Let’s stop kidding ourselves. The divide between Democrats and Republicans is no longer between big and small government, or between planned and unplanned economies. It hasn’t been for a long time. It’s about what kind of big government and planned economy the rest of us are going to have to deal with. To add insult to injury, we are now under the leadership of someone who wants a government as big as he tried to convince America his own penis was on a nationally televised debate.
Regardless of your opinion on Reagan and the GOP of the 80s, let’s give credit where credit is due. They had a much more understandable and consistent economic vision than the Trumpists. It isn’t just Trump, either. The GOP is only the “small government / free market party” these days when it’s convenient for them: usually, whenever Barack Obama tried to grow the size of government in a direction they didn’t like. Trump’s merely solidified the mold of corporatism and upward redistribution that’s been the GOP’s economic mandate since at least the new millennium’s beginning.
Ronald Reagan said, “Government’s view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.” It’s the third part of this equation where we really see a break between yesterday and today’s GOP. As Trump’s Carrier deal made clear and as his tweets about Boeing solidified, his will be an administration of subsidization for the elect and punishment for the reprobate. Under his leadership, he’s assured us all the taxes are going down and the regulations are going away. But are they really?
He says he’ll place a 35% tariff on companies who move jobs abroad. His opposition to the TPP and his overall attitude on trade is anti-free-market. He hopes to spend a trillion dollars on infrastructure with the widespread support of a party who viciously critiqued Obama’s similarly priced stimulus package in the midst of the, say it with me, worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. He’s also floated that the rich will pay more in taxes under his administration but anyone who doesn’t own a “Make America Great Again” hat is rightfully responding, “Yeah, right,” to that.
In other words, Trump is getting rid of regulations but not because of a philosophical commitment to economically libertarian principles. He’s getting rid of them because he wants to be the sole regulator of the American economy, the arbiter of who gets to play on the board of a domestic and global economy. Why would he want anything else? He can spearhead economic smear campaigns with the post of a tweet. We’ve already seen a prominent company lose value and a union leader get death threats because of things he’s said and he hasn’t even taken office yet. Make no mistake: Trump only wants an unplanned, unregulated economy as long as he gets to (un)plan and (de)regulate it just the way he likes it.
Of course, Trump’s going to need a likeminded team to keep his internally contradictory economic vision going forward. Luckily, he’s picking just the right guys for it. So far, we have Steven Mnuchin, a two-decade Goldman-Sachs employee who also worked with George Soros, running the Treasury. I’m sure he won’t be trying to keep wealth rising upward. Andrew Puzder, the sexy-commerical obsessed Carl’s Jr. CEO, will be running the Labor Department and he’s hoping to roll back government mandates on minimum wage and overtime pay all while making three hundred times as much as his employees. Ah yes, another man of the people, a titan of fairness! Wilbur Ross will be Secretary of the Commerce and his long record with coal and gas definitely won’t lead him to try and favor these industries.
Trump wants to live in a world where the rules of a domestic economy can be different than the rules of a global one. It begs the question: why should international commerce be so shackled when domestic commerce will soon be so unfettered?
Trump’s trying to paint himself as a best-of-both-worlds scenario: on economics, he’s trying to convince people he’s both Ronald Reagan and Bernie Sanders all at once. This doesn’t make any sense at all. Bernie’s protectionist positions make sense given he’s for a hyper-regulated and planned domestic economy; his opinions about global inequality are arm-in-arm with his opinions about domestic inequality. Reagan embraced free trade and immigration and, thus, embodied the sort of consistent economic libertarianism most people still think is indicative of the current GOP. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
To be fair, this isn’t some new trick Trump is the first to perform. There’s an unfortunately wide precedent for presidents and parties compromising on their supposed values in the worst possible ways. Bill Clinton brought in the era of business-friendly, globalist neoliberalism and the dyed-in-the-wool, ideologically committed leftists have been tearing their hair out ever since. Its continuance, with variations, under the Bush and Obama Administrations backfired into the enthusiasm for Trump’s Reagan-unapproved populism.
The logic of Trumpist economics goes something like this. If taxes and regulations are lowered and done away with, there will be greater economic opportunity in America. If there is greater economic opportunity in America, businesses will be more likely to stay and more jobs will be created. Therefore, if taxes and regulations are lowered and done away with, you bastards better never leave America or so help me God we will make your lives hell.
In other words, Trump’s economic plan is as thin-skinned and insecure as he is. He’s going to be the boyfriend who says “You’re free to do whatever you want” and then calls you every half an hour to make sure you know how free you are to do what you want but what are you doing, exactly? And then he’ll be mad when you use said freedom in a way he doesn’t like. It’s Reaganomics without the confidence. It’s Berniecrat policy without the logic or compassion. It’s everything and, therefore, nothing. Politicians know they’ll never win a general election without appealing to everyone at least a little bit. Trump just did it by saying he wanted the sort of economic structure that would even be a joke at a Mad Tea Party in Wonderland.