I write out of disarray, from a field of compatriots in disarray. We’re drifting like astronauts, distantly tethered by emails like the one I just got from a friend: ‘i feel like he is making everyone sick, and bipolar./i feel like I am so incredibly ill-equipped to deal with any of this./i’m taking blind advice from all comers without feeling like anything is remotely adequate./ i feel nostalgic for all of life before Nov 8, 2016.’ Music helps and hurts. In a college classroom I played Gil Scott-Heron’s ‘Winter in America’, stirring up my old Nixon-era sense of abjection, and cried in front of my students. Of course, such behaviour makes us eligible for the web-scorn of alt-right triumphalists (‘Anguished by Trump, Lena Dunham Flees to Posh Arizona Resort, Asks Rocks for “Guidance”’). At these moments we’re the special snowflakes we were wishing to see in the world, the canaries in our own dystopian coal mines. But we’ll brandish our sensitivities proudly (if not our safety pins, which may be too smug and lame a gesture), since they’re what we’ve got, and are anyway better than robotic numbness, better than ‘normalisation’.
The full text of this diary is only available to subscribers of the London Review of Books.
Vol. 39 No. 2 · 19 January 2017
The LRB has by now published quite a lot about Donald Trump, none of it laudatory, much of it contemptuous, most recently by Jonathan Lethem (LRB, 15 December 2016). I happen to believe that Trump has three perfectly realistic ways of fulfilling his promises to his voters and ensuring his re-election. His first big idea is to build more than a trillion dollars’ worth of much needed infrastructure (including canal locks and other such things, not just highways, bridges and tunnels) on an accelerated schedule. This will generate millions of well-paid construction jobs and relaunch the global commodity cycle, in effect compensating for the Chinese deceleration, thereby increasing demand for US heavy construction and mining gear. Obama too had wanted ‘shovel-ready’ public works when he came in, but he also appointed people at the Environmental Protection Agency and elsewhere in government who were determined to study every project ad infinitum, all too ready to kill it over their concern for a rare species of frog or whatever. They also efficiently blocked everything they could block, starting with oil pipelines. Trump will not sabotage himself as Obama did: he has named someone at the EPA who will enforce the law, and no more than that. Nor will he write hundreds of executive orders as Obama did to block things that the law would allow. Simply by revoking some of Obama’s executive orders, he can create a few hundred thousand jobs on top of the millions that will be generated by his infrastructure programmes.
Trump’s second big idea is deregulation. Aside from the regulatory explosion of the Obama years, which has inflicted costly, sometimes crippling, new restrictions on industry (and even on small workshops), there is a mass of badly outdated regulations that impede economic activity. Most reflect the preferences of the privileged, for whom an infinitesimal environmental improvement is worth any number of lost jobs, but there are also consumer-protection laws that degrade the standard of living of many Americans. For example, at present more than 50 per cent of American households cannot afford a new car because of regulations that satisfy the safety-conscious affluent but also greatly add to the price. The cheapest cars in Europe can be bought for less than €8000; in the US, the cheapest cars cost $13,000.
Trump’s third big idea is that US trade policy should seek to maximise employment, instead of being an expression of religious purity in service of the Free Trade god. He has complained that the huge chronic trade deficit with China implies the loss of millions of manufacturing jobs. Trump wants some of them back, and if exhortation fails, he is willing to use his executive powers to put pressure on US companies that do their manufacturing abroad to come home. Anti-Trump columnists insistently and confidently assert that the billionaire has no intention of keeping his promises to his voters, and would therefore do nothing at all for them. I happen to disagree.
Chevy Chase, Maryland