Letter to a Trump Supporter #9: Donald Trump’s Character

This is the ninth and last in my series of “Letters to a Trump Supporter,” from correspondence with a family friend who supports Mr. Trump.

Yesterday, I addressed Hillary Clinton’s character. Today, I will address Donald Trump’s.

It’s hard to know where to begin. I have received so many defenses of Mr. Trump’s character, and not one of them makes a bit of sense.

Below is a compilation of my responses.

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Dear Mr. ——,

There are so many negative stories about Donald Trump that it’s mind-boggling how such a person could be allowed to reach a position of importance in our society. Here are just a few of these stories:

Importantly, we knew all of these horrible things long before over a dozen women accused him of sexual assault and rape.

And, contrary to what Trump supporters have told me, this isn’t just about his private morality. It’s about his public morality. He doesn’t just say vulgar things behind the scenes. He says them on the national stage, and he doesn’t regret it. He insults millions of Americans everyday. He’s not fit to be the leader of our people, and we’ve known it from the very beginning. Hillary Clinton would never, ever have implied that most Mexican immigrants were rapists and murderers. Donald Trump did it on day one of his campaign. That’s the difference.

Consider the following public utterances:

  1. He called one woman “a disgusting person inside and out” and a “slob” with a “fat, ugly face,” and he called her “a big, fat pig” and a “disgusting pig.”
  2. He called another woman “a dog.”
  3. He said another woman had the “face of a dog.”
  4. On national television, he told a woman it would be a “pretty picture” to see her on her knees.
  5. He called another woman “grotesque.”
  6. He said it was “disgusting” that a mother had to breastfeed her child.
  7. He said, referring to one specific woman, that he likes “girls that are 5-foot-1” because they “come up to you know where.”
  8. He said one woman’s breasts looked “like two lightbulbs coming out of her body.”
  9. He said it doesn’t matter “if a girl can play a violin like the greatest violinist in the world. You want to know what does she look like.”
  10. And of course, there was the moment when he implied, with absolutely zero evidence, that Ted Cruz’s wife was cheating on him.

Now, the thing I have trouble understanding is why Trump supporters are more appalled by anything Hillary Clinton has said than they are by these comments. More specifically, should you and I allow Donald Trump to talk to women that way? Should we support him calling our mothers and daughters and wives and girlfriends slobs and pigs and dogs and fat and disgusting?

What would you do if a man said that to your mother? What if he said it to your wife?

You wouldn’t want that man to be your friend. That’s for damn sure. And you wouldn’t want him to be president either.

But that doesn’t seem to matter. Because you think the country is falling apart, and he’s the only one who can save us. “It’s Trump, or it’s the end of America.“ That’s what you’ve told me.

Well, I’m not sure what America you’re living in. Because it doesn’t sound anything like the America I know.

The America I know has the highest economic output of any country in the world, 70 percent more than the next largest economy.

The America I know has over 40 percent of the world’s wealth, four times the next richest country.

The America I know has outpaced the rest of the developed world in economic growth and job growth since Barack Obama took office in the depths of the Great Recession.

The America I know has historically low inflationlow unemployment, and stable growth.

The America I know has cut violent crime and murder rates in half since the early 1990s.

The America I know has the world’s largest military, equivalent to the next seven largest countries combined.

The America I know is widely viewed more positively overseas than it was eight years ago.

The America I know exists in a world where violence has been declining dramatically for centuries.

The America I know is doing so well that over half of its citizens approve of their current president’s job performance, higher than Ronald Reagan’s approval at the end of his presidency.

The bottom line is that we live in the safest, richest, most powerful country in the history of the world. It would be unfathomably irresponsible to overthrow a system that has worked so well for so many for so long.

What should concern you is the fact that Trump supporters are now saying that they’re going to intimidate voters the way white Americans used to intimidate black voters in the South during the Jim Crow era. They’re saying they’re going to start a violent revolution.

They’re calling for Hillary Clinton to be murdered.

This is literally what they’ve been saying at Trump rallies.

And that’s because they’ve been told, by Donald Trump, that minority voters are “rigging the election” (which is basically impossible, by the way).

This is dangerous.

This is anti-democratic.

