Donald Trump’s speeches disorient by design. His relentless yelling obliterates rational thought, reducing listeners to their reactive mammal minds. With the flair of a master builder, he lays a firm foundation of false premises, and then piles up rage-fueled fantasies, fallacies and slurs. Deep in imagined misery, his adoring mob gapes up at Trump’s glittering tower of alternate reality and roars with obedient rage at the scapegoats he excoriates.
His heap of lies looms so massive that choosing the worst among them can feel as futile as finding the wettest part of the ocean. Several reputable media outlets — the Associated Press, National Public Radio, PolitiFact and Vox — have already published prompt, objective and exhaustive fact checks of Trump’s speech to the Republican National Convention, and I commend those to your attention.
Rather than duplicate their thoroughness, I shall confine myself to questioning or rebutting some of the false premises that form the foundation of Trump’s case for leadership.
“Americans watching this address tonight have seen the recent images of violence in our streets and the chaos in our communities…. I have a message for all of you: the crime and violence that today afflicts our nation will soon come to an end. Beginning on January 20th 2017, safety will be restored.”
State and local authorities handle nearly all violent crime in this country; the U.S. government plays almost no role. So, does Trump plan to declare martial law, or federalize state and local police forces? Given that the violent crime rate has declined nearly 50% since the early ’90s, what urgency now justifies such a radical expansion of federal authority?
“The number of police officers killed in the line of duty has risen by almost 50% compared to this point last year.”
That figure is false. NPR found an increase of 8% (i.e., five more cop deaths this year than last), while Vox showed a decrease of 1%. While any number should concern us — our goal is zero officers lost— the rate of police deaths has fallen more than two-thirds since the ’70s. Despite the recent tragedies in Dallas and Baton Rouge, American cops remain safer under Obama than they were under any previous president.
“Nearly 180,000 illegal immigrants with criminal records, ordered deported from our country, are tonight roaming free to threaten peaceful citizens.”
By citing this number immediately after mentioning police murders, Trump deceptively suggests that these convicts committed violent crimes. In fact, the source lumps together undocumented offenders of all kinds. Historically, the vast majority get deported for minor, nonviolent offenses— primarily for breaking immigration laws.
Despite the isolated horror stories of “illegal alien” violence recounted throughout the convention, even the anti-amnesty Center for Immigration Studies admits, “There’s no evidence that immigrants are either more or less likely to commit crimes than anyone else in the population.” Other research suggests that the undocumented may actually be more law-abiding than legal residents.
“Household incomes are down more than $4,000 since the year 2000.”
True, and most of the drop in median household income took place under George W. Bush.
However, as the economy has recovered under Obama, average household incomes soared for the wealthy, while growing only moderately for middle and working class Americans. Nearly four decades of Reaganomics have exacerbated accelerating income inequality, but Trump has announced no plans to revise any of those policies.
“Our manufacturing trade deficit has reached an all-time high — nearly $800 billion in a single year.”
Vox sets the figure at $681 billion.
By suggesting that trade deficits are always bad, Trump advocates mercantilism — an economic philosophy more than two centuries out of date. The billionaire evidently believes he can reverse the trade deficit by negotiating better terms with other countries, presumably by restoring tariffs to protect American manufacturing jobs from foreign competition.
In fact, protectionism is a prohibitively expensive way to create jobs. As other countries retaliate, international trade would shrink — not just for manufactured goods, where we run a deficit, but also for services, where we run a $300 billion trade surplus.
Higher tariffs and less overseas trade would drive up the cost of living, destroying far more jobs than they created. (Early in the Great Depression, Hoover hoped to increase employment by raising tariffs, but the strategy backfired badly, greatly exacerbating the economic crisis. FDR began negotiating free trade agreements to kindle the ensuing recovery.)
Finally, because the dollar serves as the world’s primary reserve currency, a net trade deficit gives the US lower interest rates, increased foreign investment, a robust stock market and strong global influence.
In sum, our country thrives from international trade, but here again, the wealthy benefit far more than moderate and low income Americans. Free trade proponents urge the US to invest its winnings more equitably, to help workers displaced by foreign competition. However, Trump has articulated no plans to do that.
“The budget is no better…. President Obama has doubled our national debt to more than $19 trillion, and growing. Yet, what do we have to show for it?”
Again, Trump blasts Obama for problems left by his predecessor.
