Monday, January 23, 2017

Far be it from me... say anything nice about Donald Trump, but after finally listening to his inauguration speech yesterday, I have to say that even if the new president doesn't have all the answers (or any of them) at least he's asking some of the right questions (and drawing attention to some of the right problems).

The New York Times published a transcript of Trump's speech with comments in the margin from Julie Hirschfeld Davis, Binyamin Appelbaum, Matt Apuzzo and Eric Schmitt.

As I said, after reading and hearing all the criticism I actually listened to the speech myself (which I thought sounded quite a bit different from the transcript). And I found myself -- gulp -- agreeing with some of what President Trump had to say. For example (all emphasis mine):

We, the citizens of America, are now joined in a great national effort to rebuild our country and restore its promise for all of our people.

He has a point, doesn't he? Hasn't the recovery -- and the economy in the last, say, forty years -- benefited the rich at the expense of the middle class?

Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth.

Even Mr. Appelbaum agrees with this:

This is literally true. The Washington area has become one of the most prosperous parts of the United States in recent decades, while much of the country has stagnated economically.

Back to Trump:

Politicians prospered, but the jobs left, and the factories closed.

That's true too, isn't it? The last forty years or so have been positively devastating for blue collar workers.

Americans want great schools for their children, safe neighborhoods for their families and good jobs for themselves. These are just and reasonable demands of righteous people and a righteous public, but for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists:

Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities, rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system flush with cash but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge; and the crime and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.

Is that too much to ask, "good jobs for themselves"? And while Matt Apuzzo is correct in noting that:

Violent crime increased about 4 percent in 2015, but that is a small blip in a decades-long decline in crime. The United States remains far safer than it has been in generations.

It's uneven, right? The neighborhood I live in on the Near West Side of Chicago is safer than it's been in decades, but some neighborhoods not too far from me on the West and South Sides are in dire shape.

And Trump is right about drugs -- not just in the "inner city," but all across the country. You've heard of the heroin epidemic, haven't you?

For many decades we’ve enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry, subsidized the armies of other countries

Once again, Mr. Appelbaum concedes the point:

Corporate profits have reached record heights in recent years. The biggest American companies have benefited enormously from globalization. It's the workers who have suffered.

Again, uneven. And as for that last part, the United States does subsidize the military for such countries as Germany and Japan, right?

We've defended other nations’ borders while refusing to defend our own and spent trillions and trillions of dollars overseas while America's infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay. We've made other countries rich while the wealth, strength and confidence of our country has dissipated over the horizon.

One by one, the factories shuttered and left our shores, with not even a thought about the millions and millions of American workers that were left behind. The wealth of our middle class has been ripped from their homes and then redistributed all across the world.

Mr. Appelbaum comments:

Trade with China cost the United States about a million factory jobs from 2000 to 2007, according to one recent study. But automation and increased efficiency is a much larger reason that factory employment has declined. American industrial output is actually at the highest level in history. It's the jobs that have gone away.

But Trump is right: our infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay. And America has enriched other countries like China at the expense of its own workers. Imagine: a million factory jobs!

Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families.

That makes sense, doesn't it? Isn't that what a government is supposed to do, make decisions based on how it impacts its own citizens? Or as Trump says:

We will bring back our jobs.


We will follow two simple rules: Buy American and hire American.

Finally, Trump tells his followers:

You will never be ignored again.

And isn't there some truth to that as well? While Republicans have served the donor class and the Democrats looked out for the poor and less fortunate, who had the interests of the middle class foremost in mind?

Once again, I'm not convinced that Trump has the answers to any of these problems, but at least he's asking some of the right questions. And, unlike every other Republican, he didn't talk about cutting taxes or regulations or the size of government, etc.

My older son and one of my brothers think I'm too optimistic about Trump; almost criminally optimistic. But Charlie Rose asked the question last week: What would be a "Nixon to China" moment for the new president? I'd say something like raising taxes on the rich or passing single-payer health care. (Don't laugh -- Trump has said both of those things in the past. What if he turns out to be -- again, don't laugh -- a "traitor to his class" like the Roosevelts?)

Do I think the new president will succeed? As Zhou Enlai once said in answer to a different question: It's too early to say. But I think it may be worth it to wait and see.

1 comment:

Ed Crotty said...

Trump has hinted at single payer before - but I predict the right will not let him do it.