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President Trump is creating, not solving, our nation’s problems: Paul Heise

Posted 12/20/17

 

As I sat down to try to make some sense of the politics of the past weeks and the year to come, my first impression was of the tectonic social and political forces that President Donald …

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President Trump is creating, not solving, our nation’s problems: Paul Heise

Posted

 

As I sat down to try to make some sense of the politics of the past weeks and the year to come, my first impression was of the tectonic social and political forces that President Donald Trump and his Republicans have loosed upon us. That presents a dismal political forecast and raises some very serious micro political prospects.

So I have to say, things do not look good at the micro-level. Domestic turmoil is undermining our accustomed international leadership in trade and war. The war in Afghanistan drags on and Vladimir Putin claims victory in George Bush's war in Iraq. China announces they intend to lead the world. “America First” leads us to abandon long-held beneficial positions on trade and investment. The rest of the world goes on negotiating investment deals from which we have excluded ourselves, particularly in southeast Asia and the Muslim world.

But, most important, Russia has been caught red-handed meddling with our election process. And it is really worrisome that the president refuses to make any comment or complaint or show any anger over what may be the most serious threat to our democracy that we have ever known. We seem to be playing an ever weakening hand.

Domestically, things are even worse. Impeachment is in the air with House and Senate investigations and a special prosecutor recommending indictments of high-ranking administration officials. The president’s approval ratings continue to drop. The president offered and the public seized upon the glitter of the casino, the vulgar sex of the beauty contest or the cheap theatrics of “The Apprentice” as the hallmark of this administration. Focus was on the Trump personality, with its overt amorality rather than ideas and values. The “tax reform bill” may or may not pass but none of the legislators knows what they will have passed into law anyway. We do know that its purpose was to redistribute middle-class income upward to the very, very, very rich. The sweeping macro-nature of the tax reform bill means it touches everything.

Other colossal changes are taking place in our society, some good some bad. The politics of the LGBT movement has shown stunning progress, as has the #MeToo movement. That tax reform bill, among all the weird things it does, allows ministers to preach politics from the pulpit. The potential for change in the religion-politics mix is scary. The most important outcome of the Alabama election may be that the black community has awakened to vote in force. All of this controversy is enough to warrant a dismal prospect. It is easy to write a column or op-ed piece that says all is lost.

But is it? When I tried to lay out either the micro- or macro-scary scenario, I kept running into counter-examples. Looking at history suggested something different. Presidents seldom match their reputation. Jimmy’s Carter's presidency was scarred with the Richard Nixon-Gerald Ford presidencies and the horror that was Watergate. We are not yet at our Watergate stage. In fact, having been through Watergate, we may tend to overestimate the impact of a president who doesn't believe law applies to him.

I looked at presidents and how scary they were — a macro-look. If Donald Trump as president scares you, think of George Marshall and Harold Ickes and the fear they must’ve felt when Harry S. Truman, a local machine politician, took over from Franklin Delano Roosevelt. They had actually not even told him of the bomb. Truman did a superb job with ending the war, reconversion, start of the Cold War, etc.

Republicans had expressed an even deeper fear of FDR. Some businessmen even went so far as to try to gin up a coup d'état, out of loyalty of course.

The scandals of the Coolidge-Harding presidencies were no better. Teddy Roosevelt was “that damn cowboy” when he became president. But he went on to bust the trusts, set up the national parks and scare the world with a threatening display of our naval power.

Nixon was a crook and he was smart. That is even scarier. No one panicked and Nixon was duly pardoned. We are satisfied with the handling of Watergate and Nixon because we stayed with the law.

Sometimes politics gets out ahead of society and then we need a transformational time to catch up. In Trump-speak, we have to drain the swamp.

Unfortunately for him, Donald Trump is not a man suited to do this. Sad. Very sad.

Paul A. Heise, of Mount Gretna, is a professor emeritus of economics at Lebanon Valley College and a former economist for the federal government.