In Detroit yesterday, Donald Trump unveiled an updated version of his ideas for stimulating the economy, mostly through tax cuts that would explode the deficit.
He read it off a teleprompter, which is unusual, but not unprecedented for Trump, but worth noting because he makes fun of other candidates whom he feels use them too often.
It’s also important to note that his speech represents a complete substitute for – and with countless changes to – the economic plan on which he has been running for the past year. This raises the question of when Trump will lay out the final set of policies he actually intends to pursue, should he win the presidency.
This was Trump on what my fourth-grade teacher used to call “best behavior.” For example, he maintained an even temper, stuck to his script, and waited patiently and calmly while protesters who interrupted him several times were dealt with fairly peacefully by the security team. It’s interesting to at least wonder whether, if he maintains his new improved conduct for a while, the public will start to unremember the Trump we have seen heretofore. Clearly, that is the hope and the plan in Trumpland.
For example, he said that Hillary Clinton, whom he called “the candidate of the past,” supports the status quo of “high taxes” and “radical regulation” that he wants to change. But he never called her his by usual pet name, “Crooked Hilary.” He did not suggest that she should perhaps be thrown in jail, but he said that “every policy she has tilts the playing field in favor of other countries.” His program, by contrast, he called an “America First economic plan.”
Compared to the very low standards of truthfulness, accuracy and completeness to which Trump’s statements and policies have generally been held, this a big leap upward. But his presentation still leaves enormous unanswered questions, puts out a set of new falsehoods, although smaller than usual for Trump, and circled back to some old ones he has used for months.
Basic plan: cut taxes
The basic idea of the new Trump plan is to cut taxes, especially for the wealthy and even more directly for their heirs, since he proposes to completely eliminate the inheritance tax. He relied on the tired Republican trick of calling it a “death tax.”
Even rich people who are lucky enough to remain alive during a Trump presidency will get significant relief on their income tax rates under the new Trump plan, which is why critics have labeled the plan as a repeat of the “trickle-down” or “voodoo economics” approach followed by both Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.
Trump, like many other Republicans, has harshly criticized Obama for the increase in the federal debt that has occurred over the past seven-plus years (although, of course, the gross debt has gone up during all recent presidencies, starting, dramatically, during the Reagan administration. But Trump’s plan, as announced, will add immediately, directly and significantly to the debt if he implements the tax cuts he proposed yesterday. It’s hard to say how much until he supplies more details.
But the good news is that, compared with his previous now-inoperative tax-cut plan, “It seems very likely that this version of the plan will lose less revenue than the last version” because it will contain relatively smaller tax cuts for individuals,” analyst Scott Greenberg of the Tax Foundation told the Washington Post.
Since the old plan was estimated to represent a $10 trillion loss of revenue and – if not offset by massive spending cuts — a potential $10 trillion hike in the U.S. debt, the “good news” isn’t all that good. Trump has often suggested that he would eventually produce ideas for cutting spending that might offset some of that potential new debt, but so far has not made anything close to a coherent proposal along those lines.
Fact-checking the speech
The fact-checkers had no problems finding inaccuracies and holes in the presentation. Here’s the Associated Press fact-check, and, in case you don’t click through for the details, it summarizes its findings thus:
He wrongly accused Hillary Clinton of proposing to increase middle-class taxes and blamed crumbling roads and bridges on money spent on refugees, a minuscule expense in comparison with infrastructure. He overstated the corporate tax burden and declared the jobless rate — the prime statistic for holding leaders accountable for the state of the economy — a hoax.
As far as that last bit, the AP was engaging in understatement. Trump actually called the current measure of slightly less than 5 percent unemployment “one of the biggest hoaxes in modern politics.” This is a theme he has long pounded, but there is almost nothing to it.
How unemployment is measured
The Bureau of Labor Statistics measures unemployment by attempting to measure the number of American adults who are seeking a job but are unable to get one. The current measure uses substantially the same formula, definition and method that has been in use for decades. Trump sometimes speaks as if he thinks children, retirees and full-time homemakers should be counted as unemployed.
The key dispute, if Mr. Trump ever wanted to discuss it rationally, is how to treat those who want to work but have stopped looking for a job because they have become discouraged about their chances. That number is probably higher than usual because of the depth and endurance of the Great Recession (which, Mr. Trump seldom notes, President Obama inherited). But “discouraged” workers have long been left out of the calculation, so using the long-established definition of “unemployed” and method of calculating it hardly seems like “one of the biggest hoaxes in modern politics.”
Wouldn’t it be amazing if someone could have a calm, rational, truth-seeking discussion with Mr. Trump that could stay on-topic and in the realm of facts and logic long enough to explore such matters?