skilled businessman doesn’t hurt. But while all politicians are capable of disappointing supporters, Trump fans do not know, and cannot know, what they’re getting.

Trump is almost always critical but rarely suggests actual solutions, making it difficult to discern whether he really has policy positions. So much so that it’s incredible to hear praise for his “clarity”. For a more sober take, read Andy Kroll’s account of frustrated attempts to get direct responses on a few policy issues from the Trump campaign, and of Trump’s bizarre tour of Laredo, Texas. A related piece by Peter Suderman appears at Reason.com. Politico has emphasized the same point in “Will the real Donald Trump please stand up?“. Kroll says this:

I have zero to report about Trump’s plans for actually being president—except that, from all available evidence, he hasn’t given it a moment’s thought.

An interesting piece on Trump comes from Jeffrey Tucker in “What is Trumpism?“. A longer version appeared as “Trumpism: The Ideology“. Here is one bit from Tucker, written after hearing “The Donald” speak at FreedomFest:

The speech lasted an hour, and my jaw was on the floor most of the time. I’ve never before witnessed such a brazen display of nativistic jingoism, along with a complete disregard for economic reality. It was an awesome experience, a perfect repudiation of all good sense and intellectual sobriety. …

His speech was like an interwar séance of once-powerful dictators who inspired multitudes, drove countries into the ground, and died grim deaths.

Here are a few examples of Trump’s “nativism”, as described by Tucker:

I did laugh as he denounced the existence of tech support in India that serves American companies (‘how can it be cheaper to call people there than here?’ — as if he still thinks that long-distance charges apply). 

When a Hispanic man asked a question, Trump interrupted him and asked if he had been sent by the Mexican government. He took it a step further, dividing blacks from Hispanics by inviting a black man to the microphone to tell how his own son was killed by an illegal immigrant.

Two issues on which Trump has been outspoken are international trade and immigration. As an aside, I note that he is always quick to qualify any aggressive statements he makes on these topics with a quick “I love the Chinese”, or “I love the Mexicans”. Tucker, at the link above, highlights Trump’s backward views on trade, which focus almost exclusively on U.S. producers without considering the benefits of trade to U.S. consumers. He sees big ships coming into port, and thinks only of cash flowing abroad: “What do we get?” Well, we get nice foreign goods, thank you very much. But Trump blames foreign trading partners for many ills, despite the fact that his Trump-label ties are made in China! Are we somehow being cheated on those ties? Trump says we need smarter people negotiating “these deals”. Okay… is that a policy?

We don’t need trade wars if we want to avoid a much weaker economy. Yet Trump’s trade rhetoric suggests that he would be tempted to employ trade restrictions like tariffs as a bludgeon. For example, consider one of his other big talking points: illegal immigration (despite the fact that the inflow of illegals has slowed to a trickle over the past few years). Trump wants to build a wall across the length of the U.S.-Mexican border, and he says he’ll make Mexico pay for it. To get a wall built, Trump might well decide that he can raise tariffs on Mexican goods to prohibitive levels as a way of twisting Mexican arms. That sort of action is likely to be very costly for U.S. consumers, and ultimately producers as well.

Trump’s latest pronouncements on immigration policy have been described as confusing. In a nutshell, he wants to deport “the criminals” (and not just those already doing time) and deport all other undocumented aliens; create an expedited process whereby we can let “the good ones” back into the country with legal status; “maybe” create some sort of path to citizenship (because “who knows what’s going to happen”), but not right away; and “we’re going to do something” for the “DREAMers”. Trump says he’ll know how to identify the “good ones”. If he’s so confident of that, then why would he, a smart “business guy”, allow the country to incur the expense of deporting millions of them?

Who knows what Trump will propose in terms of tax reform, health care and gun control? Ditto on welfare policy, defense, the drug war, foreign policy and energy. He wisely spoke against the drug war in 1990, but I’m not aware of any recent statements on the issue. Also in his favor, he does not accept the “consensus” on climate change and opposes Common Core. He has criticized crony capitalism but has undoubtedly benefited from cronyism, enlisting governments in the pursuit of eminent domain action. He is said to favor cuts in federal spending, but he has opposed cuts in Social Security and Medicare. He opposes an increase in the minimum wage, but he has proposed a wealth tax in the past.

Trump has not offered many specifics in this campaign, and the GOP debate this Thursday night will not provide a decent forum for articulating policy. In general, his positioning is a very mixed bag. One gets the sense that he is doing his best to appeal to a sort of populist conservatism. Unfortunately, his signature “positioning” on trade and immigration qualify him as something of a statist. He has certainly held a number of other statist views in the past, though he has disavowed at least some of those.

In closing, here are two more quotes from Jeffrey Tucker about Trump that I found both ominous and plausible:

What’s distinct about Trumpism, and the tradition of thought it represents, is that it is not leftist in its cultural and political outlook (see how he is praised for rejecting “political correctness”), and yet still totalitarian in the sense that it seeks total control of society and economy and demands no limits on state power.

These people are all the same. They purport to be populists, while loathing the decisions people actually make in the marketplace (such as buying Chinese goods or hiring Mexican employees).