I don’t know what’s worse about Donald Trump’s determination to intervene, as he did with Carrier, to keep manufacturers from moving any capital or operations overseas.
Is it the fact that he is vowing to interfere “on a day-by-day basis,” one deal at a time, to threaten “retribution” against recalcitrant firms? This is a policy that will turn the White House (or maybe just Trump Tower) into a central office for the ad hoc micromanagement of the American economy, ungoverned by any general rules or laws.
But no, those aren’t the worst parts of this policy. The worst part is that Donald Trump is getting other Republicans to excuse his actions by throwing out the party’s entire nominal ideology.
Isn’t the Republican Party supposed to be the party of free markets? Well, not any more. Consider our new vice-president, Mike Pence, the supposedly safe, establishment running mate who was going to be a balance against Trump’s wild-eyed populism. Here’s a little scene from the Republican Party in the Era of Trump.
“This is the way it’s going to be,” Mr. Trump said…. “Corporate America is going to have to understand that we have to take care of our workers also.”
Mr. Trump was accompanied by his vice president-elect, Mike Pence, who is currently Indiana’s governor. He was in the room at Trump Tower when the president-elect placed his initial call to Mr. Hayes, and he was the one who sealed the deal with the chief executive with a handshake in the building on Monday.
“I don’t want them moving out of the country without consequences,” Mr. Trump said, even if that means angering the free-market-oriented Republicans he beat in the primaries but will have to work with on Capitol Hill. “The free market has been sorting it out and America’s been losing,” Mr. Pence added, as Mr. Trump interjected, “Every time, every time.”
Get that last part? The message is not just, as some have put it, that “the free market has failed.” Trump’s message is that the free market fails every time. So what is it that is going to succeed every time? Why, the personal deal-making prowess of Donald J. Trump, that’s what! Haven’t you read his book?
It would be a bit of an exaggeration to call this the party’s official new economic ideology, because Trump is not a man who thinks or talks in a way that is abstract and general. But if we take his approach to economics and translate it into ideological terms, it has three pillars: populism (corporations have to “take care of our workers,” as judged by politicians looking to rally blue-collar votes); nationalism (imposing “consequences” and “retribution” for the flow of capital and goods across borders); and cronyism (the president’s personal role in negotiating deals and deciding which businesses are in or out of favor).
Now let’s review the basic free-market economics of this, which did not originate with the Republican Party but go back to Adam Smith and were probably most eloquently stated by Frederic Bastiat in his satirical Petition of the Candlemakers. Economic nationalists tell themselves that tariffs are a way of shaking down foreigners, but they’re actually shaking down the American consumer, who will have to pay more and get less, either because he’s paying for a tariff or because goods have to be manufactured domestically at greater expense.
John Tamny explains this very ably and adds a further new observation on the destructive impact of Trump’s nationalist economics.
This is especially interesting when we remember that for decades members of the right have knowingly explained high European unemployment as an effect of how costly it is for companies on the continent to shed non-performing workers. As the right have so correctly put it, “you can’t hire workers if you can’t fire them.” OK, but the same applies to the United States and the formation of companies right here. If businesses can’t relocate out of the US, it’s less likely that they’ll locate here in the first place. If you can’t fire an errant country, you’re less likely to hire it to begin with. Members of the right who should know better talk up the 800 jobs Trump allegedly “saved,” but in their frightening willingness to excuse the most egregious acts of government so long as the person executing them has an “R” next to his name, they ignore the exponentially bigger number of jobs that will never be created in a United States that Trump is trying to turn into the proverbial Roach Motel. If investors can’t leave the US, they won’t enter the US.
Many people on the right used to know these principles of free-market economics—but suddenly they have decided to forget it all.
This corruption goes beyond economics. Thus, we get Rush Limbaugh applauding the arbitrariness of Trump’s push to cancel a government contract with Boeing because the company backed the wrong politicians. A Trump tweet targeting Boeing shows how “smart” Trump is, you see, because Boeing has been in bed with the Clintons politically, hiring them for speeches and donating to their foundation and her campaign. So the implication is—what, that they should have supported Trump instead? Like I’ve been saying, Trump isn’t “draining the swamp.” He’s making “pay to play” an explicit policy.
(Then again, Limbaugh’s corruption began much earlier, when he tried to rehabilitate a racist founder of the “alt-right.”)
We also see that some of the same people who got the vapors over the cast of “Hamilton” delivering a politely worded message to Mike Pence are now defending an obnoxious Trump supporter who got banned by Delta for his vulgar political rant at Hillary Clinton supporters. Apparently, speaking truth to power doesn’t include entreaties to the future vice president but does include shouting at ordinary people in coach.
These are all scenes from the ideological gutting of the Republican Party. As an experienced reality TV performer, Donald Trump has an instinctive skill at emotional manipulation, a sense for how to appeal to people’s thoughtless impulses and play them off against one another. So he is harnessing the brute tribalism of partisan politics to get the rank and file of the party to back everything he says, simply because they like hearing the howls of outrage from their traditional tribal rivals, the Democrats.
He’s appealing to the sense that the enemy of our enemy must be our friend. But they’re all wrong. Sometimes the enemy of our enemy is just another enemy.