D. Dowd Muska


The Donald’s Dunderheaded Demagoguery

April 14, 2011

For someone with a reputation as a tough guy, Donald Trump whines a lot.

The Donald understands that Americans are hurting. And he knows why: China and OPEC.

Since the nation, Trumps claims, “can’t compete with slave labor,” as president, he’d “tell China that you’re either going to shape up, or I’m going to tax you at 25 percent for all the products you send into this country.”

Higher taxes -- tariffs are taxes, remember -- on consumers and manufacturers doesn’t sound like an effective tool to boost an economy, but clearly, Trump’s baseless China-bashing is finding an audience. No matter how often analysts refute protectionists’ nonsense, “you’re getting poorer because the Chinese are getting richer” attracts many voters in the lower and middle classes.

Census data do show that the growth of real, median household income has been weak in recent decades. But free trade is not to blame. The best explanation was identified by Charles Murray in a lecture at the American Enterprise Institute earlier this month. The scholar is finishing a book on socioeconomic trends for whites, and discovered that his findings are true for the nation as a whole. Over the last half-century, the cohort colloquially known as the “working class” -- semi- and low-skilled workers who rarely have college degrees -- became rampantly irresponsible. Male workforce participation fell significantly. Criminal activity soared, as did out-of-wedlock births. Marriage in the working class plummeted. (For whites, from 83 percent in 1960 to 48 percent in 2010.)

Murray concluded that virtues and behaviors once esteemed by nearly every American -- keeping on the right side of the law, waiting to marry before having children, working to support your family -- have eroded, quite severely, in the lower class. In contrast, for those who acquire marketable skills, stay away from unhealthy addictions, and get and stay married, the rewards of a globalized economy are rich indeed.

Believe that a Chinese worker stole “your” job, and the charge that Arab petro-goons are filching your wallet probably resonates. Trump’s ignorance of the international crude market is breathtaking. In an interview with Forbes, he peddled the conspiracy theory that whenever economic conditions improve, “they raise the oil prices.”

“They,” of course, are OPEC. The U.S. economy, Trump brayed, “can never be strong if OPEC is allowed to drain the blood out of us. So the first thing I’d do is have a heart-to-heart talk with OPEC -- and it would not be a nice conversation.”

It’s not known on Trump World, but here on Planet Earth, OPEC produces less than half of the planet’s petroleum. The combined output of just 11 non-OPEC countries -- Russia, the U.S., China, Canada, Mexico, Norway, Brazil, the U.K., Kazakhstan, Indonesia, and Azerbaijan -- surpasses that of the cartel’s 12 members. And OPEC’s future looks increasingly grim. While its nationalized firms stagnate, investors are giddy over oil fields, conventional and unconventional, in the Russian Arctic, western Canada, the Rockies, and Texas.

Lincoln, in an address delivered more than two decades before he became president, argued that threats from foreigners posed little risk to the young Republic: “All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest; with a Buonaparte [sic] for a commander, could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years. At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.”

Telling voters that they’re making poor decisions, in their personal lives and at the ballot box, doesn’t inspire volunteers. Nor does it attract media attention. And campaign consultants hate that kind of talk. So Trump, and his ilk, look elsewhere for the “real” perps. For protectionists, xenophobes, and populists, the villains may change, but the story doesn’t: “They” are responsible for our problems, and drastic actions -- measures that usually increase the power of the federal government -- are needed.

There’s little wrong with America that a return to personal responsibility, greatly reduced government, and sound money can’t fix. But advocating time-tested solutions is politically risky in a country where selfishness and buck-passing reign.

No wonder Trump’s poll numbers are rising.

D. Dowd Muska (www.dowdmuska.com) writes about government, economics, and technology. Follow him on Twitter @dowdmuska.

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