Bush the Younger inherited big budget surpluses from Bill Clinton, but turned them into deep deficits by slashing taxes while splurging on overseas wars and a Medicare expansion. Later in Bush’s term, the housing bubble burst, causing the Great Recession, forcing record deficits to finance a ruinous federal bailout of big banks, plus Obama’s stimulus to prevent the country from plummeting into depression.
As the economy recovered, Obama slashed the federal deficit, greatly slowing the growth of the national debt. Unfortunately, as Baby Boomers continue to retire, deficits are slated to explode again under the strain of increased Social Security and Medicare obligations. Trump has no plan to handle this.
“Our roads and bridges are falling apart, our airports are in Third World condition….”
Everyone agrees that we need to invest in infrastructure. Where will Trump find the money?
As for airports, how would Trump know? He does not experience them as we do; he takes a limo to his private plane.
I can personally attest that our clean, orderly, air-conditioned facilities look a lot like those in Canada and western Europe. They differ quite dramatically from the dingy, crowded, sweltering tarmacs and terminals of Mexico and Honduras.
“America is far less safe — and the world is far less stable — than when Obama… put Hillary Clinton in charge of America’s foreign policy…. ISIS has spread across the region, and the world…. After fifteen years of wars in the Middle East, after trillions of dollars spent and thousands of lives lost, the situation is worse than it has ever been before.”
Since Obama took office, we killed Osama bin Laden, wound down wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, neutralized Iran and contained ISIL.
The world has never been more peaceful, and — despite the continuing threat of terrorism — the US is safer now than it was under George W. Bush or at any time during the Cold War.
The Middle East remains unstable, but Trump just shows his ignorance when he claims the region was never worse. (The region endured greater violence in the 1910s, ’20s, ’40s, ’80s and under Bush the Younger.)
“I have joined the political arena so that the powerful can no longer beat up on people that cannot defend themselves.”
Americans do not need a clown with a Messiah complex to save them. They need only educate themselves and vote to reclaim their country.
“Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.”
Even the crowd at the RNC could not help but laugh at that line.
Several million Americans understand our country and the world far better than Trump does. Earlier this month, when House Republicans asked him how he would defend Article I of the U.S. Constitution, the billionaire replied, “I want to protect Article I, Article II, Article XII — go down the list.”
Trump should know there are only seven articles in the Constitution; he should also know what is in them. These are not minor details for an aspiring president.
“Decades of record immigration have produced lower wages and higher unemployment for our citizens.”
This is true only for unskilled Americans but overall, immigration yields big net economic benefits. Immigration has helped the US augment the size of its working age population and sustain Social Security contributions — averting so far the demographic crisis currently afflicting many countries in western Europe. Instead of reducing immigration, the US should look at ways to help unskilled Americans achieve a better standard of living — through training, raising the minimum wage, creating jobs by investing in infrastructure, etc.
“Remember, it was Bill Clinton who signed NAFTA, one of the worst economic deals ever made by our country.”
On balance, the US benefits from NAFTA. The pact neither fulfilled the highest hopes of its proponents nor the darkest fears of its opponents.
Again, Trump knows nothing about history. The worst trade deals from our past were protectionist blunders like the Tariff of Abominations of 1828, the Payne-Aldrich Tariff of 1909 and the Hawley-Smoot Tariff of 1930.
“I am not going to let companies move to other countries, firing their employees along the way, without consequences.”
How would he stop them?
“I will make individual deals with individual countries. No longer will we enter into these massive deals, with many countries, that are thousands of pages long — and which no one from our country even reads or understands.”
This would bring foreign trade to a screeching halt and pitch our economy into recession.
“I have proposed the largest tax reduction of any candidate who has declared for the presidential race this year — Democrat or Republican. Middle-income Americans will experience profound relief, and taxes will be simplified for everyone.”
With Social Security and Medicare for retiring Baby Boomers slated to blow up the deficit, how can the US afford deep tax cuts?
“America is one of the highest-taxed nations in the world.”
No, not even close. By every measure, US taxes are below average compared to other developed countries.
“My Dad, Fred Trump, was the smartest and hardest working man I ever knew.
I wonder sometimes what he’d say if he were here to see this tonight.”
As a former Klansman and a crooked, racist slum lord, Fred Trump might be proud of his son for carrying forward the family tradition of duplicity, xenophobia and white supremacy.