Watch for What Happens Next
Judge Campaign Promises on Results, not Actions
Shortly after the election last November, twitter user Elliott Lusztig posted a series of tweets referencing Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism. The whole thread is here, but one bit in particular has permanently changed the way I look at political speech: “Nazi Jew hating was not a statement of fact but a declaration of intent … What the Nazis were doing was not describing what was true, but what would have to be true to justify what they planned to do next.”
In retrospect, so much of Donald Trump’s fiery campaign rhetoric was based around what would need to be true to justify the solutions he had already proposed: Build the wall. Bring back jobs. Repeal Obamacare. Make America Great Again.
Why build the wall? Because Mexican criminals, gang members and rapists, are pouring over our unsecured borders and the country is experiencing a wave of immigrant crime and terrorism like we’ve never seen before. We need a wall to stop this bloodshed.
Why bring back jobs? Because global corporations have taken good, well-paying manufacturing jobs away from honest Americans and given them to foreigners in third world nations who will work for $2 a day. We need to impose huge taxes on imports to bring manufacturing back to America, for Americans.
Why repeal ‘Obamacare’ (the ACA)? Because it’s “a disaster.” It’s not good insurance and it costs too much. We need to replace it with something better, which we’ll tell you all about right after we repeal it.
Why Make America Great Again? Because America has lost her way. We’re losing and we need to do all of these things to start winning so much we’ll get tired of winning.
Of course, none of these statements are true: More Mexicans are leaving the US than entering. The ones who are here commit crimes at a lower rate than US Citizens. The national violent crime rate overall is on a 25 year downward trend. US manufacturing output is at an all-time high, and the majority of jobs lost have been lost to automation, not outsourcing. Three quarters of ACA enrollees are satisfied with their insurance, and 85% of them qualify for subsidies that offset the increases. And finally, for all our faults, The United States remains the richest country in the world and the unquestioned global power in basically every realm.
But the fact that these statements are lies doesn’t matter. They were never meant to be accurate, they were instead meant to justify what Candidate Trump planned to do next. When Trump says there were millions of illegal voters, what he means is that his administration intends to take away the voting rights of millions of Americans. When Trump says immigrants are taking our jobs, murdering our citizens and committing terrorism, what he means is that he intends to treat certain people as second-class citizens for the benefit of him and the people who are loyal to him.
When Trump says he’s going to Make America Great Again, he needs to first convince you that America is Not Great, or you’ll never buy what he’s selling.
“When a wise man points at the moon the fool looks at the finger.” -Chinese Proverb
Now that he’s had a month to test out his new powers, one of the lines I hear over and over from Trump supporters is that he’s keeping his campaign promises. “He’s taking steps to repeal Obamacare,” they say. “He’s banning travel from some majority Muslim nations. He’s stepping up deportations and border patrol. He’s convincing corporations to re-open factories in the US. He’s building the wall. He’s doing all the things he promised to do that will Make America Great Again!” To hear them tell it, its such a breath of fresh air to finally have a president who follows through on his campaign promises.
But what I want to emphasize here is that actions are not results, and rather than focusing on what the administration is doing, you should focus on whether it results in the outcome you expected. To mangle the proverb, Candidate Trump said “I’m going to point at the moon!” and now President Trump is raising his hand to a crowd of supporters who are happy to stare at his finger. Don’t be the fool who doesn’t notice that the moon isn’t in the sky.
It doesn’t matter that Trump builds a wall and deports immigrants. It matters if the wall and the deportations improve your economic situation by giving citizens a shot at the jobs that immigrants hold. So far, the opposite is happening.
It doesn’t matter that Trump is hiring more Border Patrol. It matters whether the increase in security (and the increase in spending to cover the new recruits) results in a safer environment. The Border Patrol more than doubled in size under Bush & Obama — and according to the people in the agency at the time, that rapid doubling resulted in an influx of unqualified officers and ‘compromised security.’ There are serious concerns that Trump’s plan will result in a more dangerous border.
It doesn’t matter that Trump touted a few hundred new American jobs (at great public expense) in a handful of factories. It matters if the manufacturing sector returns to its pre-millenium highs. So far, this is not happening.
It doesn’t matter whether the ACA is repealed (or replaced). It matters that the coverage you end up with under Trumpcare is better and cheaper than it was under the ACA. Judging by the complete lack of detail from congress about a replacement, it’s unlikely they have a better alternative. Judging by the massive backlash among even conservatives, it’s looking more and more like most people are happy with their situation.
It doesn’t matter whether Trump cuts taxes. It matters whether his budget can maintain an already booming economy, lower deficit spending, and revive a dying middle class. According to every economist I’ve found, it’s more likely that cuts during a good economy will increase deficits and increase the chances of a future recession.
It doesn’t matter what the actions are if the results are the opposite of what was promised. That’s not follow-through, that’s a scam.
Don’t get scammed.
The easiest way to recognize a con man is when they position themselves as the solution to a problem you didn’t know about until you met them. Donald Trump has made a career out of showing up with an expensive solution and convincing you that you have a problem. From his failures in Atlantic City, to the Trump Network, to the USFL, to his ‘signature’ properties, to Trump “University,” nearly every way in which Donald Trump has profited seems to hinge on everyone else losing. Now that he seems to have the nation’s government in his sights, why should we expect the outcome to be any different?