By Jalal Heirannia

Trump seems to be closer to Reagan: analyst

June 26, 2018 - 15:8

TEHRAN – Political analyst Yuram Abdullah Weiler says Trump “is a man that sees no problem with taking advantage of someone in financial straits; a man that appears to completely lack the smallest iota of compassion for any human being outside of his family circle.”

“The pattern for Trump seems to be closer to Reagan: deregulation, higher military spending and tax cuts, particularly for the rich,” Weiler tells the Tehran Times.
This is the text of the interview:

Q: Is “Trumpism” a movement, or a school of thought in the United States? Can the current president of the United States produce a political or philosophical doctrine in the area of American social and foreign policy?

A: To me Donald Trump has to be the most repugnant character so far to hold the U.S. presidency.  Following his election and for quite some time afterwards, I found it impossible to think of him as “president,” so I would simply refer to him as “the current occupant of the Oval Office.”  Yet despite my revulsion, I forced myself to read Trump’s book, The Art of the Deal, in order to gain some insight into this flamboyant bully who now, to the alarm of most, is commander-in-chief of the world’s most lethal military.

As Trump discloses in his book, he loves to make deals for the sake of making deals.  His entire life seems to revolve around this concept of making a deal, which for him seems to be more than making money.  It is a strict zero-sum game where he wins and the others lose, but in the process, he is able to make the loser feel like it is a worthwhile bargain.  This is a man who has evicted poor people from their apartments and converted the buildings into opulent, luxurious palaces for the ultra-rich.  He is a man that sees no problem with taking advantage of someone in financial straits; a man that appears to completely lack the smallest iota of compassion for any human being outside of his family circle.

What kind of movement can such a man lead or what political doctrine can he leave behind?  Perhaps looking at Trump’s deal on the former Commodore Hotel in New York in the late 1970s can yield insights for his handling of the presidency.  Owned by the cash-strapped Penn Central Railroad, the famous hotel next to Grand Central Station in midtown Manhattan had deteriorated considerably from its heydays, and young Trump saw an opportunity to make a mint.  Being close to then New York City mayor Abe Beame, Trump managed to get promises for huge tax breaks from the city even before he was able to come up with the cash to secure his option to buy the hotel from the bankrupt railroad. To date, Trump has received some $400 million in tax breaks for a hotel that only cost about $100 million to build in 1980.

So if Trump’s handling of the presidency is similar, he will view everything from the perspective of a dealmaker, who is out to make the most for himself while convincing his gullible supporters that they are getting the best deal possible.  We can expect him to see him extract huge tax breaks for himself and his billionaire friends while the American taxpayer foots the bill.  Already we see this with the passage of tax cuts, which really benefit the very rich while actually increasing the tax rate on lower and middle income folks.  And above all, he will use the presidency to market the Trump brand worldwide, while callously disregarding the plight of the poor and struggling who did not have the advantage of a privileged upbringing.  I’m afraid there is no deep political philosophy in the making in the wings with this scoundrel.

Q: Trump has repeatedly stated that he is not a Republican. In your opinion, what is the current political affiliation of Trump himself?

A: It is necessary to unpack the question here, because in asking about political affiliation there is the hidden assumption that first, there is a difference between Republicans and Democrats and, second, that other parties, such as Green, Libertarian, Socialist Workers, etc.  are irrelevant in the U.S. political duopoly.   As Noam Chomskey has pointed out, there is one corporate party with two factions, Republican and Democrat.  Looking at campaign positions of various Democratic and Republican candidates reveals a remarkable lack of differences and virtually lockstep agreement in the area of foreign policy and military spending.  Trump has been a Democrat and is now a Republican, but what this change means in concrete terms is difficult to determine, and may even mean nothing at all.

Q: The president of the United States has used his own cabinet of neoconservatives, such as John Bolton. This is while he previously described himself as one of George W. Bush's sharp opponents. How do you evaluate this contradiction?

A: Examining Trump’s campaign promises shows that there have been a number of contradictions.  For example, while campaigning, he referred to NATO as obsolete, but after being in office and having a meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, he concluded that NATO was not obsolete and was fighting terrorism.  Trump had held Steve Bannon in high esteem until he fired him, at which time Trump said Bannon had lost his job and his mind.  He accused China of being a currency manipulator and then denied that when China was engaging with North Korea in a manner to his liking.  On the campaign trail, Trump assured voters that he would not be spending his time playing golf like Obama, but has spent something like 3 times the amount of time playing the game.  Trump first endorsed Mitt Romney and then called him a failed politician.  So his having been a hypercritic of George W. Bush and then adopting his methods should come as no surprise.

Q: If we think of Trump as a Republican, what is his ideology that, in the political spectrum, is closer to this party (T-party, Neoconservatives or Traditional Republicans)?

A: If we consider that Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan were all “Republicans,” it becomes difficult to pin down exactly what is traditional Republican.  One of the key features of Eisenhower’s economic policy was a reduction in military spending, following Democrat Harry Truman’s post World War II increase due to the “communist threat,” and he refused to cut taxes.  Nixon signed into law the Environmental Protection Act creating the EPA, the Occupational Safety and Health Act creating OSHA, instituted wage price controls to   reduce inflation, and effectively canceled the Bretton Woods Agreement, which had permitted a direct gold exchange for U.S. dollars.  Reagan was a champion of deregulation, reduced taxes, government spending and regulation, and advocated tightening the money supply to control inflation. Reagan also struck a devastating blow to the labor movement by firing the PATCO union air traffic controllers, but allowed the Federal Railroad Administration to increase in size.

