By Billy Webster
Many of my Republican friends justify their continued support of a former President — indicted 91 times and found to have perpetrated a massive fraud in his business dealings — on the basis that their pocketbook will be protected and the progressive impulse for confiscatory taxes will be blunted. Now that a Trump nomination appears a virtual certainty, it is time for my friends to reflect seriously on what might lie before us.
It has become an incontrovertible truism that, as James Carville so aptly put, “it is the economy stupid.” That insight got Bill Clinton elected and re-elected despite an impeachment hearing and embarrassing public scandal.
The individual expression of Carville’s homegrown wisdom is that people simply vote their pocketbook. Granted. Reagan had an earlier incarnation of the same insight, “are you better off than you were four years ago?” That question defeated Jimmy Carter. The economy and an individual’s perception thereof are paramount.
Presidential elections have proven the importance of individual perception of the economy over and over again. It’s why so many intelligent, well-meaning (perhaps formerly called ‘Reagan Republicans’) will still vote for Trump despite his frontal assault on every democratic institution and the Rule of Law. In spite of everything.
But the operating assumption that Trump will be good for the US economy and that, in turn, will be good for people’s pocketbook will not hold in a second Trump Administration. Here are five reasons why:
1) Budget impasses — such as the one we are witnessing now — will get worse, last longer and sow chaos in financial markets: The fallout of government shutdowns ripples through the economy. Hundreds of thousands of government employees will be furloughed. That will lead to long airport delays (FAA and TSA), the cessation of Federal Housing Administration (FHA) lending, the closure of the National Parks, the interruption of Border Patrol and other federal law enforcement authority, and the delay of clinical trials and food/water safety inspections… just to name a few. It will be sand in the gears of an economic engine that has functioned more or less positively and predictably for seven decades.
2) The world will be less safe as global alliances collapse. Trump has made plain his disdain for NATO and the traditional alliances across Europe, Asia and the Middle East—alliances that have kept the world relatively safe and enormously prosperous since the end of World War II. ‘Peacetime expansion’ has been THE economic descriptor over the last 75 years. Trump has turned from cooperation with democratically elected governments around the globe to an idealization of strong-man autocrats like Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, Mohammed bin Salman, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Kim Jong IL. As an experienced and very smart former Navy admiral recently put it, “dysfunction leads to adventurism; weakness encourages aggression.” One need look no further than Trump’s coddling of Russian leader Vladimir Putin, emboldening him to launch an attack on Ukraine; an attack that has cost the US billions of dollars.
3) Trump’s ‘universal tariff’ will mean the collapse of the global economy and an economic isolation that will disrupt world markets on a wide scale. We have watched this play a thousand times. The imposition of significant tariffs by the US will invite retaliatory tax increases on US exports and raise the price of all goods — not to mention wine, cheese, olive oil, certain kinds of rare meats (for those of means who enjoy such things).
4) The stock market, which above all other things, HATES volatility and lack of transparency will have a steady diet of both. Every day. Unlike Trump 1.0, where his worst impulses were constrained by the politics of the House and the Senate AND (some, not all) political appointees with prior government experience, it is clear that Trump will NOT make that same ‘mistake’ again. His loyalty litmus test will ensure that the government will be populated with appointees who will do his bidding despite the consequences. One need look no further than the ‘Freedom Caucus’ and its disproportionately stupid impact on the budget negotiations to have an inkling of things to come.
By way of post-script to the expectations of stock market gains under a Republican president, it is worth mentioning that the best performing stock market since World War II was under Bill Clinton (1993-2001). Second best was under Barack Obama (2009-2017).
5) The politics of revenge and retribution can work both ways. In recent weeks, Trump has spoken openly (through his TruthSocial portal) about “hanging” political opponents and throwing those who cross him into jail. That can work both ways. If Mr Trump ushers in an era of autocratic purging, it will justify the same activity—one day—when the radical left is in charge. A successful economy requires predictable rules of behavior that do not contemplate the murder or incarceration of political opponents.
As we approach the most important election since 1860, those who vote their pocketbooks should pause and have a long think about what chaos will likely characterize a second Trump presidency.
Billy Webster is an educator, entrepreneur, and civic leader. He has been appointed to various positions by two presidents – George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, serving in the Agency for International Development, The Department of Education, and the White House, among other postings. A resident of Spartanburg, Webster has served on numerous boards for organizations serving the Upstate.