October 2016.

Behind the controversies, what are Donald Trump’s actual policies?

1 answer

For me, one of the main motivations is his determination to rein in the administrative state, and to try to return some decisions to the people. I see the regulatory environment in the United States becoming more and more restrictive. We are no longer even in the top ten states for economic freedom in the world – we always used to be in the top five. And the main problem, in addition to massive federal spending, has been the transfer of so many of these decisions to federal agencies. This is something that Trump has been on since the beginning – nobody voted to put the coal industry out of business, nobody voted for massive increases in immigration, or just a refusal to enforce immigration laws which are currently on the books.

I think a lot of Trump voters, me included, take the bluster as stating a position from which – of course – the real policy will be negotiated. So I think when he says we’re going to build a wall and make Mexico pay for it, or makes other statements which seem outrageous, he sees it as the opening point for negotiation. But I think he’s on the right track. There are places where drug trade across the border has become a serious problem, and where something like a wall is actually a valuable idea. The idea of making Mexico pay for it is really not a question of demanding money from the Mexican government. There are billions of dollars transferred from people working in the United States to Mexico – even a tiny tax on those remittances would be enough to pay for this. So it’s not quite as wild as it initially seems.

I don’t think he does have a coherent vision for foreign affairs. I think he has a sense that we need to have more realism in foreign policy. And I think there’s a sense that Obama and Clinton have not had any coherent foreign policy either, and if they have, they have not explained it to the American people. Like or not George W. Bush’s foreign policy, you knew what he was doing. There was a stated set of policy goals, and we have not had that for the last eight years.

So then we have to think: are the instincts, at least, going in the right direction? And I think a lot of the people who support Trump feel that his instincts are that we need to pay more attention to American interests. So on this front I see instincts that I like, but I’ll admit that I don’t see a coherent vision.

I think his economic plan is one familiar to people in the Republican Party. It’s that Reagan idea of cutting taxes to get the economy moving – there has been a recovery since the financial crisis, but it has been a slow one. I think he realises what a drag those regulatory aspects I mentioned are on the economy, and he’s going to address that. On trade, he departs very significantly from the mainstream of the Republican Party, which has always been in favour of free trade. I think that’s something that would have gotten him into more trouble, except for the fact that there’s a growing suspicion of some of these trade deals, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership that they’re not so much trade deals as trading of subsidies, and that they’re really being done for special interests.

There’s a sense of elites negotiating these deals for their own good, and not in a way that opens up trade to people. That worries me, because to me free trade is an important ideal, and I think the consensus in favour of it is declining. Trump is not so much pushing in that direction as following it.

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