This is un-American.

And it should scare us all that Mr. Trump is threatening our lives with this rhetoric.

Donald Trump is playing a word association game designed to make you scared and angry, and he’s hoping you won’t notice that he’s completely full of crap. He regularly changes his policy positions, even on the issues that seem to be most important to him. Here’s a list to give you a sense of how often he goes back on his word.

Even by the typical standards of American politics, this is extreme. I don’t know of any politician who changes their policy positions this often. It’s literally impossible to know what, if anything, Donald Trump actually believes.

But when you read all those stories about his character and his behavior, it makes complete sense that he doesn’t have any policy positions that he really believes in. After all, he doesn’t actually know much about public policy, and he doesn’t seem to care about anything but his own ego. He just says whatever gets him attention.

As someone who’s dedicated his career to public policy, I am continually astonished that voters are willing to elect people with little, if any, understanding of public policy. We wouldn’t want a brain surgeon operating on us if they don’t know anything about medicine, and we shouldn’t elect a policymaker who doesn’t know anything about public policy.

Our government is full of smart, kind, brave men and women who have dedicated their lives to making this country a better place, and I am tired of ignorant malcontents like Donald Trump treating them with such petty, unsubstantiated, arrogant disrespect.

We have real problems in this country, and Donald Trump hasn’t proposed a workable solution to any of them. Hillary Clinton has offered long, detailed, well-researched, carefully-considered plans to address the challenges we face, and Donald Trump has replied with mocking, belittling, rambling, and zero concrete, politically feasible ideas.

If you were an investor and you were considering their “business plans” side-by-side, there wouldn’t even be a contest. As a businessman, you know that you would never bet on someone with no experience and no plan. As a voter, I beg you to apply the same standard.

Best regards,
Anthony

Why President Obama Is Right to Focus on Inequality

Real Household Income, 1967 to 2012

In his recent speech at Knox College, President Obama renewed the nation’s focus on income inequality, drawing criticism from the right for pandering to the usual Democratic interest groups instead of addressing real economic issues like jobs and growth. This reaction stems from a misunderstanding of recent history that is sadly prevalent among the American public. To set the record straight, let’s take a trip back in time…

Three decades ago, we awoke to Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America.”

It was 1983, and our economy had been through the deepest recession since the Great Depression. Reagan had slashed tax rates and broken the unions. In return, we were promised a bright future with faster economic growth for all.

At first glance, it looks like the Gipper delivered on his promise.

From 1983 to 2013, our economy’s output more than doubled, even after adjusting for inflation. The average worker today is 85 percent more productive than their predecessors were when Reagan took office. Taxes take a much smaller bite out of our income than they did in Reagan’s day, and American businesses are more profitable than ever before.

If the story ends there, it’s not hard to see why Republicans still believe in the power of Reaganomics.

But, as in every good story, there’s a twist. In this case, the twist is inequality, a politically charged word that Republicans rarely speak of. And for good reason: It invalidates their entire belief system.

The aggregate data leads you to believe that everyone’s income doubled, but that’s so far from the truth that it’s nearly criminal to foist that story on the public.

In fact, since 1983, the only incomes that have doubled after inflation are the incomes of the richest 0.1 percent of Americans. That’s one-tenth of the infamous “One Percent.” For the other 99.9 percent of Americans, inflation-adjusted incomes have grown by less than 20 percent.

But that’s a high threshold. In order to be a member of the top 0.1 percent, you have to earn over $1.5 million. What if we set the bar at a more reasonable level? Let’s exclude everyone making over $110,000. That’s a pretty good cutoff for what we consider to be “rich,” and it still leaves us with 90 percent of Americans earning less than that. These are the people who were supposed to enjoy the benefits of Reagan’s “trickle-down economics.” How much didthey gain since 1983?

Nothing.

For the 90 percent of Americans earning less than six figures, there has been absolutely zero income growth after inflation in the last three decades.

Sit back and contemplate that fact for a moment. During a period when the economy doubled in size, the total income earned by 90 percent of Americans didn’t increase by a single penny. All the gains went to the richest 10 percent.

