On July 18-21, the Republican Party held its national presidential nominating convention in Cleveland. Over a thousand delegates from all 50 states attended the convention, along with dozens of guest speakers. Each day had a different theme, based on Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s campaign slogan “Make America Great Again.” These were “Make America Safe Again,” “Make America Work Again,” “Make America First Again,” and “Make America One Again.” Let us examine each of these themes, how they were presented, and what is wrong with the approach of Trump and the Republicans.
The theme of the first night was “Make America Safe Again.” According to the GOP convention site,
“From attacks on our own soil and overseas to the tragedy in Benghazi, the policies of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have left us vulnerable. Our immigration system is broken, leaving our country open to security threats and the negative consequences of illegal immigration. A Donald Trump administration will listen to and learn from our nation’s heroes who have put themselves in harm’s way and pursue a national security strategy and foreign policy that will strengthen our military and make America safe again.”
But it is the United States government that does the most to make Americans unsafe, and the Trump agenda does little to address this problem. To the extent that crime has decreased since its peak in 1991, it correlates more strongly with increased firearm ownership among the citizenry than with anything the government has done.
Under a Trump regime, there will still be a multitude of laws which criminalize behaviors that do not aggress against any person or property. The police who enforce those laws will continue to make Americans unsafe. Currently, Americans are 58 times more likely to be killed by a police officer than by a terrorist, and this statistic is unlikely to improve unless more terrorism occurs during a Trump administration.
Unfortunately, that could be the case. Trump’s plan for dealing with ISIS (whatever it might be) is likely to motivate many more people to join terrorist organizations and kill Americans. When civilians are killed in drone bombings, as over 55 were in the week leading up to the convention, their surviving family members will want revenge. However horrible ISIS is, they will view it as the lesser evil if Americans killed their family members and ISIS did not. They will probably never find the drone pilots to kill them, as would be just, so they will try to kill American civilians, and some of them will succeed.
Trump’s military policy is to “build a military that’s gonna be much stronger than it is right now. It’s gonna be so strong, nobody’s gonna mess with us.” But the American military budget is five times larger than that of its next competitor (China) and as much as the next 11 countries combined. This drives up the national debt, which many experts consider to be the most serious long-term threat to national security.
Of course, the lineup of speakers failed to recognize any of this, instead focusing on the standard Republican fare of Hillary Clinton’s failure in Benghazi, the need for border security, and the hostile climate toward police. This may lead Trump to victory, but those who fail to understand the roots of problems have no hope of solving them. Then again, solving them may not be the point.
The theme of the second night was “Make America Work Again.” According to the GOP convention site,
“The Obama years have delivered anemic economic growth, the lowest labor-force participation rate in 38 years, and job-killing regulations and legislation like Obamacare. These policies are crushing middle-class families, and a Hillary Clinton presidency would merely be an Obama third term that would deliver the same poor results. Donald Trump is a successful businessman with a solid record of creating jobs and the experience we need to get America’s economy up and running … and get Americans working again.”
Unfortunately, the speeches that night had almost nothing to do with the theme. There was criticism of the Clintons, vague talk of Trump “supporting businesses of all sizes” (whatever that means), and base assertions that Republicans care about jobs and the economy. To quote Peter Suderman, “None of these things are plans in the sense that offer or even suggest a set of specific, plausible, debatable steps that a president might take. That’s what a plan is. A plan is not the end result you hope to achieve; it’s a description of the particulars of how you intend to produce that result.”
What we know of Trump’s economic policy is not much better. His tariff proposals would not protect American jobs, but would make goods and services more expensive for the American population, as all such measures do. The tariffs against American goods that other countries would impose in response would harm American exports and destroy American jobs. His plan to oppose H1-B visas will only raise the cost of hiring people, which will result in less jobs. His support for intellectual property will maintain artificial economic inefficiencies and continue disrespect for real property rights. Labeling China a “currency manipulator,” as Trump intends to do, will strain relations while being enormously hypocritical, given the Federal Reserve’s record of currency debasement.
The theme of the third night was “Make America First Again.” According to the GOP convention site,
“America has always been an exceptional nation. Our Founding Fathers created a system of government that has protected our liberty, allowed American ingenuity to flourish, and lifted people out of poverty by creating the conditions for opportunity and prosperity. Unfortunately, years of bad policies and poor leadership have weakened our position in the world. Under a Trump administration, America will once again be a beacon of progress and opportunity.”
But there is a dark side to American exceptionalism. Too frequently, it is taken to mean that the United States government has carte blanche to commit atrocities which would land leaders of other countries in front of a war crimes tribunal. As for the Constitution, if it has truly protected liberty and allowed for human flourishing, then why does America lead the world in prison population? Why are Americans facing stagnant earnings? It is fair to point to bad policies and poor leadership, but Trump, like so many other politicians and businesspeople, fails to understand the root of the problem. As long as there is a government monopoly on currency and law, this power will be abused by those who are most capable of abusing it for their benefit.
Most of the speakers failed to speak of making America first again in a sense that was separate from the themes of other days of the convention, and some did not even have the word “first” in their speeches. Only astronaut Eileen Collins spoke of a particular example of restoring American supremacy, but the future of space exploration belongs to the private sector, not to nation-states.
Despite all of this, America is first, and therefore cannot be made first again. But this is not the real problem. America is the prettiest horse in a glue factory of global statism, and Trump has no plan to solve this problem.
The theme of the final night was “Make America One Again.” According to the GOP convention site,
“America faces serious challenges at home and threats from abroad. In order to turn our challenges into opportunities and keep America secure, we need leadership that will focus on what unites us, not what divides us. Donald Trump will move our country beyond the divisive identity politics that have been holding us back by restoring leadership, building trust, and focusing on our shared love of country and our common goal of making America great again.”
This is exactly the wrong approach. America is more divided than it has been in over a century, and these divisions are over differences which cannot be resolved by compromise and unification. This is because there is and will be no common purpose among Americans; various groups are acting toward cross purposes. The only ways that unity can be brought about are for the United States to balkanize or for one side to violently suppress the other, whether by political means or civil war. No political figure, and especially not anyone as polarizing as Donald Trump, will unify such a divided population, and that which cannot be done should not be attempted.
The overall theme of the Trump campaign is “Make America Great Again.” But its approach is misguided at every turn, either failing to recognize the true nature of problems or addressing them in ways which will only make them worse. As this is the latest in a long line of such campaigns by all major political parties, a more appropriate slogan would be “Make America Miss Again.”