George Boardman: Trump shows fooling some of the people all of the time is good enough | TheUnion.com

George Boardman: Trump shows fooling some of the people all of the time is good enough

George Boardman
Columnist

It was the best of times for Republicans as they entered the midterm elections, or at least the GOP I've known for most of my life.

The economy is booming and unemployment, at 3.7 percent, is nearing all-time lows. The evil regulators are in retreat, and enough conservatives have been appointed to the Supreme Court to guarantee a minimum of social engineering for decades to come.

In an editorial, The Wall Street Journal concluded "The 115th (Congress) has the best record of center-right reform since 1994-96."

But that's the Wall Street-internationalist faction of the party talking, not the base that propelled Donald Trump into the White House. Those people are still angry and resentful two years into the Trump era and if there's one thing Trump knows, it's his base.

You could see that play out at Trump's pre-election rallies as the true believers reacted to the red meat he threw them. Nothing resembling the truth was going to change their opinions. Take Arvil Runyon, interviewed at a Trump rally in North Carolina after Cesar Sayoc was arrested for allegedly sending pipe bombs to prominent critics of Trump.

"Barack Obama probably sent his to hisself (sic)," Runyon told MSNBC, "and Hillary Clinton probably sent hers to herself." When reminded of Sayoc's arrest, Runyon replied: "They probably had it done. They probably paid him to do it."

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As the comedian Sasha Baron Cohen has shown, it's easy to con true believers when you present them with a scenario that validates what they want to believe. Then there's comedian Jimmy Kimmel, who got the approval of some Trump supporters when he told them the Statue of Liberty was being deported to France.

So it shouldn't surprise anybody that Runyon and his fellow travelers believed the president when he said that a bedraggled caravan of poor peasants moving toward our southern border pose such a threat to the United States that he had to send thousands of soldiers to the border.

More than 5,000 troops were ordered to the border, and Trump said he'd raise the total to 10,000 or maybe 15,000 — more soldiers than we have in Iraq and Syria. "This is an invasion of our country and our military is waiting for you," Trump tweeted, apparently fearful of people who will take jobs no Americans want.

The invaders in question are weeks from the border (and military planners estimate that just 20 percent may actually complete the trip), but what was really important was getting images of soldiers putting out barbed wire before the midterm elections.

Barbed wire will probably be as hostile as it gets. The troops won't enforce immigration laws, will probably be stuck there through Christmas, and will be tasked with support functions like erecting tents and other shelters, providing medical support, and transporting personnel — the sort of stuff I'm sure they enlisted for. But the president did raise the possibility that soldiers may return fire if any of the invaders throw rocks across the border.

In an effort to thwart foreigners seeking citizenship for their children who don't sneak across the border, Trump announced he will issue an executive order repealing birthright citizenship. If he actually follows through, numerous lawsuits will be filed, injunctions will be issued, and the case will likely still be in the courts when Trump leaves office.

All of this is an appeal to the nativist segment of a political party that has historically been a champion of immigration. But today's Republican Party has attracted a lot of white people who have little use for others who don't look like them, are resentful of their apparent loss of status ("status anxiety," as some call it), and fear for the future of their children and grandchildren in a country where whites will no longer dominate.

Trump's the guy for them, but it comes at a cost. If you close borders to all but western Europeans (who aren't interested in coming here anyway), you shut off the source of most of our economic growth and access to brain power we need to fuel our high-tech economy.

The president says he will restore our manufacturing base — the one with good paying blue-collar jobs — but we lost that battle decades ago. Raising tariffs to protect domestic industry will do little to make them competitive in the world market, but will raise the prices the rest of us pay.

Food prices may be lower, but that also comes at a price. Just ask meat exporters with freezers full of meat they can't sell, or soybean farmers who have run out of space to store the crops China won't buy now. But don't worry about China; many other countries are eager to fill the void created by America's trade war.

But we still have the tax cut, the one that was supposed to spur a wave of spending by consumers and companies that would boost demand, rekindle productivity and set the economy on a higher growth trajectory.

Consumers have done their part, providing a powerful boost to the economy. In fact, consumer debt has now surpassed the total in 2008, when the economy tanked. But businesses? Not so much.

Business investment grew at just a 0.8 percent annual rate in the third quarter, down from the second quarter's 8.7 percent and the slowest since the fourth quarter of 2016, according to the Federal Reserve. So what are companies doing with all of that money they retained when the corporate tax rate was cut to 21 percent from 35 percent?

Instead of investing to boost output and increase efficiency, companies have used their tax windfall to return money to shareholders. Companies in the S&P 500 spent a combined $600 billion on buybacks and dividends in the first half of this year — up from $142 billion from a year earlier, according to S&P Dow Jones Indices.

That would help explain why wages aren't going for blue-collar workers, a major beneficiary of the corporate tax cuts, according to Trump. On cue, dozens of companies announced one-time bonuses and wage increases for hourly workers.

But despite the high profile bonus announcements following the tax code overhaul, they weren't widespread. A survey by executive recruitment firm Korn Ferry found that less than 10 percent of companies planned to dole out one-time bonuses over the next year.

A poll of 1,500 companies by consulting firm Mercer LLC showed that 4 percent are directing tax savings to bigger pay checks in the coming year. "They're doing everything they can to avoid seeing their permanent payroll go up," said Bill Ravenscroft, senior vice president at Adecco Staffing, which recruits workers for companies.

But as Trump has shown, fooling some of the people all of the time is all it takes to gain political power in this country.

George Boardman lives at Lake of the Pines. His column is published Mondays by The Union. Write to him at ag101board@aol.com.

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