Of course, the size of the economy is not directly comparable to the incomes of individual households. The economy grows when the population grows, even if individual incomes don’t grow. Also, the individual statistics don’t include taxes and transfers like Social Security and unemployment insurance. However, none of these facts change the big picture: After three decades of strong economic growth, the average American’s paycheck has barely budged.

You have to ask yourself: What’s the point? Why do we work so hard to make the economy grow if none of it is going into our pockets?

It hardly seems fair, but that’s not the only problem. Inequality isn’t just the by-product of a broken system; it’s a cause of the brokenness as well.

A growing economy is like a growing child. It needs to be fed often and well. The more an economy produces, the more its citizens must consume. If most Americans aren’t earning more money, they can’t afford all that extra consumption. So they borrow more than they should, but all that borrowing requires growing paychecks to repay the loans. When debt outstrips income, they default, and the economy comes crashing down.

That’s what President Obama meant when he said this crisis has been three decades in the making. That’s why it has become his highest priority. All our economic problems — high unemployment, weak economic growth, excessive debt and financial instability — have the same root cause: Most people aren’t earning enough money — and it’s not because the economy isn’t producing it. It’s because a tiny portion of the population is siphoning too much of it for themselves.

It’s not just a matter of politics, as the President’s critics would have you believe. It’s a matter of basic economics. “Morning in America” has only been bright for a select few. For most Americans, it’s been as dark as night.

The Reaganomics experiment has failed. It’s time for all of us to see the light.

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This op-ed was originally published in today’s Huffington Post.

Government Isn’t the Problem…and Austerity Isn’t the Answer

I have a friend who witnessed about half of the Supreme Court arguments on the Affordable Care Act. When he walked out of the courtroom, he wasn’t surprised to find a sea of people protesting the law. What did surprise him was how many of the protest signs were anti-Europe. Apparently, the protestors were worried that universal health insurance was the path to “becoming European” and all the nefarious consequences that implies.

If asked for their opinion on government spending to stimulate the economy, I imagine they’d give roughly the same answer.

But the truth is that fiscal irresponsibility has little to do with Europe’s current crisis.

Just before the recession hit, the European governments with the highest public social spending (relative to the size of their economy) were France, Austria, Belgium, and Germany — none of the so-called “PIIGS” nations that are in trouble. In fact, many conservatives have anointed Germany as the role model that its neighbors should emulate.

Even if you measure all government spending in the middle of the crisis, there is no correlation between a country’s public spending and the interest rates on its sovereign debt (which is the key indicator of financial distress).

From 1999 to 2007, the European government with the highest budget deficit (again, relative to economic output) was Slovakia, hailed by conservatives for its flat tax. France’s budget deficit was about as big as Italy’s, and Germany’s was close behind. Spain and Ireland actually had budget surpluses.

Besides, if government spending were the problem, then the crisis should be over by now. The EU and the IMF have forced the PIIGS nations to slash public expenditures — and the recession has only gotten worse.

Compare that strategy with what happened in the United States, where we took the opposite approach and increased public expenditures.

In the fourth quarter of 2008, real GDP contracted at an annual rate of 8.9 percent in the U.S. In January 2009, nonfarm employment declined by over 800,000. That was the lowest point both statistics — growth in economic output and jobs — would reach.

On February 17, 2009, President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), better known as the “stimulus” package.

In the first quarter of 2009, real GDP contracted by 6.7 percent. In February 2009, nonfarm employment losses were closer to 700,000. The recession was clearly not over, but the bleeding had slowed.

On March 6, 2009, the Dow Jones reached its cyclical low of 6,626.94. The next day, it began a strong recovery.

By the third quarter of 2009, when the stimulus money was starting to be spent, the economy was growing again. By March 2010, job growth was positive again. (Job growth always lags behind economic output.) By February 2011, two years after Congress passed the ARRA, the Dow Jones cleared 12,000.

Clearly, the ARRA was the turning point. Its passage was the beginning of the end of the Great Recession.

Coincidence? Perhaps.

But isn’t it odd that none of the critics’ predictions came true? They warned that interest rates would skyrocket with the government borrowing so much money. Instead, interest rates plummeted. They warned that inflation would soar. Instead, it’s been low and stable.

