The Trump Trifecta

October 26, 2018

Since taking office in January 2017, Donald Trump has stood with House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to proclaim various ‘victories’ for the American people.  Here are what seem to be the top three, A.K.A. “The Trifecta”:

  1. Complicit with Russia, Saudi Arabia and several other suspect regimes. Trump has continued to send public messages which downplay and/or absolve bad actors from behaviors which are contrary to existing international standards.

One clear reason:  Trump — and his close advisor Jared Kushner —  is involved in highly leveraged real estate development.  Neither Trump nor Kushner have the liquidity or availability of traditional financing sources to invest their own money.  Instead, they are forced to chase shady money from around the world, including huge sums of money sourced from Saudi Arabia, Russia, China, etc.

Essentially, Trump (along with the Kushner Companies) is beholden to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman; Vladimir Putin; various Chinese investors; along with ‘dark money’ sources in Cyprus, Panama and the Cayman Islands, among others.

2. The “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” (TCJA) was passed in late 2017 incorporating some modest temporary individual and small business tax cuts while focusing in on very substantial big business and corporate tax cuts.

Traditional economic models, developed and refined over countless economic cycles, encourage tax cuts and deficit spending during economic downturns as a means to stimulate economic growth.  During times of economic expansion, increased government revenue from tax collections is then used to pay down public debt and help stabilize the economy.

N.B.  There was a strong case to be made for a modest corporate tax cut as the U.S. economy began to improve post 2012; there was zero legitimate case to be made for the magnitude of the corporate tax cut which was a cornerstone of the 2017 TCJA.

The foundation of the TCJA was a promise that slashing corporate taxes from a maximum 35% rate to a 21% cap would result in dramatic increases in capital investment, resulting in job creation and wage growth.  Americans for Tax Reform, a vocal advocate for the plan, generated promises of employee bonuses, increased wages, increased retirement contributions and/or expanded business operations as a result of the TCJA.

Actual outcomes of the Tax Cuts?  Record stock buybacks; extraordinary executive compensation; flat employee compensation; and continued failure of venerable American corporations.

Definitive proof of the foolishness of cutting taxes in a time of economic expansion?  A rapidly expanding federal budget deficit.  According to the final monthly Treasury Statement for Fiscal Year 2018 (the year that ended on 9/30/2018), the deficit was $779 Billion — a $113 Billion (17%) increase over the$666 Billion deficit recorded from FY 2017.

Perhaps most egregious to the American people?  Mitch McConnell is blaming self-funded safety net programs [Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid] as the root cause of our rising federal deficit.  Visualize McConnell as he does a little smile; looks straight into the camera; and then blatantly lies to the American people.  Was he also lying when he took the Oath of Office?

3.  Incendiary, Irrational and Emotionally-Inspired Immigration Policy:

Right or wrong, the U.S. economy depends on immigrant workers – documented or undocumented. Industry sectors which rely on immigrants for between 1/4 and 1/2 of their employment needs include: agriculture; hospitality; construction; textile, apparel and leather manufacturing; food manufacturing; and private households.

Through a series of small moves that add up to dramatic change, the Trump administration has bypassed Congress to create new process and procedures which could have lasting effects on how the US welcomes and evaluates immigrants.

In his election campaign in June 2015, Trump told us, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists…”

By painting virtually all immigrants with a broad brush as criminals; as a national security threat to the U.S.; as bad people; as people who steal jobs from Americans;  he has created a hostile environment on the world stage, offering fear and fallacies with no attempt to find viable and sustainable solutions.

In late October 2018, facing a ‘caravan of migrants’ moving north from Central America toward the U.S. Southern border, Trump has proclaimed that there are ‘criminals and people of Middle Eastern descent among the migrants within the caravan’ and has pointed to it as evidence that the U.S. has weak immigration laws. He has also threatened to cut off aid to Central American countries in response to the caravan.

An internal report from the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General found that the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” crackdown at the border in early 2018 was troubled from the outset by planning shortfalls, widespread communication failures and administrative indifference to the separation of small children from their parents.

It has been said that the Trump Child Separation Policy is related to the worst abuses of humanity in history.  Child separation is connected by the same evil that separated families during slavery, and which dislocated tribes and broke up Native American families.

What’s the point?

The point is that differences of opinion are a cornerstone of society, and a critical ingredient of humanity.

The very essence of Debate relies on formal discussion on a particular topic.

In an honest debate, opposing arguments are put forward to argue for opposite  viewpoints. Genuine and honest debate can occur in public meetings, academic institutions, and in legislative assemblies.

A genuine debate requires some ground rules, particularly in the areas of logical consistency and factual accuracy, yet it also allows some degree of emotional appeal to the audience.

Sadly, today’s discussions on topics of importance to the American People seem to lack any rules about civility, logic or even factual accuracy.

Turn on the television and we find absolutism, tribalism and a “win at any cost” approach to delicate yet important societal issues. Dialogue has effectively been replaced by diatribe.

