Abraham Accords, Affordable Care Act, Amy Coney Barrett, Brett Kavanaugh, corporate taxes, Covid-19, Critical Race Theorist, David E. Bernstein, Deregulation, Donald Trump, Dreamers, Election Politics, Federalism, Free trade, Gun Rights, Immigration, Impeachment, Individual Mandate, Joe Biden, Joel Kotkin, Living Constitution, Medicare, Middle East Peace, Nancy Pelosi, National Defense, Nationalism, NATO, Neil Gorsuch, Originalism, Paris Climate Accord, Pass Through Business, Penalty Tax, Social Security, United Nations
As a “practical” libertarian, my primary test for any candidate for public office is whether he or she supports less government dominance over private decisions than the status quo. When it comes to Joe Biden and his pack of ventriloquists, the answer is a resounding NO! That should clinch it, right? Probably, but Donald Trump is more complicated….
I’ve always viewed Trump as a corporatist at heart, one who, as a private businessman, didn’t give a thought to free market integrity when he saw rent-seeking opportunities. Now, as a public servant, his laudable desire to “get things done” can also manifest to the advantage of cronyists, which he probably thinks is no big deal. Unfortunately, that is often the way of government, as the Biden family knows all too well. On balance, however, Trump generally stands against big government, as some of the points below will demonstrate.
Trump’s spoken “stream of consciousness” can be maddening. He tends to be inarticulate in discussing policy issues, but at times I enjoy hearing him wonder aloud about policy; at other times, it sounds like an exercise in self-rationalization. He seldom prevaricates when his mind is made up, however.
Not that Biden is such a great orator. He needs cheat sheets, and his cadence and pitch often sound like a weak, repeating loop. In fairness, however, he manages to break it up a bit with an occasional “C’mon, man!”, or “Here’s the deal.”
I have mixed feelings about Trump’s bumptiousness. For example, his verbal treatment of leftists is usually well-deserved and entertaining. Then there are his jokes and sarcasm, for which one apparently must have an ear. He can amuse me, but then he can grate on me. There are times when he’s far too defensive. He tweets just a bit too much. But he talks like a tough, New York working man, which is basically in his DNA. He keeps an insane schedule, and I believe this is true: nobody works harder.
With that mixed bag, I’ll now get on to policy:
Deregulation: Trump has sought to reduce federal regulation and has succeeded to an impressive extent, eliminating about five old regulations for every new federal rule-making. This ranges from rolling back the EPA’s authority to regulate certain “waters” under the Clean Water Act, to liberalized future mileage standards on car manufacturers, to ending destructive efforts to enforce so-called net neutrality. By minimizing opportunities for over-reach by federal regulators, resources can be conserved and managed more efficiently, paving the way for greater productivity and lower costs.
And now, look! Trump has signed a new executive order making federal workers employees-at-will! Yes, let’s “deconstruct the administrative state”. And another new executive order prohibits critical race theory training both in the federal bureaucracy and by federal contractors. End the ridiculous struggle sessions!
Judicial Appointments: Bravo! Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett, and over 200 federal judges have been placed on the bench by Trump in a single term. I like constitutional originalism and I believe a “living constitution” is a corrupt judicial philosophy. The founding document is as relevant today as it was at its original drafting and at the time of every amendment. I think Trump understands this.
Corporate Taxes: Trump’s reductions in corporate tax rates have promoted economic growth and higher labor income. In 2017, I noted that labor shares the burden of the corporate income tax, so a reversal of those cuts would be counterproductive for labor and capital.
At the same time, the 2017 tax package was a mixed blessing for many so-called “pass-through” businesses (proprietors, partnerships, and S corporations). It wasn’t exactly a simplification, nor was it uniformly a tax cut.
Individual Income Taxes: Rates were reduced for many taxpayers, but not for all, and taxes were certainly not simplified in a meaningful way. The link in the last paragraph provides a few more details.
I am not a big fan of Trump’s proposed payroll tax cut. Such a temporary move will not be of any direct help to those who are unemployed, and it’s unlikely to stimulate much spending from those who are employed. Moreover, without significant reform, payroll tax cuts will directly accelerate the coming insolvency of the Social Security and Medicare Trust Funds.
Nonetheless, I believe permanent tax cuts are stimulative to the economy in ways that increased government spending is not: they improve incentives for effort, capital investment, and innovation, thus increasing the nation’s productive capacity. Trump seems to agree.
Upward Mobility: Here’s Joel Kotkin on the gains enjoyed by minorities under the Trump Administration. The credit goes to strong private economic growth, pre-pandemic, as opposed to government aid programs.
Foreign Policy: Peace in the Middle East is shaping up as a real possibility under the Abraham Accords. While the issue of coexisting, sovereign Palestinian and Zionist homelands remains unsettled, it now seems achievable. Progress like this has eluded diplomatic efforts for well over five decades, and Trump deserves a peace prize for getting this far with it.
