IF ONLY…

Those of you who have been following the Brexit debate in Britain will know that the Prime Minister’s answer to the first question put to her when a Parliamentary debate opens is “In addition to my duties in this House, I will….”, followed by a list of those duties. If the President of the United States were to copy the Prime Minister, he would begin by announcing, “In addition to my duties in this [White] House, I will…”. And the list that would follow would be impressive indeed.

In addition to his presidential duties he became a self-appointed program director for Fox News. Fox commentator and Trump addict Jeanine Pirro charged Muslims with dual loyalty to America and their religion, just as Muslim congresswoman Omar Ilhan had charged American Jews with dual loyalty to Israel. Fox brass suspended Pirro. Trump wants that decision reversed. The job of chief programmer at Fox already being occupied, the network is proceeding without Trump’s advice to decide on the future of the commentator.

The President then turned his attention to the management of the aircraft manufacturing industry. He announced that his knowledge of the science of aerodynamics had led him to believe that “airplanes are far too complex to fly,” and proceeded to follow the lead of other countries by grounding Boeing’s 737 Max 8. Ordinarily, that decision would be announced by experts at the Federal Aviation Administration, but Trump, who until after the crash in Ethiopia had neglected to nominate someone to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of the FAA Administrator, preferred to make the announcement himself rather than defer to the Acting Administrator. This added to his already chock-full resume the job of airline regulator-in-chief.

Finally, he turned his hand to managing a large auto company’s decision on capital allocation. GM cannot, he said be allowed to close the Lordstown plant merely because it had been producing a model no one would buy. And its union cannot be complicit by allowing the closing as part of a 14,000 reduction in staff. He wants “the plant opened or sold to a company who will open it fast!” Before the voters in Ohio, a key swing state that went for Trump in 2016, get the idea that his plan to keep jobs in the state was not all it had been advertised. Management, which feels it should be in charge of resource allocation, and the union, which has the quaint notion that it represents auto workers, will jointly decide the final fate of the plant when negotiations for a new labor contract open in the Fall.

On all three points the President was, to put it mildly, inconsistent. He continually calls for an unbiased media, but presses Fox to retain a commentator favorable to him. He wants planes to be less complex — but is flown around the world in Air Force One, perhaps the most complicated airplane in use. And he criticizes China for subsidizing its old, clapped out steel mills because they distort markets, while urging GM to unshutters its closed plant . Rules are for thee but not for me.

Oh, yes. He also announced that he would continue attacking the Democrats as socialists who intend to interfere in our free-market capitalist economy. In short, American voters in 2020 will be given a choice between Democrats who intend to have the government expand its involvement in the US economy and Trump who intends to, er, expand presidential involvement in the economy by using tariffs to determine the cost of many things Americans buy, from medicines to imported cars; by deploying the implied power of his office to affect which factories remain open and which are permitted to close, and much more.

The danger is exacerbated by the nature of the man who has decided to play a major role in the economic system. Trump is a confessed technophobe. He fears driverless cars (“I don’t trust some computer to drive me around”), doubts the future of electric vehicles (“all-electric is not going to work”), thinks modern planes are too complicated (“Often old and simpler is far better. …I don’t know about you, but I don’t want Albert Einstein to be my pilot…”). To Trump, the mighty sinews of the American economy are the manly steel and coal industries, in which the country has no comparative advantage, rather than the service sector that accounts for 80% of the economy’s output, and in which America is so efficient that we are a net exporter of services to China. Brawn beats brains with this President.

If only he would recognize that by periodically intervening in the economy he is reducing the impact of his attacks on the Democrats as “socialist.” If only he would stop claiming that foreign governments pay tariffs that in fact are borne by American consumers. If only he would stop his incontinent twittering – most recently renewed attacks on John McCain, an American hero who suffered torture at the hands of Vietnamese communists while Trump nursed the sore heel his father’s physician-tenant diagnosed; a denunciation of Paul Ryan, former House Speaker who retired after a distinguished career, for not getting congress to fund the wall with Mexico;
an attack on two Fox news anchors who are less sycophantic than others on that channel.

The real pity of all this is that with even a little bit of luck the President will go into the 2020 campaign with an ideal re-election combination of peace and prosperity. Long-lasting wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria are being wound down. His use of tariffs to bring trading partners to the bargaining table is, as one observer put it, “a punch in the jaw” that got China’s attention and just might result in a more level trading field. The economy is chugging along, even if more slowly than last year. He can reasonably claim that more rapid growth and millions of new jobs are due to his tax cuts, the pressure he put on the Fed to discover patience as a virtue and hold off raising rates, and the cutting of the regulatory red tape in which President Obama had tangled American companies.

If only…. We might as well say, “If only my grandmother had wheels she’d be a bus.” In the coming election, for the first time since Franklin Roosevelt saw off the threats of Hitler’s National Socialism, Benito Mussolini’s Fascism, and Vladimir Lenin’s communism by reforming capitalism, there is a credible threat to the capitalist system and the structure of the government willed us by the Founding Fathers. Both need a coherent defender. That could be Donald Trump. If only….