As his recklessly ignorant response to Russia’s hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s emails demonstrates anew, Donald Trump is the most dangerous man ever to be this close to America’s presidential power.
The fact that the Republican Party offered its nomination to this preening narcissist, this loose-lipped vulgar bully, this ill-informed wannabe caudillo, this cheap card room hustler in an undertaker’s suit is an affront to the memories of Abraham Lincoln and Dwight Eisenhower and an indelible stain on the historic reputations of this generation’s GOP leaders. Every one of them who has endorsed Trump—however reluctantly—stands indicted for putting party and personal ambition ahead of country—and none of us ever should forget it.
It is no accident that, when one recalls the images taken away from the Republicans’ Cleveland convention, most of the associations are with the authoritarian politics of the 1930’s—from Trump’s Riefenstahl-esque descent in his monogrammed private jet, to Chris Christie’s Nuremberg party rally style call and response speech to the Lindberg-like evocation of the original intolerant “America First” rhetoric. It is similarly no accident which foreign leaders have endorsed the failed Casino operator—Hungary’s anti-Semitic strongman Viktor Orban, France’s xenophobic Marine Le Pen and, of course, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, who apparently is operating a KGB version of a Trump super Pac from inside his country’s intelligence agencies. Kindred spirits all, though Putin also and obviously recognizes a patsy-in-waiting when he sees one.
It overstates nothing to say that, when Hillary Clinton leaves Philadelphia as the Democrats’ presidential candidate, she will carry far more than her party’s hopes; even more important, she will bear the responsibility of steering American democracy away from an abyss whose frightening depths we cannot now foresee.
If this generation of Americans somehow elects Donald Trump to the White House, our children and grandchildren will curse us—and rightly so.
That said, the Obama Administration has an obligation to deal now with the Russian hacking and to provide the country an object lesson in the difference between the kind of leadership that brought Osama bin Laden to Justice and the fecklessly ignorant blustering that passes for Trump’s approach to foreign policy.
We know who the Russian intelligence operatives in their Washington embassy are. President Obama should instruct Secretary of State John Kerry to declare every one of them persona non grata and give them 24 hours to leave the country. The Russians doubtless will retaliate against our diplomats in Moscow, but who gives a damn. The hacked emails are being distributed by WikiLeaks, which has a sinister history of allowing itself to be used by intelligence agencies. That organization’s founder and head, Julian Assange, is holed up in Ecuador’s London embassy dodging extradition to Sweden on a rape charge. The White House should instruct the Justice Department to obtain an indictment against him for cooperating in this attempt to subvert an American election, along with anything else they can come up with—and federal prosecutors can be very creative. We should then request that Britain extradite him to the United States and inform Ecuador that we will sever diplomatic relations until they give him up.
Trump keeps banging on about “toughness.” Show him what the real thing looks like.
Looking forward to the campaign, Clinton is surrounded by smart and committed women and men and certainly is not lacking for advice. For the moment, though, I’m going to exert a blogger’s privilege of pretending I’m one of them. It seems clear from Trump’s support in Cleveland and the Sanders dead enders in Philadelphia that the Democrats need to present a better and more intelligible case to those Americans most painfully afflicted by the insecurity and inequality of the new economy.
Now, some percentage of the Trump enthusiasts dealing with insecurity are racists, white revanchists, if you will, who want to somehow return this nation to the time a few decades ago, when whites held a commanding majority in the polity. Those days aren’t coming back and there’s nothing to be done about that. It has been sobering, though, to discover just how many of these people there are. When Trump talks about “making America great again,” the “again” these folks have in mind seems to be pre-1865, when African-Americans were slaves and women couldn’t vote. There’s nothing to be done about their insecurities; they are what the moral theologians call “invincibly ignorant,” that is, living in wickedly willful rejection of the truth.
When it comes to the reality of economic insecurity and inequality, though, the Democrats have a lot of penance to do themselves.
For convenience, we can over-simplify a bit and break the sources of inequality and its consequent insecurity into two currents. One has to do with the economies great shift from reliance on mercantile and manufacturing activity to services—most of them low paying—and finance, which has proven stunningly remunerative to those adept at practicing it. We need to reign in the financial industry.
