BY PHILIP KOTLER – Donald Trump was elected U.S. President one year ago. He gave his first State of the Union address on January 31, 2018, lauding all the positives of his record. But what has he actually accomplished? What damage has he done? What role has been played by his personality quirks?
Trump attracts both lovers and haters. His lovers – largely business people and conservatives and those who lost their jobs during globalization – see only his accomplishments. His base is very loyal and unshaken by his policies and his quirks. Yet his most recent weekly job approval rating was 36 percent, the lowest in Presidential history for a first year President.
As a liberal, I live in a bubble like anyone else. I read the New York Times and I get my TV news from CNN. I don’t believe that I am getting fake facts. The only person I know who voted for Trump is my own brother Milton. I have to assume that Milton made his decision carefully. Milton is a trained political scientist from the University of Chicago. He studied under distinguished Professors Leo Strauss and Hans J. Morganthau. Milton is a political realist and he believes persons with power will use it to advance their own interests. He doesn’t believe that politicians will do good for its own sake, but only if it will help them advance their power and cause.
I sat down to work out a list of Trump’s first year accomplishments. I wanted to list the ones that conservatives would see as accomplishments. Trump has no interest in pleasing liberals; he ignores or scathes liberals. His goal is to be the hero of business and conservative thinkers and those who lost out to globalization.
I managed to list 12 accomplishments (See Table 1).
Table 1: Trump Accomplishments from a Conservative Point of View
- Pressure on NATO countries to meet their 2% defense commitment (also Japan).
- Cutting Gaza/Hamas aid payment in half
- Moving American embassy to Jerusalem
- Pressure put on North Korea to enter talks with S. Korea
- Launching of coastal drilling to increase our oil power
- Appointment of S.C. Gorsuch and lower court conservative judge appointments
- Passage of the tax reform bill – a. cutting corporate tax rate from 35% to 21%; b. lowering the maximum income tax rate from 39.6 to 37%, c. doubling tax exemption credit; d. elimination of exemption on property and state income tax, etc.
- Raising tariffs on import of solar and washing machines for “trade fairness”
- Reduction of EPA funding resulting in repealing of clean air and water safeguards, endangered species protection, and less public land protections, and other regulations to lower environmental costs to small business
- Travel ban of Muslims and others to force higher vetting procedures against terrorists
- Improving border control even without building a “Wall”
- Removal of ISIS from their conquered territories in Iraq
Each point would impress Trump’s followers. However, non-followers would raise questions about certain points. A friend offered the following comments (referenced by number):
- No evidence that Trump pressure was even a factor. North Korea reached a point with their nuclear program that they feel confident enough to engage South Korea.
- Our oil production was increasing dramatically before (except for a turndown when prices dropped).
- I agree that it was necessary to cut corporate taxes. The issue is how is the tax reform measures to be paid for. The bill will cost $1.4 trillion in a 10 year period. May lead to cuts in social programs that will hurt the poor and working class. There is “No” evidence of “trickle down” benefits going into the pockets of the working class.
- It is a bad long-term strategy to cut the Environment Protection Agency.
- By far, the largest number of terrorist attacks in the U.S. are by native-born Americans. Also look at the number of school shootings by Caucasian native-born Americans.
- Reduction in illegal immigration began under Obama.
Now let’s turn to listing specific damages to our society, economy and politics associated with Trump’s policies and actions. They are listed in Table 2.
Table 2: Trump Damage from a Liberal Point of View
- Trump killed the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). He effectively reduced our role in the Pacific leading many Asian countries to focus their policies to be more aligned with China. Canada has stepped in to lead.
- Trump withdrew from the Paris Climate agreement and effectively snubbed the 195 signatories leaving us solely in the company of Nicaragua and Syria. This departure will leave us as a nation with no influence on the future climate policies formed by the Paris signatories.
- Trump favors restoring jobs in industries that are of declining merit, such as coal and oil, rather than building on renewable energy. The result is more carbon emissions and dangerously advancing irreversible, climate problems.
- Trump alienated many significant groups in the U.S. including some top business leaders who withdrew their membership in his business advisory board. He has alienated many members of the press who he accuses of telling lies or alt-facts. He has encouraged white-nationalism not just in the US, but across the globe.
- Trump has lost respect from many foreign leaders in Mexico, Canada, Great Britain, Germany, Japan, etc. This has caused damage to respect for the U.S. that will persist beyond Trump’s time in office. He incited latent racism among people who think that Trump gives them permission to express hatred in a variety of ways.
- Trump has increased the divisiveness level in the U.S. He performs almost entirely in the interests of his base, ignoring the interests of more than half of the country’s citizens. He limits his news sources to Fox and other very conservative information channels.
- Trump has damaged scientific advancements by making cuts in health research, water research, educational research, and energy research.
- Trump has allowed the weakening of our State department with the departure of many experts who object to his policies and personalities and the departure of about one-third of people who represent U.S. abroad.
- Trump’s tax cuts benefit the rich, and creates a deficit that will leave our economy in shambles. He favors eliminating Medicaid and withholding health care to those who don’t work. He has participating in destroying our Obama health system and has not offered any other system that will increase access and reduce costs. He doesn’t want to increase access. He wants less government involvement in programs that help ordinary citizens.
- Trump withdrew the United States from the Global Compact process, saying that cooperating with other nations to accept a quota of immigrants “is simply not compatible with U.S. sovereignty.”
- Trump favors pushing privatization into many public service areas such as education, health, water management, prison management, etc. Privatization means higher costs, job loss and little accountability to customers and communities. Our public lands and National Parks are threatened.
