Memo to Mary Jordan, J. Peter Scoblic, and George Will: If you want to write effective critiques of Donald Trump, his policies, and his qualifications to be president, rather than inept hit pieces, don’t ignore facts that are screamingly obvious to at least many of your readers.
Jordan is a Washington Post political reporter who published a piece in this morning’s paper on the irony of the Republican National Convention being held in Cleveland. Why, as she sees it? Because the city “was built, and continues to be shaped, by immigrants” and because a defining message of the presumptive presidential nominee’s campaign is that “it is time to pull up the U.S. welcome mat: build a giant wall on the Mexican border, deport millions of foreigners who did not enter legally, maybe even ban Muslims.”
But here’s what Jordan didn’t believe was worth mentioning. First, the predominantly European immigrants that made up so much of Cleveland’s population during her childhood there arrived in the country legally. They didn’t take advantage of lax U.S. enforcement measures and sneak into America by the millions.
Second, although Jordan acknowledged that “the city still has many poor,” and has seen its population fall by more than half since 1950, she both understated Cleveland’s straits and ignored how one of its prime causes strongly reinforces one of Trump’s other signature issues – the offshoring-friendly trade policies that have devastated former manufacturing centers like Cleveland.
Indeed, Cleveland not only has “many poor.” It’s the second-poorest big city in the country as measured by official poverty rates. Indeed, it might still be number one in poverty – with about 37 percent of its residents falling under the poverty line – except that it’s recently been passed by Detroit, another urban giant blighted in part by trade policy failures. And in the last few years, despite the downtown night spot revival Jordan describes (and in my view hypes, based on numerous visits over the years), Cleveland’s impoverishment has worsened, not improved. Anyone thinking that manufacturing’s troubles have played a marginal role here – a claim that, incidentally, most of the city’s leading Democrats would heatedly reject – doesn’t have a clue about Cleveland.
Just as clumsily one-sided was the article in the Post‘s Outlook section by Scoblic contending that Trump would bring to the presidency a business-related “do-something” outlook that is “precisely the wrong attitude for a president of the United States.” The author’s reasoning:
“[K]nowing how and when to do nothing — or, to put it less absolutely, knowing when to show patience, to tolerate delay and to restrain the urge to act — may be the most critical element of presidential leadership. U.S. interests depend on having a commander in chief who not only can handle the proverbial 3 a.m. phone call but also understands that sometimes it’s best to go back to sleep. Such self-control is necessary for maintaining alliances and defusing confrontations with enemies. On at least one occasion, it probably prevented nuclear war.”
Scoblic, who has written a book on “Conservatism in the Age of Nuclear Terror” and who holds a fellowship at a liberal Washington, D.C. think tank (surprise!), unquestionably raises an important point, since, all else equal, the hotheaded Trump temperament on display during the campaign seems problematic for handling international crises – including nuclear crises.
But why didn’t Scoblic even mention something at least as important in anticipating Trump as America’s diplomat- and command-in-chief: He’s so far run the least interventionist campaign on the foreign policy front in the last few decades of American political history. In fact, over the last few months, the nation’s foreign policy establishment and the Big Media that typically champions its incessant overseas meddling has continually trashed Trump as a neo-isolationist.
It’s certainly possible that a president who seeks to reduce America’s world role could still find him- or herself in dangerous confrontations. But if Trump actually travels down this strategic road, his tenure would be even likelier to reduce the odds of such face-offs for at least three reasons.
First, his focus on domestic reform and reconstruction holds the promise of ending Washington’s practice of portraying every instance of turmoil and upheaval breaking out abroad as a mortal threat to American interests. As a result, he’d logically face less public pressure to “do something” than national leaders who habitually push the figurative panic button whether the stakes for the nation’s safety and prosperity are significant or not.
Second, it stands to reason that a more restrained U.S. foreign policy, and especially one that concentrates more tightly on protecting the homeland, would make fewer decisions and take fewer steps that other great powers would find provocative. This point is nicely illustrated by America’s longstanding policy of expanding the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO’s) reach right up to Russia’s national borders – despite the end of the Cold War. This policy was initiated by the level-headed Bill Clinton, and has been sustained by the equally cool, calm, collected Barack Obama. And arguably nothing has done more to inflame the West’s tensions with Vladimir Putin’s regime – and increase the odds of a military clash in Europe.
The third consideration that Scoblic completely ignores is Trump’s critical view of U.S. alliances. Although the author appears to support the conventional wisdom about these arrangements being essential to safeguarding America’s security, there’s an increasingly compelling case that, especially in the post-Cold War era, they can needlessly function as “transmission belts of war” by committing the United States to fight – mainly against other great powers – on behalf of countries whose fate is no longer even close to vital to America’s own. Worse, the so-called tripwire American forces deployed in powder-keg areas like the Korean peninsula are actually intended to deny Washington the option of standing aside – by ensuring that the sacrifice of tens of thousands of American lives would inevitably result.
Scoblic’s omission of all these points is enough to label this piece a smear job, not an example of intellectually honest analysis.
George Will, of course, is the proudly pompous nationally syndicated columnist and charter member of the Washington, D.C. chattering class that stands to be marginalized if Trump gets elected. So it wasn’t surprising to see that his latest column lamented that the GOP (which he has just left) this week will decide that “the nuclear launch codes and other important things should be placed in the hands of someone not known for nuance, patience or interest in allies and collective security,” and that the Cleveland delegates seem oblivious to the threat confronting the United States from China’s growing expansionism in East Asia.
Let’s assume that Will is right to judge that if the next president handles this challenge with diplomatic or military ineptitude, “the result could be the collapse of America’s position in the world’s most populous, dynamic and perhaps dangerous region,” (I’ve repeatedly argued that this fear is baseless because America’s overriding interests in East Asia are economic, and can be protected by the right economic policies no matter who runs the place politically.)
Confidence in his judgment would be much easier to justify if Will had acknowledged that the dangerously thoughtless trade policies pursued by recent Republican and Democratic presidents and Congresses alike and cheered on by Establishment Media pundits like him, have been instrumental in boosting Chinese military power through massive infusions of wealth and militarily relevant technology alike. In fact, as I’ve documented, these transfers have proceeded apace despite China’s increasing belligerence.
By contrast, who is the only Republican presidential candidate who has consistently opposed these policies? Not offshoring lobby flunky Jeb Bush, or the self-proclaimed adult-in-the-room John Kasich or China pseudo-hawks like Marco Rubio or Rick Perry. Of course, it’s been Trump.
Incidentally, it’s no coincidence that these three examples of unmistakable and easily spotted anti-Trump bias have all appeared – and on the same day, yet! – in the Washington Post, a mainstay of that threatened Beltway insiders’ culture whose editorial opposition to Trump has consistently verged on the hysterical. (For some reason, the Will column is in the print edition, but hasn’t made it to the website yet).
The implications seem as obvious as they are disturbing – far from being limited to the paper’s publisher, editorial board, and pundit roster, the paper’s determination to slant its campaign coverage now extends deep into the layers of editors who are supposed to tether contributors and staff writers to some recognizable version of reality.