Worse, people can select news sources which support and reinforce their biases, finding comfort in “being right” by selective listening or watching. No time or need to consider other options when the platform has been fully developed to mirror your comfort zone.

Add to this dilemma the continuing disenfranchisement of American adults from the political process.

More adult males in America today are able to recite NFL statistics than are able explain issues facing American society, and women are not far behind.

Voter turnout in the United States fluctuates in national elections. In recent elections, about 60% of the voting eligible population votes during presidential election years, and about 40% votes during midterm elections. Turnout is lower for odd year, primary and local elections.

If we compare national voter participation in the 2016 presidential election to viewership of the 2016 Superbowl, we find a dead heat at around 112 Million.

Not necessarily the same people, but it does strike me that we have a real disconnect between the American public and our governance model, perhaps helping to explain why our system seems to be in need of some serious adjustments at this point in time.

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Those who are schooled in the techniques of propaganda will always frustrate those of us who rely on facts and logic to arrive at informed conclusions.

Those who possess a rudimentary understanding of how propaganda works can have a rather profound effect on public opinion.

Those who are unwilling to learn from history are bound to repeat the mistakes which were made in the past.

Senator Joseph McCarthy was an American politician who served as U.S. Senator from the state of Wisconsin from 1947 until his death in 1957.  McCarthy rose to national prominence in the early 1950’s by initiating a probe to ferret out communists holding prominent positions in both the public and private sectors. During his investigations, safeguards promised by the Constitution were trampled.

An atmosphere of fear of world domination by communists hung over America in the post-WWII years:  fears of a nuclear holocaust based on detonation of an Atomic Bomb by the USSR in 1949;  the transition of China – the world’s most populist nation – to communism; and the effective control of half of Europe by the Stalin regime.

McCarthy picked up on national paranoia and relentlessly told his story that communist spies were everywhere and that he was America’s only salvation.

McCarthy was never elected to the Presidency, yet his leadership as head of the Senate Committee on Government Operations gave him the platform from which to launch an investigation which derailed and/or ruined the careers of thousands of public and private sector professionals.

McCarthy created a carefully manufactured series of situations and events which provided the foundation for his quest to distract the attention of a majority of the American public to focus away from the big picture toward his personal animus toward communist intrusion.

One of his techniques involved throwing Congress ‘under the bus.’  He publicly cited “..the graft, the corruption, the dishonesty, the disloyalty, the treason in high Government positions” as a critical ingredient in failure of government to protect “the 140,000,000 American people” from the “cloak of numbness and apathy” and offered to supply his spark to rekindle their passions.

McCarthy’s Reign of Terror lasted almost 5 years, until Senate leadership introduced resolutions in late 1954 to censure McCarthy for ‘behavior contrary to Senate traditions’.

On December 2, 1954, the U.S. Senate voted 65 to 22 to condemn McCarthy for “conduct that tends to bring the Senate into dishonor and disrepute”.

The McCarthy saga ought to provide an historical reference to the dangers of allowing a passionate and eloquent person who has perfected some of the powerful tools and techniques of propaganda to take the American people on a wild and crazy ride toward ruin.

What is most distressing to me is the willingness of congress to allow such egregious behavior to continue unchallenged:  in the 1950’s for almost 5 years; in the 2010’s for over 2 years.

Sixty plus years later, it seems that Donald Trump is using some of the Joseph McCarthy techniques to distract us away from the real issues at hand.

Trump has perfected the art of propaganda, using a myriad of techniques which were refined over the course of the 20th century.

Trump’s particular expertise is in an arena often referred to as ‘authoritarian’ or ‘totalitarian’ propaganda, a form of communication where a would-be leader offers a simple narrative which explains the root causes of pain groups of people feel, while concurrently providing a simple solution to remove the pain.

The offered reasons for the pain (and problems) point toward another group (or groups) working in conspiracy with corrupt politicians. (“Drain the Swamp”  “Lock Her Up”  “Make America Great Again”  “It’s The Immigrants”  “Build A Wall”)

The solution is very simple:  Join the New Team; Elect the Would-Be Leader; and the problems will be solved through elimination of the corrupt politicians and their entrenched groups.

The constant repetition of the simple message helps get it accepted, and it ensures a loyal and stable base.

The repeatedly false claims that Trump made during his campaign — ‘crime is at record highs, the economy is in decline, Obama has killed jobs, the military is a disaster, an international conspiracy is behind it all’ –and so on—are immune to disproof by presentation of actual facts. During his campaign, Trump created a fictional world too compelling to be weakened by reality.

Why do groups of people buy into such fictions?

Is it ‘groupthink’? A mass desire to escape from the reality of change? Or some other emotional variable?

What gives authoritarian propaganda its magnetism is the promise to fully reveal the previously secret dealings of those ‘swamp creatures’ who formerly called the rules of the game.

What such propaganda fails to reveal is the replacement of one set of entrenched swamp creatures with an entirely new – mostly inexperienced – cadre of fresh swamp dwellers.

“Those elected members of congress who are unwilling to learn from history are bound to repeat the mistakes which were made in the past.”