- Trump has attempted to obstruct justice on 10 different occasions. He got elected with significant help from Russians who invade our voting systems and social media to support him and trash Hillary.
- Trump’s denigration of key institutions, such as the press, the CIA, the FBI and the entire system of justice.
- Trump’s regressive immigration policies have already led to deportation of dreamers and others, including doctors, who have made a significant contribution to this country. Tourism to the US is down and our trade deficit has actually increased.
The fact that Trump’s has a large list of accomplishments and a large list of damages is not important. What is important is the short and long run results of each item. For example, Trump might manage to increase the number of job but if they are coal jobs, gig jobs, military jobs, this is less impressive than if they were more jobs for educators, scientists, health workers, and so on.
Before going into the differences between a liberal vision of America’s future and a Trump vision, let’s add Table 3 that lists Trump’s personality traits. At least 36 percent of our country loves Trump for these traits and a much larger number dislikes or hates these Trump traits.
Table 3: Trump Major Traits
- High level of egotism and megalomania (“I am a stable genius,” “I know more than many scientists,”)
- A high need for constant attention and praise (He arranged an early cabinet meeting to have each cabinet member praise him)
- A tendency to bully others and diminish them publicly.
- A very simple mind, not open to nuances or deeper thought.
- A person of very limited reading and depth in history, issues, etc.
- A person with mixed emotions toward women and an abuser.
- A person who values playing golf more than working on the nation’s problems (90 games so far)
- A racist who describes African and some Caribbean countries as “shitholes.” Many parents have trouble explaining Trump’s behaviors, speech, and values to their children.
Why is Trump’s Way of Thinking Damaging to our Society and Economy
The New York Times columnist Nicolas Kristof recently published a column with the title “Trump Leads the World, Backward.” Trump is not providing the type of leadership that the world needs. He is not protecting us from guns, pollution, obesity. He is cheerleading for yesterday, not for a future that Is about technology, renewable energy, and information. He is fanning a mythical nostalgia.
Trump and his fellow conservatives are out to destroy the contributions of liberal Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson who aimed to make life better for average Americans. Trump, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell and others want to eliminate Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, and other entitlements that help poor and working class Americans have a chance to participate in the good life. Trump and most conservatives judge everything in terms of whether a program, policy or regulation advances business or limits business. They prefer free enterprise to be without limits. They would like to privatize all activities, including our education system, our health system, the military, and even the prison system. Conservatives want government – especially the federal government – to be as small as possible. They want taxes to be as small as possible to keep government as small as possible.
Conservatives think automatically in terms of advancing Gross Domestic Product (GDP). They want the American economy to grow at 3 or 4 percent if possible. It doesn’t matter what jobs are created. GDP goes up with the sale of more guns, more cigarettes, more sugary and fat foods. GDP goes up when workers work more hours and when more children are employed instead of them going to school.
Liberals recognize a difference between Bad Capitalism and Good Capitalism. Liberals need to remind Conservatives that there can be Bad Capitalism. Conservatives need to know that some products can be dangerous to safety or health. They need to know that some industry practices can create pollution and injure the quality of our water and air.
GDP is the wrong scorecard to focus on. Fundamentally, a society’s progress needs to be judged by tracking the well-being of its citizens and the health of the planet. We need to look each year on whether more citizens are healthier, more educated, more happy at work and in life. We need a GDW, a measure of Gross Domestic Well-Being. We also need a GDH, a measure of Gross Domestic Happiness. Some countries have been adding these measures so that they are not fooled by a growing the GDP. GDP can grow and the other two measures can fall. Liberals differ from conservatives by wanting to put more weight on growing GDW and GDH.
Trump is all about making money and making deals. He tells our allies that he will always make America First. “America First,” incidentally is a KKK-inspired slogan from the 1920s. Trump expects our allies to put their countries first. So the setup is that each country wants to win at the expense of other countries. This is zero- sum game thinking. It does not look for policies that could make everyone better off.
Trump thinks in terms of enemies and allies. He readily brands his enemies with names like Crooked Hillary or Little Marco (for Marco Rubio). Instead of encouraging unity, he prefers creating divisiveness. He has done nothing to reduce our gridlocked political system. He feeds into divisiveness and gridlock making it worse! He has said nothing positive about any liberal views or institutions. He created most of his policies without any bipartisan input and discussion. He has contributed to the growing division between the “blues” and the “reds.”
One day Trump’s followers will wake up to the fact that he is a consummate snake oil salesman. He made 280 campaign promises. The Washington Post Fact Checker has been tracking 60 and found only six cases of keeping his promises. Fortunately, the strength of his opposition slowed him down in terms of constitutionality, support women’s rights, immigrants, the environment, and a free press.
With every problem, Trump says that he has an answer but he never describes the answer. He says that the “Wall” will be paid by Mexico but doesn’t describe how. He promises the middle income class that under the new tax reform law they will pay $1,010 less in taxes. He doesn’t mention that a member of the top 1 percent will save $214,690. Nor does he mention that the tax reform bill will increase our deficit by $1.4 trillion over a 10 year period and therefore will force cutting their entitlements such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in order not to bankrupt the government. This too is a GOP strategy, sanctioned by the leadership in both House and Senate. He doesn’t want his public to know this.
Trump wants to be an autocrat and would like to model himself after Putin. He is trying to destroy our constitution and our institutions that has operated since the country’s founding. Is this the America our founders envisioned? What happened to “e pluribus unum”?