A Clinton White House should pledge to work with congress to make Dodd-Frank a real force on Wall Street. Hillary should pledge to reinstate the Glass-Steagall Act, which her husband had the bad judgement to abolish, so that the great financial houses must again separate their retail banking from their investment banking and trading on their own accounts. Yes, it will put them at a minor competitive disadvantage to foreign banks, but the benefits of their current advantage in this regard go mainly to their own stockholders and partners’ pay packages—and not to consumer and small business loans, as they’d like you to believe.
Finally, we need to do something about the regulation of corporate governance, so that these companies have truly independent boards appointing genuinely independent compensation committees that will rationalize executive pay.
Hillary doesn’t need suggestions on tax policies because the ones she’s already proposing to address income inequality issues.
The other source of inequality and consequent insecurity is the unequal way the dislocation caused by the digital revolution and free trade has fallen on certain regions and sectors of the manufacturing trades. While the benefits of free trade in particular have been enjoyed by all Americans, including those who lost their jobs when the manufacturing sector contracted, the harm such agreements did has been unequally distributed and the Democratic Party has not done enough to recognize that fact and to redress the wrong those Americans suffered.
While both immigration—another Trump bet noir—and free trade have been of measurable and substantial benefit to the majority of Americans, it’ also that since NAFTA was ratified in 1993, during Bill Clinton’s Administration, the amount Americans paid for goods, excepting energy and food, has fallen every year.
More trade brought more choice, too. Economists Robert Lawrence and Lawrence Edwards estimate that trade with China alone put $250 a year into the pocket of every American by 2008. The gains from cheap stuff flowed disproportionately to the less well off, because the poor spend more of their incomes on goods than the rich.”
Economists at UCLA and Columbia have estimated that if the United States cut off free trade or imposed ruinous tariffs—as Trump says he will do—Americans would lose 29% of their purchasing power over night. The poorest among us would suffer a catastrophic 62% reduction in their access to goods.
That’s not to say that the free trade has not injured some Americans economic well-being or that such harm has been as equally distributed as the benefits. If you worked in the textile, shoe, tire or a host of industrial assembly industries, you probably lost the job you had in 1993. The worst job losses occurred after China joined the World Trade Organization—we have no free trade agreement with Beijing, by the way—and their goods became a mainstay of U.S. retailing. Since the turn of the century, 20% of all this country’s vanished factory jobs were lost to Chinese competition. Between 1991 and 2013—the last year where the numbers are complete—China’s share of global manufacturing output went from 2% to 19%.
Clinton ought to propose a simple three-point program to address this socially immoral imbalance of benefits and harm. First, we need an effective program of free retraining for jobs that actually exist in the current economy. Then, we need a federal job placement program graduates of the retraining scheme. Finally, given the emerging realization that people no longer go where the jobs are plentiful because they can’t afford the cost of housing. So, give them housing assistance as we do for veterans, if they’re willing to move to where new positions are more plentiful.
There is also a stronger obligation that the political press should accept. They need to put aside fears that, unless they engage in some empty exercise of false equivalence between the Clinton and Trump candidacies, they’ll be labeled “unfair.” (Perhaps, they might recall Edward R. Murrow’s dismissal of notions of journalistic fairness that “give equal weight to word of Judas with that of Jesus.”) Trump should be hounded endlessly and at every opportunity to release his tax returns as every presidential candidate in living memory has done. Like many others, I’ve long suspected that he refuses to do so, because he’s not nearly as wealthy as he claims to be.
Now, there’s another possibility that needs to be considered. Since the mid-1990’s none of the major New York banks have been willing to do business with Trump for obvious reasons. Most of his conventional financing we know about has come from West Germany’s Deutsche Bank. There has been, however, persistent talk that he regularly has received major loans from Russian oligarchs, all of whom are members of Putin’s circle of cronies.
Perhaps what Trump doesn’t want us to see are those liabilities on his balance sheet? After this week’s events we need to know whether that’s the case.