Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton each presented an address on the economy this week. In Trump’s case, the speech appeared to be an effort to distract the electorate from his extraordinary two weeks of tanking in the polls. Between his incessant tweets and his demagogic rallies, Trump managed to alienate millions through his insults, lies and factual errors. His efforts to cozy up to Vladimir Putin led many to doubt his patriotism and even more to doubt his sanity. Time to change course and wow them with his knowledge of business and the economy, since after all, he is a successful billionaire businessman, and running an entire nation would be easy for someone like him!
So Trump came up with a proposal that is as inconsistent as it is wrong-headed. During the primary campaign, he figured out that blue-collar, non college-educated whites make up a large portion of his supporters, and that these people have been losing ground as the economy has shifted over the years away from factory jobs and towards professional and service sector employment. Although the reasons for this trend are numerous and complex, it seemed reasonable to conclude, as did many both on the left and the right of the political spectrum, that trade deals such as the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), which hasn’t been passed, are responsible.
The only problem with Trump opposing the TPP is that, while his base has fervently jumped on the anti-TPP bandwagon, Republicans love trade agreements. Yet the Republican platform opposes TPP because of Trump. And President Obama, who is currently enjoying his highest popularity in years, is advocating for passage of TPP, while Hillary, who once supported it, has been pushed to the left by Bernie and is now opposing it. So while the economics of TPP are complicated, the politics are crazy.
Apparently figuring that he’d better make some grand gesture to the Grand Old Party that has given him its nomination for the Presidency, Trump came through for the likes of Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell by proposing a massive tax cut, after he’d previously said he’d raise taxes. This despite the fact that this would mostly benefit only the wealthiest and that the majority of economic growth we’ve experienced during this century has already been enriching the richest people in the country. But Republicans are still hanging their hat on trickle-down supply side economics, which they’ve been pushing since the Reagan years. He also spoke of repealing the regulations that support longstanding goals of most Americans to protect consumers and the environment, saying they are bad for business. But eliminating them would make it even easier for Wall Street and large corporations to profit at the expense of these goals.
Trump also called for investment in the nation’s deteriorating infrastructure, which Obama has been proposing in almost every State of the Union address he has given since he’s been in office. The President has made the case that this needs to be done to keep our people safe, to facilitate the movement of goods and people so as to stimulate business, and to create jobs and to promote energy efficiency. But the Republican-led Congress that has ruled for the last six years has simply ignored this proposal. So while Trump takes the “progressive” position of opposing trade deals to potentially benefit his working class supporters, he is proposing to lower taxes, which will give more money to the wealthy, create less public funds for the public good and deepen the federal deficit.
With his infrastructure proposal, it’s refreshing that Trump has proposed something that would benefit the country, even though he took the idea from his Democratic rivals and has proposed no details. But how will he pay for it? Trump has neglected this detail, although as a successful billionaire businessman, he would want to make sure that things get paid for (except for those pesky contractors in Atlantic City). Republicans hate deficits almost as much as they hate taxes, but even though they’ve run Congress for six years while allowing deficit spending, Trump’s spending on top of lower taxes would amount to a fiscal disaster. On the other hand, Hillary has shown how she would pay for her infrastructure program.
Trump really showed his stuff by disingenuously calling for the end of estate taxes. Perhaps his supporters don’t realize that only those inheriting over $5.4 million are actually subject to the federal inheritance tax; the vast majority of us won’t inherit that kind of money, so the proposal to repeal the inheritance tax would benefit only the wealthiest. And while Trump seemed to throw a bone to the working class with his childcare tax-write-off proposal, according to the New York Times, “Fact-checking Donald Trump’s Economic Speech”, this program would largely benefit the upper middle class and wealthy, not the working people who need it the most. This is because lower income taxpayers often do not itemize their deductions, which would be the only way to benefit from this program. Do Trump’s supporters know that he is trying to fool them as they applaud it?
Clinton’s economic policy address contained few surprises, reflecting the economic positions she has been taking throughout her campaign. It was internally consistent in that it established goals of helping middle and working class people and creating economic fairness, and it followed through with programs that would actually help achieve those goals. It was rooted in practicality as she demonstrated how her programs would be funded.
Hillary advocated for leveling the playing field by taxing the wealthy so that they pay their fair share, closing tax loopholes, subsidizing college education for those unable to afford it, helping those struggling to pay off their college debts, raising the minimum wage to $12/hour, providing job training for those dislocated by the changing economy, and giving tax credits to companies participating in profit sharing with its employees. She proposed childcare assistance that would benefit the middle and working classes by offering tax credits and subsidies that would cap childcare expenses at 10% of family income. Clinton opposed TPP as currently written, but did not universally condemn trade agreements, instead advocating for trade deals that protect American jobs and the environment and that are fair to workers. She supports a large-scale effort to improve and modernize our infrastructure and would raise taxes on the wealthy and create an infrastructure bank to fund the massive amount of deferred improvement our country needs to make on its highways, roads, bridges and railroads. Furthermore, Clinton created a vision of how addressing climate change could actually create jobs and entire new industries as opposed to the denial and pessimistic bleakness that Trump and the Republicans have been spewing. She proposed adding a public option to the Affordable Care Act while Trump repeats the Republican mantra to repeal it. In short, Hillary ‘s economic program is reasonable, fundable, forward-looking and geared to those who need it.
The main problem for the Clinton economic program would be getting it passed by Congress. Without a Democratic Senate and House, it would be difficult to get much of her plan adopted into law. Hillary did make the case for her ability to work with people from both sides of the aisle to “get things done”, an area where Obama was not too successful. It seems, however, that this will only happen if the Democrats win both houses of Congress, given that the Republican Congress has been totally obstructionist under Obama. But if she can get even a portion of her program passed, she will be able to make progress towards a fair, more prosperous economy.
While Clinton has been campaigning in an adult, rational manner, proposing serious, intelligent policies that may actually help our country, Trump has run his campaign based on insults, lies and fear. His address on the economy provided only a temporary break to his demagoguery. While Clinton has tried to engage in a debate for the future of our country, Trump has been skating by, gaining popularity by complaining that Washington “is broken” and making outrageous statements well beneath the level of a presidential campaign, but giving few details of exactly what he would do to fix it. But for most of his supporters, that seems to be enough.
Occasionally, Republican Party leaders have prevailed on Trump to propose actual plans and policies that they hope will echo conservative Republican ideology. But what we’ve seen with his economic address is that it is not consistent with any particular ideology or direction. He hasn’t shown any coherent approach so far on the economy, how he would actually improve things. But with his frequent changes of mind, his contradictions and his penchant for tweeting outright lies and then claiming the next day that he was being sarcastic, it doesn’t appear that he is capable of doing so. His inability to maintain focus on the issues frustrates the Republican establishment and is making a farce of his campaign. But as long as he tells his supporters what they want to hear, it doesn’t seem to matter. Let’s hope that Americans recognize who has their best interests at heart when they vote this November.