Spend your career roosting comfortably in the nest of accepted wisdom and it can be more than a little hard to get one’s mind about the left-field likes of Donald Trump. That he is delivering conservative agenda items in wholesale lots goes unremarked, as Paul Kelly’s readers must surely be noticing
The Australian‘s Paul Kelly must see himself as a Never-Trumper down under. “Conservatives are bankrupt in their failure to evaluate the world Trump now seeks, the transactional confusion he foments and the flawed half-baked prescriptions he propounds,” he writes under the heading of “Seduction by Trump is a corruption of conservatism.” I don’t know whether I have fully grasped the import of Kelly’s puffed-up prose (fomenting “transactional confusion”), but I take it that he would like conservatives to dislike Trump more. Well, it ain’t going to happen while Trump is bringing home the conservative bacon. And he is bringing home the bacon. Kelly’s article is another tired dump on Trump. I will select some of his barbs to show how tendentious, contrived and inflated they are. Why do this? To play a small part in countering the conga line of elitist Trump haters.
Apparently, Trump threatens the moral and intellectual standing of conservatism. Conservatism is about conserving what is good about our traditions and heritage. If Trump is so threatening, it would be nice if Kelly were to take the trouble to explain exactly how. What is it about reducing taxes and regulations, trying to secure the border, moving the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, or selecting two originalists to the Supreme Court that threatens conservative values? I am confused.
It seems that Trump is “is eroding the checks and balances of the US constitutional system.” What does this mean? What is Kelly getting at? Maybe he thinks Trump should have put forward a liberal activist to the Supreme Court instead of Brett Kavanaugh. Somebody dedicated to eroding the checks and balances my making law instead of interpreting law? I simply don’t know what he means.
“Trump has embarked on a trade conflict with China guaranteed to damage both countries,” writes Kelly. Really? According to the World Steel Association, US production of crude steel fell from 102 million tonnes in 2000 to 82 million tonnes in 2017. During the same period, Chinese production rose from 129 to 832 million tonnes. According to the US Bureau of Economic Analysis, the US had a merchandise trade deficit of $375 billion with China in 2017. What should the US do? Kowtow to China as it dumps its products and steals intellectual property? Should the US play nice and hope for the best?
The Chinese have to be confronted. They are not going to give an inch without pressure. Think of Trump. Think of Xi Jinping. Think of those around Xi. They are all probably Trump-like, ‘China first’ guys. We have only one on our side and he is continually undermined by the likes of Kelly.
Kelly bemoans Trump’s “hostility towards NATO.” US military spending is over to 3.5% of its huge GDP. Canada (what a joke) spends 1% of its GDP on defence and Germany only 1.2%. European countries in total spent less than 1.5 percent of their GDP on defence in 2017. Successive US administrations and presidents have complained ‘diplomatically’ about this. How successful has this diplomacy been? Think of a very small number. Trump isn’t hostile towards NATO. In fact, NATO would be stronger, if Germany et al stumped up more cash.
Apparently, Kelly is in sync with European alarm about the prospects of “Trump giving Putin a recognition he does not warrant.” Just maybe it is better to have Russia inside the tent; at least on some issues. How unfriendly would Kelly like Trump to be towards Putin? Kill a few more of his soldiers in Syria?
Trump apparently doesn’t see that “trade is never a zero-sum game because it offers reciprocal benefits and a sharing of prosperity.” This is an empty point. No one, including Trump, doubts the benefits of trade. At the same time, countries engage in prolonged and intensive negotiations on trade deals in order to protect and further their own interests. Gains from trade don’t just flow equitably between trading partners as a matter of course. Trump believes NAFTA, for example, has not sufficiently benefited American companies. He believes that US trade with China is lopsided. Now, you can argue on the merits of the cases but it is perfectly rational for him to take the position that he does. You can’t parody this Trump derangement syndrome, which views everything that he does in a poor light.
According to Kelly, Trump is a mercantilist. “His mind belongs to an earlier age when power equated with domestic assets [?] and wealth came from export revenue.” Tell that to Xi. And, by the way, wealth does come from export revenue. Ask Scott Morrison (and Xi). A country can’t go on, and on, exporting materially less than it imports. Something gives – usually the exchange rate and people get poorer. Meanwhile, bad trade deals can result in families and communities being dispossessed and thrown onto the scrapheap. These families and communities matter to Trump. How much do they matter to Never-Trumpers?
Tut-tut! Trump criticised Trudeau. As usual Trump reacted. He didn’t start the spat. Trudeau threw the first verbal punch. According to Kelly he wouldn’t have responded in a similar way to Putin. Oh yes, he would. Kelly simply doesn’t “get” Trump and therefore shouldn’t write about him as though he did. He is out of his depth. Trump is in Europe right now berating Germany for signing a natural gas deal with Russia and increasing that country’s dependency. This kind of thing isn’t done in polite diplomatic circles. But Trump is a disrupter. He says it plainly as he sees it. And he sees it from an America-first perspective, which is what he was hired to do by American voters. If only our leaders had such clarity and resolve.
Kelly charges that “Trump dislikes US alliances and fancies his ability to cut deals with the autocrats in Russia, China and North Korea … His celebrity summit with Kim Jong-un at the expense of pledges to South Korea offers as spectacular warning.” First, I must have missed the South Korean dismay at having pledges dishonoured. What pledges? Kelly doesn’t enlighten us. As for meeting with Russia, China and North Korea and trying to find a way forward, what is the alternative? If, in the end result, North Korea is persuaded to get rid of its nuclear arms it will be a triumph for the world. Twenty years down the track, nothing else has worked. And if it doesn’t work was it still not worth a try? The fact is whatever Trump does is wrong according to Trump haters.
I can’t cover all of what Kelly wrote. Take my word for it, none of the rest contains any acknowledgement of Trump’s successes. Black unemployment at its lowest recorded level. That’s not nearly as important as being nice to Mr Trudeau.