Iran is a thorn, and the regime is a terrorist actor. I support a tough approach with respect to the ayatollahs, which a Trump has delivered. He’s also pushed for troop withdrawals in various parts of the world. He has moved U.S. troops out of Germany and into Poland, where they represent a greater deterrent to Russian expansionism. Trump has pushed our NATO allies to take responsibility for more of their own defense needs, all to the better. Trump has successfully managed North Korean intransigence, though it is an ongoing problem. We are at odds with the leadership in mainland China, but the regime is adversarial, expansionist, and genocidal, so I believe it’s best to take a tough approach with them. At the UN, some of our international “partners” have successfully manipulated the organization in ways that make continued participation by the U.S. of questionable value. Like me, Trump is no fan of UN governance as it is currently practiced.
Gun Rights: Trump is far more likely to stand for Second Amendment rights than Joe Biden. Especially now, given the riots in many cities and calls to “defund police”, it is vitally important that people have a means of self-defense. See this excellent piece by David E. Bernstein on that point.
National Defense: a pure public good; I’m sympathetic to the argument that much of our “defense capital” has deteriorated. Therefore, Trump’s effort to rebuild was overdue. The improved deterrent value of these assets reduces the chance they will ever have to be used against adversaries. Of course, this investment makes budget balance a much more difficult proposition, but a strong national defense is a priority, as long as we avoid the role of the world’s policeman.
Energy Policy: The Trump Administration has made efforts to encourage U.S. energy independence with a series of deregulatory moves. This has succeeded to the extent the U.S. is now a net energy exporter. At the same time, Trump has sought to eliminate subsidies for wasteful renewable energy projects. Unfortunately, ethanol is still favored by energy policy, which might reflect Trump’s desire to assuage the farm lobby.
Climate Policy: Trump kept us out of the costly Paris Climate Accord, which would have cost the U.S. trillions of dollars in lost GDP and subsidies to other nations. Trump saw through the accord as a scam under which leading carbon-emitting nations (such as China) face few real obligations. Meanwhile, the U.S. has led the world in reductions in carbon emissions during Trump’s term, even pre-pandemic. That’s partly a consequence of increased reliance on natural gas relative to other fossil fuels. Trump has also supported efforts to develop more nuclear energy capacity, which is the ultimate green fuel.
COVID-19 Response: As I’ve written several times, in the midst of a distracting and fraudulent impeachment attempt, Trump took swift action to halt inbound flights from China. He marshaled resources to obtain PPE, equipment, and extra hospital space in hot spots, and he kick-started the rapid development of vaccines. He followed the advice of his sometimes fickle medical experts early in the pandemic, which was not always a good thing. In general, his policy stance honored federalist principles by allowing lower levels of government to address local pandemic conditions on appropriate terms. If the pandemic has you in economic straits, you probably have your governor or local officials to thank. As for the most recent efforts to pass federal COVID relief, Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats have insisted on loading up the legislation with non-COVID spending provisions. They have otherwise refused to negotiate pre-election, as if to blame the delay on Trump.
Immigration: My libertarian leanings often put me at odds with nationalists, but I do believe in national sovereignty and the obligation of the federal government to control our borders. Trump is obviously on board with that. My qualms with the border wall are its cost and the availability of cheaper alternatives leveraging technological surveillance. I might differ with Trump in my belief in liberalizing legal immigration. I more strongly differ with his opposition to granting permanent legal residency to so-called Dreamers, individuals who arrived in the U.S. as minors with parents who entered illegally. However, Trump did offer a legal path to citizenship for Dreamers in exchange for funding of the border wall, a deal refused by congressional Democrats.
Health Care: No more penalty (tax?) to enforce the individual mandate, and the mandate itself is likely to be struck down by the Supreme Court as beyond legislative intent. Trump also oversaw a liberalization of insurance offerings and competition by authorizing short-term coverage of up to a year and enabling small businesses to pool their employees with others in order to obtain better rates, among other reforms. Trump seems to have deferred work on a full-fledged plan to replace the Affordable Care Act because there’s been little chance of an acceptable deal with congressional Democrats. That’s unfortunate, but I count it as a concession to political reality.
Foreign Trade: I’m generally a free-trader, so I’m not wholeheartedly behind Trump’s approach to trade. However, our trade deals of the past have hardly constituted “free trade” in action, so tough negotiation has its place. It’s also true that foreign governments regularly apply tariffs and subsidize their home industries to place them at a competitive advantage vis-a-vis the U.S. As the COVID pandemic has shown, there are valid national security arguments to be made for protecting domestic industries. But make no mistake: ultimately consumers pay the price of tariffs and quotas on foreign goods. I cut Trump some slack here, but this is an area about which I have concerns.
Executive Action: Barack Obama boasted that he had a pen and a phone, his euphemism for exercising authority over the executive branch within the scope of existing law. Trump is taking full advantage of his authority when he deems it necessary. It’s unfortunate that legislation must be so general as to allow significant leeway for executive-branch interpretation and rule-making. But there are times when the proper boundaries for these executive actions are debatable.
Presidents have increasingly pressed their authority to extremes over the years, and sometimes Trump seems eager to push the limits. Part of this is born out of his frustration with the legislative process, but I’m uncomfortable with the notion of unchecked executive authority.
Of course I’ll vote for Trump! I had greater misgivings about voting for him in 2016, when I couldn’t be sure what we’d get once he took office. After all, his politics had been all over the map over preceding decades. But in many ways I’ve been pleasantly surprised. I’m much more confident now that he is our best presidential bet for peace, prosperity, and liberty.