Likewise, the mantra of “fiscal conservative” does not seem to have much applicability, as the U.S. transitioned from a net creditor nation to a net debtor nation under Reagan, whose tax cuts and military spending broke the budget.  It is worth noting that the last U.S. budget surpluses occurred under Democrat Bill Clinton, but he was responsible for doing away with the Glass-Steagall Act, which separated investment banks and commercial banks.  Clinton also pushed for national health care, but his efforts were stifled by the insurance and pharmaceutical companies’ lobbying efforts.  Eisenhower addressed healthcare in 1955 and suggested expanding access to health insurance through a federally-subsidized program, much the same as Obama’s program a half a century later.

So where does Trump fall on the political spectrum?  The pattern for Trump seems to be closer to Reagan: deregulation, higher military spending and tax cuts, particularly for the rich.  Yet as recently as 2009, Trump was a registered Democrat, and reportedly has donated more money to the Democrats than to the Republicans.  Trump even backed his presidential contender, Hillary Clinton, and has given $100,000 to the Clinton Foundation, which he denigrated as a “pay for play” criminal enterprise during his campaign.  Frankly, with the massively corrupt state of U.S. politics where one dollar equals one vote, political labels are becoming meaningless.  It is far more instructive to investigate who is backing the candidates, for once in office, a politician will strive to do the bidding of the largest campaign contributors.  With Trump, this is casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, Home Depot co-founder Bernard Marcus, and hedge fund manager Paul Singer.  Trump’s pro-Israeli, anti-Iran policies reflect the wishes of these three men.

Q: Is Trump's protective approach to the economy or his special emphasis on "American values" can be a sign of his influence on a particular economic and political school of thought?

A: Historically, protectionism through imposing tariffs has been at a minimum counterproductive and at worst an economic disaster.  When the U.S. stock market crashed in 1929, protectionist trade policies were implemented shortly thereafter with the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act.  Instead of stimulating local production, the tariffs and retaliatory responses at a minimum exacerbated the Great Depression.  The slow and sometimes nonexistent recovery following the global financial crisis of 2008 has created a similar atmosphere that is conducive to reviving protectionist trade policies.  Therefore, in Trump’s thinking, protectionist tariffs will help stimulate a recovery in the manufacturing sector of the economy.  However, in the 1930s, the U.S. dollar was tied to the gold standard, so the lowering of interest rates to stimulate growth was not an option.

Today, with the U.S. economy composed of 90% service and manufacturing less than 9%, there is scant local industry to make up for the shortages of goods caused by protective tariffs. Also, the U.S. manufacturing sector has not recovered at the same rate since the global financial crisis of 2008 and therefore, the trade deficit has grown, which Trump has blamed on China’s alleged currency manipulation.  However, a deeper look would show that the U.S. trade deficit is a result of weak domestic demand due to chronically depressed wages and the declining purchasing power of the average American worker.  Decreases in supply caused by tariffs will lead to higher prices, which will have the greatest impact on the people in the lowest tiers of the economy who can least afford it.

There are additional problems as well, such as a lack of investment in infrastructure, research and development, and education and training of the workforce.  Likewise, lowering the rock bottom interest rates, as in the 1930s, is not an option now either, as years of quantitative easing by the U.S. Federal Reserve has shown.   If effectively negative interest rates accompanied by injecting nearly $85 billion a month in liquidity into the economy could not stimulate growth, it would be magical thinking to believe that tariffs would.  If anything, due to the service nature of the U.S. economy, Trumps tariffs and inevitable retaliatory responses by other countries could trigger a worldwide recession.  The good news is that countries like Iran with highly devalued currencies will likely see a minimal impact.

Q: Is the election of Trump as the president of the United States in 2016 a symbol of American citizens’ tendency towards populism? If not, how can such a phenomenon be interpreted?

A: While appearing to be a populist revival, Trump’s election is more likely a symptom of the economic and political frustration of voters, as well as disappointment with Obama’s failure to deliver significant change in their economic situation.  Trump is a logical outcome of a political system that is awash in corruption and leaves the voter with a choice between two candidates with virtually identical campaign platforms, carefully vetted by the moneyed elite, as well as the Zionist lobby, of course.  Trump, as vulgar and repulsive as he may be to some, represented a departure from the typical politicians American voters have seen in past elections.  Using a carefully crafted verbal approach, which featured simple, short words, a restricted vocabulary and familiar phrases, Trump has managed to craft a political persona that has alarmingly wide appeal.  In addition, he managed to convince a sufficient number of the electorate that he was immune to the corrupting influence of money in politics since he was a billionaire.

Looking back 10 years, we see that Obama capitalized on the global financial crisis in 2008, which was triggered by the sub-prime mortgage crisis, which in turn was precipitated by the bundling of mortgages into arcane financial instruments, allowing the original sellers of the mortgages to avoid risk of foreclosure.  But an economic downturn resulted in defaults on mortgage payments, which led to foreclosures, which left investment bankers scrambling to assess the value of their derivatives and other mortgage-backed securities.  Unlike U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt, who placed a moratorium on home foreclosures and forced bankers to renegotiate terms, Obama chose to bail out the banker and let the hapless homeowners fend for themselves.  Naturally, this fostered a huge amount of anger and resentment, which Trump merely played to his advantage.

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