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A Fundamental Thinking Error of Trump and his Supporters

November 13, 2016

Even many of Trumps’ supporters are quick to admit his serious flaws in a number of areas. But if they’d been well attuned to this one, they might not have been so ready to jump on board.

What I refer to is about competition… about his way of thinking about wealth production and prosperity. Perhaps his strongest appeal to voters who otherwise would have rejected him was promise after promise of more and better jobs… making their lives better through a more competitive America. 

Remember all the talk about winning? (We never win now because all our trade representatives are “stupid”.) How we, under him, would be winning so much we’d get bored with it? According to Trump, currently China and other nations are winning at our expense. They’re taking advantage of us.  He proposes to fix all that by tearing up current trade agreements and renegotiating them (coercively, as the more powerful party can do). With us winning this time! The man thrives on the game of competition and is not hesitant to crush opponents in almost any way possible.  His personal track record proves it… with both his competitors and people who’ve done work for him… check it out if you haven’t.

So what is the “thinking error”? (It could also be called a posture toward life, etc.) That a person or a nation can truly prosper by prevailing over and dominating both opponents and those who are partners or helpers as well.  Let’s face it, this often works in a limited way, for a limited time.  So it has for Mr. Trump in his businesses.

Some of his ventures, of course, have failed.  (Besides his bankruptcies, he has, for example, sponsored large failed housing developments that left many prospective buyers with substantial losses of down payments and such. Well known is the ongoing Trump University fraud lawsuit that he may well settle out of court, as he has others.)  I could build my point further but this is sufficient to show the limits of the use of overly-competitive, exploitative practices.  And I won’t even go into the human costs involved.

Let me come back to the seriousness of this error, this lack of fair play, let alone empathy and compassion.  I understand many of his supporters have felt overlooked and unheard as they have lost jobs and financial stability over many years now.  So a lot of them have merely placed hope in his ability to help “right their ship” along with America’s, given they see it as sinking, or at least taking on water, rapidly.  They haven’t thought through the ethical and practical side of how he may go about trying to do this.  

It appears to me that their grave error, following his logic and personal track record, is seeing and caring about only one side of the “bargaining table” (or trade exchange arrangement, etc.). They naively and unethically believe that we, already the richest nation in the world by far, should use our advantaged position to gain even further advantage and continue to support exploitative practices in other places or directly exploit our weaker trading partners.

Mexico is one example of who could well be further squeezed.  They already have paid a proportionally higher price in lost jobs through NAFTA than we have in the US, assuming we have had a net loss….  I hear differing evaluations of that.

Perhaps one of the reasons Trump is again (as of Nov. 13, when I write) talking about rapidly beefed up border enforcement (whether wall, wall/fence, or what) is this: He knows that when he is able, with congressional support, to turn the screws on Mexico and they suffer financially, the currently very low or neutral net immigration rate from there will spike unless we can effectively stop people at the border.  He exploits fears of crime, rape, and taking of Americans’ jobs by immigrants here illegally… almost all of which is blown way out of proportion or is factually just wrong.  Sure those things happen, but violent or other serious crime by non-permissioned immigrants actually happens at low, not high, rates.  They’re probably lower than that of the general population, though I’ve not heard of studies statistically confirming hard numbers on this.

To summarize the key point: Trade can only harmoniously be conducted and maintained long-term when both (or all) parties benefit to similar degrees.  Though they may not be conscious of it, Trump has many people overlooking the fact that his proposals and his own history indicate that he intends to dominate others in international trade… to care first and foremost about winning… about “making America great again”.

I’ve listened to him a fair amount and I don’t recall ever hearing him talk about concern for the welfare of our trading partners.  I imagine he has at times.  But clearly it is a minor sub-point and not a significant part of his agenda.  It’s not primarily a win-win mentality he has and promotes to the rest of us, but a “win regardless” of consequences for others involved.  And yes, it could be at least initially effective, on our end.  But it is not the way I want to have America conduct our international relations, nor treat those who’ve fled here for a variety of reasons.  They’re often here for mere survival, not for life comforts.

I don’t believe any possible increase in jobs or our gross national product (GNP) will be long maintained under his style of trade and his principles of dealing with others.  Whether or not we like “globalization”, we, as Americans, benefit if our partners and the rest of the world benefits.  Like it or not, we are all interconnected.  (I happen to celebrate it!)

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