And that’s not all. Several economists have measured the effect of the stimulus since it was spent. Two Dartmouth researchers, for example, compared jobs growth in each state and county to the amount of stimulus funds spent in that state or county. They found that every dollar spent on the poor yielded two dollars in increased economic output, and every dollar spent on infrastructure yielded $1.85 in output.

Another study compared jobs growth in each state to the amount of federal Medicaid matching funds spent in that state. They found that each dollar spent yielded two dollars in output. A similar study found that the ARRA “created or saved about 2 million jobs in its first year and over 3 million by March 2011.”

So it’s no surprise then that Europe continues to flounder while America continues to grow. You can’t beat a recession by cutting government spending. Even Mitt Romney said so.

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This op-ed was published in today’s South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Don’t Blame Colleges for Our Kids’ Problems. Blame the Economy.

As Congress tries to agree on a way to keep interest rates on student loans from rising, many Americans are questioning the value of an increasingly expensive college degree.

We’re talking about serious costs. Even in-state tuition at public colleges, supposedly the most affordable of all, is rising at more than twice the rate of inflation. The average cost for four years for in-state residents adds up to more money than most households earn in a year. Almost a third of American households have less than $10,000 in net savings to pay for at least $30,000 in college tuition. Even if students take Mitt Romney’s advice and “shop around” for the cheapest schools, they’re still going to have trouble making ends meet.

That’s why approximately 3 million households owe $50,000 or more in student loans.

At the same time, the rate of unemployment for 20-to-24-year-olds is twice the rate for 45-to-54 year-olds. Can it be that a college degree no longer buys what it used to?

Ask this question often enough, and you’re bound to find someone blaming it on “kids these days.” As if the jobs are out there, we’re just not willing to work for them.

The more sophisticated critics suggest that we’re experiencing a “labor mismatch,” where the skills of the workforce don’t meet the needs of the employers. Supposedly, colleges don’t teach us what we need to know to make a living anymore.

There are several ways to test this theory.

One measure is the “mismatch index” created by economists for specifically this purpose. The mismatch index compares the number of vacancies to the number of unemployed workers. If there really is a labor mismatch, vacancies should rise, but unemployment shouldn’t fall because the unemployed workers don’t have the skills to fill the vacant jobs.

But the mismatch index has not increased in the last decade. In fact, it was higher in 2003 than it is now.

Another measure is inflation. When the economy grows, companies should expand, but during a labor mismatch, they can’t. There aren’t enough skilled workers. So they raise prices instead. It’s the only way to keep revenues growing.

But inflation has been very steady and low throughout the past decade. In fact, it is now lower than it was five years ago.

Yet another measure is disparities in unemployment between different industries. For example, manufacturing jobs have been declining, and service jobs have been taking their place. If there’s a labor mismatch, we might see a recent rise in unemployment in manufacturing that outpaces the rise in other industries.

But that’s not the case. In fact, manufacturing has been one of the bright spots in this weak recovery. After losing jobs every year since 1997, the manufacturing industry has actually been increasing employment in the last two years.

Maybe we’re looking at the wrong industry. After all, the recession was caused by the bursting of the housing bubble. All those construction workers lost their jobs, and they don’t have the skills to become engineers or accountants or whatever the modern economy demands. Are they suffering from this mismatch?

Not really. While their unemployment rate is higher than most other industries’, it’s also declining faster than average. About 10 percent of unemployed workers used to work in the construction industry, the same as in 2005. Construction workers are actually finding new jobs at a faster rate than the rest of the unemployed, and they’re less likely to drop out of the workforce because they get discouraged at the lack of jobs. When they do get new jobs, over 70 percent of them return to the construction industry.

So what’s really causing high unemployment among today’s young adults? Probably a deadly combination of the weak economy and their lack of work experience. The most experienced workers are the first to be re-hired when the economy recovers. Unfortunately, the longer it takes the economy to return to health, the longer those young adults will lack work experience, and the harder it will be for them to catch up in the future.

Don’t blame the victims — or the colleges they attended, for that matter. Blame the people who wrecked the economy and sabotaged our children’s future.

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This op-ed was published in today’s South Florida Sun-Sentinel.