After assembling his dream team of economic advisors, crunching the numbers, throwing out the numbers he didn't like then making up numbers he liked better and crunching them again, Donald Trump took the podium at the Detroit Economic Club on Monday and announced his economic plan for America.
After starting his speech off with a blatant lie (We don't need to fact check "It’s wonderful to be in Detroit" to know that it's not true), The Donald commenced the weaving of an epic word tapestry, looming together visions of a post-apocalyptic America with attacks on Hillary Clinton, financial regulation, China, the Bureau of Labor Statistics and - it seems - most accepted notions of how free trade works. Trump, as is his wont, made his beliefs very clear and promised that his presidency would be borderline messianic for an American worker beset on all sides by the demons of government interference.
But what he didn't really tell us is how he's actually going to do anything.
Well, here's how he phrased it:
Today, I will outline my economic vision. In the coming weeks, we will be offering more detail on all of these policies, and the ones we have already rolled out can be viewed on my campaign website.
As clickbait, that kind of rhetoric is ingenious. As policy-defining...not so much.
To be fair, Trump did offer a handful of quasi-details in his speech. He proposed doing away with the carried interest loophole (and took pains to call it a "deduction"), threw red meat at his few remaining establishment supporters by calling for the death of the estate tax, said he would cap small business taxes at 15%, quash corporate inversions and tax runaway American corporations by 10% to come back. He announced that the Trump Tax Model would shrink the number of tax brackets from seven to three (12% 15% and 33%). Trump also spoke in broad terms about helping fossil fuel producers and turning all childcare costs into a deduction.
What Trump really wanted listeners to take away from his speech however, was that Donald Trump hates financial regulation and views free trade like he views four of his five children: Warily.
Here's a taste:
"If you were a foreign power looking to weaken America, you couldn’t do better than Hillary Clinton’s economic agenda.
Nothing would make our foreign adversaries happier than for our country to tax and regulate our companies and our jobs out of existence.
The one common feature of every Hillary Clinton idea is that it punishes you for working and doing business in the United States. Every policy she has tilts the playing field towards other countries at our expense.
That’s why she tries to distract us with tired political rhetoric that seeks to label us, divide us, and pull us apart."
Trump zeroed in on regulation using a similar (and rather divisive) tone:
"In 2015 alone, the Obama Administration unilaterally issued more than 2,000 new regulations – each a hidden tax on American consumers, and a massive lead weight on the American economy. It is time to remove the anchor dragging us down. Upon taking office, I will issue a temporary moratorium on new agency regulations."
Trump didn't reference Dodd-Frank once or allude to the financial sector in any meaningful way, or that his presidential platform explicitly calls for reinstatement of the Glass-Steagall Banking Act of 1933, but he is clearly ready to unilaterally freeze and or repeal. Well, after he gets through his plan to end inversions because that will almost certainly require at least one targeted package of new regulations. But listen to Trump, he's got a foolproof plan to identify which regulations are good, and which ones - like - suck.
"Next, I will ask each and every federal agency to prepare a list of all of the regulations they impose on Americans which are not necessary, do not improve public safety, and which needlessly kill jobs. Those regulations will be eliminated. We are in a competition with the world, and I want America to win. When I am president, we will."
We can see it now:
INT. SEC HEADQUARTERS - AUGUST 15 2016
Hey! You over there with the mid-level SEC enforcement job, which of your rules are bad and dumb?
Mr. Trump, you can't be in here. This is a government building!
And that's the reasonable scenario. Trump made it clear that he does not believe the American economy is humming along. Using his metric, in which current Bureau of Labor Statistics unemployment data is "one of the biggest hoaxes in modern politics," the economy is a shambles due in no small part to our pathetic trade policy. But again, Trump's got a plan the outline of a plan to fix that too:
Trade has big benefits, and I am in favor of trade. But I want great trade deals for our country that create more jobs and higher wages for American workers. Isolation is not an option, only great and well-crafted trade deals are.
Now, we're huge fans of sophistry and pedantry but even we have to allow that crafting trade deals which are only great for one side of said deals are probably not well-crafted, and might not be deals at all. Trade by it's very nature flows both ways, something that Trump seems to not grasp which makes sense considering his worldview in which everything flows around him. But Trump's new trade plan was also undermined by his reasoning against existing ones.
When decrying the disaster that he believes NAFTA to be:
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, before NAFTA went into effect, there were 285,000 auto workers in Michigan. Today, that number is only 160,000.
If those numbers are to be believed, NAFTA has been very bad for Michigan auto workers. But those numbers are very much in question since, like Trump said, they come from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the self-same government agency that compiles employment data, ie "One of the biggest hoaxes in modern politics."
Now let's step back and admit be honest that there are nuggets of usefulness in a bunch of the stuff Trump said today. Small business taxes are punitive, child care deductions are a good idea for working American families, the D0dd-Frank era of regulations needs a ton of streamlining to ensure liquidity flows freely, and we might even want to look at some of our trade deals. There are real problems to address within our economy over the next four years and the clock is ticking on many of them.
So, yes, some of Trump's broad outline exists in the realm of sense and reason, but as he made even clearer today, Donald Trump simply does not.