The Outsider Perspective, brought to you by The Beltway Outsiders.
Good Friday Morning! Welcome to the first week of the new Trump administration! Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th President and has issued a number of executive orders in his first week, laying out the framework for his new administration. Depending on your view, it was either a fairly standard first week for a Republican President, or it’s the end of the world as we know it. I haven’t seen many reactions between those two.
As a quick update, you’ll recall last week I wrote Democrats would impeach or sue Trump early on. The first challenge I expected was through the Emoluments Clause. This week, the liberal advocacy group CREW filed a civil suit in the southern federal district court of New York alleging Trump is violating the Emoluments Clause. I’m not going to rehash everything I wrote last week. Nothing about the suit changes my mind. It’s a very long shot. I don’t believe the litigants have “standing” to sue Trump. In order to sue someone in federal court you have to allege the person you’re suing has harmed you. CREW is alleging that Trump’s violation of the Emoluments Clause has harmed them. It’s a very flimsy case. Law Prof Johnathan Adler wrote a great piece in the Washington Post discussing why CREW can’t prove harm. Combine a lack of standing with all the reasons I laid out last week, and the emoluments clause is dead-on-arrival.
Which brings us to this week. I thought I’d examine Trump’s inaugural speech, take a look at the large protests after his inauguration, focus in on the avalanche of executive orders since inauguration day, and finish up with why an import tax of 20% is a bad idea. Items for your radar follow.
President Trump’s Inauguration Speech: The 1990’s Blue Dog Democrat Coalition is back
The first thought I had while listening to Donald Trump’s speech was that it could have been delivered by Bill Clinton. It was the quintessential Jacksonian Democrat/Blue Dog conservative Democrat speech. Trump’s speech showed just how far left the progressive movement has thrown the Democratic Party. They don’t even recognize their own rhetoric any more. For instance, take this section of Trump’s speech:
For too long, a small group in our nation’s Capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished — but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered — but the jobs left, and the factories closed.
The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country. Their victories have not been your victories; their triumphs have not been your triumphs; and while they celebrated in our nation’s capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land.
Compare that passage, to Bill Clinton’s first inaugural speech in 1993:
We earn our livelihood in America today in peaceful competition with people all across the Earth. Profound and powerful forces are shaking and remaking our world. And the urgent question of our time is whether we can make change our friend and not our enemy. This new world has already enriched the lives of millions of Americans who are able to compete and win in it. But when most people are working harder for less; when others cannot work at all; when the cost of health care devastates families and threatens to bankrupt our enterprises, great and small; when the fear of crime robs law-abiding citizens of their freedom; and when millions of poor children cannot even imagine the lives we are calling them to lead, we have not made change our friend.
While Trump specifically called out the DC establishment in his speech, Clinton made vague allusions to it in his. That change Clinton points to is the post-Reagan world that had just seen a minor recession. The most contentious part of Trump’s speech was probably the section on “American carnage.” But when you place it in context, it’s hardly anything historically different than what we’ve seen from Democrats FDR or Clinton. You can see yourself. This is Trump’s American carnage:
Americans want great schools for their children, safe neighborhoods for their families, and good jobs for themselves. These are the just and reasonable demands of a righteous public.
But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of knowledge; and the crime and gangs and drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.
This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.
The popular press and pundits called this a dark passage with a dark tone. However, it’s hardly any darker than FDR blasting the banks, wealth, and establishment in his first inaugural in 1933. While speaking with a backdrop of the Great Depression, FDR blasted the wealthy for compounding more wealth and exhorted people to not live in a pursuit of money:
Practices of the unscrupulous money changers stand indicted in the court of public opinion, rejected by the hearts and minds of men.
True they have tried, but their efforts have been cast in the pattern of an outworn tradition. Faced by failure of credit they have proposed only the lending of more money. Stripped of the lure of profit by which to induce our people to follow their false leadership, they have resorted to exhortations, pleading tearfully for restored confidence. They know only the rules of a generation of self-seekers. They have no vision, and when there is no vision the people perish.
The money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization. We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths. The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit.
Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort. The joy and moral stimulation of work no longer must be forgotten in the mad chase of evanescent profits. These dark days will be worth all they cost us if they teach us that our true destiny is not to be ministered unto but to minister to ourselves and to our fellow men.
Imagine the media reaction if Trump had simply quoted FDR line for line! Trump merely accused the establishment of enriching itself. FDR called them “unscrupulous money changers,” who were “false leaders” and were a “generation of self-seekers.” This is incredibly harsh language in an inaugural speech. If done today, the media would accused the President of inciting people against other Americans. This would be called a class divide speech (and it certainly is that, on some level).
Trump’s lines focusing on America and American workers first isn’t even original to him. While Trump was criticized for hammering an American first policy, he basically paraphrased Bill Clinton’s speech on the same subject:
There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America. And so today we pledge an end to the era of deadlock and drift, and a new season of American renewal has begun.
To renew America, we must be bold. We must do what no generation has had to do before. We must invest more in our own people, in their jobs, and in their future, and at the same time cut our massive debt. And we must do so in a world in which we must compete for every opportunity. It will not be easy. It will require sacrifice, but it can be done and done fairly, not choosing sacrifice for its own sake but for our own sake. We must provide for our Nation the way a family provides for its children.
The point of this exercise isn’t to argue “what-about-ism,” that is both sides engage in this type of rhetoric. It’s to point out how Trump, his positions, his policies, and his speech line up with a typical blue dog Democrat. Trump’s message and policy is no different than conservative Democrats from the 20th Century. Blue dog Democrats were typically pro-business, conservative on some issues, and had a populist streak in their message. Bill Clinton was the blue dog champion. Trump echoed every part of this mostly moderate position. Progressives hate it because they’re so far left on all issues, anything to the center is extreme to them. Conservatives don’t trust it because, while blue dogs are closer to conservative positions, there’s still a fundamental disagreement on worldview.
The final point to be made here it this: this was not some extreme authoritarian speech. It sits among the fairly typical populist-like speeches in American history. The focus on Americans first is a standard staple among Presidents. And while “American carnage” may sound bad, the context of it is no different than Clinton or FDR. In joking with a friend, I nicknamed the speech “Revenge of the Blue Dogs.” Because this is the first time in a while that they’ve mattered politically.
The Women’s March: The Democrat’s Tea Party? Or just another march?
If you’ve been on social media or watched any news at all, you saw or know someone who participated in the Women’s Marches across the country. Estimates place attendance at the marches somewhere between 2 – 3.5 million. That alone is highly impressive. It’s one of, if not the, largest marches in American history.
The ultimate question: does it matter?
The answer to that, right now, is likely “no.” And I don’t say that lightly. Large movements and protests can be a very healthy sign of dissent in the country. The Republican Party is still reeling from the effects of the Tea Party and the invasion of Trump’s coalition (blue dog Democrats). The women’s marches are right now estimated to be larger than the tea party protests. But, while the Tea Party protests were smaller in size, they made up for it in quantity. Tea party protests occurred in many US cities. To quote FiveThirtyEight on it, they had a “long tail.” More communities were impacted because they engaged in the tea party protests.
The women’s marches on the other hand were massive in size, but limited in geography. Most of those marches occurred in large to mega-large cities. Even more pointedly, 80% of those marchers protested in states Clinton won:
Specifically, about 80 percent of march attendance came in states that Clinton won. By comparison, only slightly more than half of Clinton’s voters were in these states.
Only 11 percent of marchers, by contrast, were in a key group of swing states — those that Obama won in 2008 or 2012 but which Clinton lost in 2016. (These states are Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa and Indiana.) Some 25 percent of tea party protesters on April 15, 2009, were in these swing states, by contrast.
In other words: These were largely Clinton voters, in deeply blue Clinton states. These marches did not represent a broad cross-section of America. In fact, 37% of the marchers were on the West Coast and another 24% of them were in the Northeast. 6 out 10 marchers could be pinned down to one of those two locations, which includes LA, San Francisco, Seattle, New York, Boston, and Washington DC. The remaining 39% occurred in the rest of the country.
The mega-cities, places like the above, are where Clinton performed fantastic in the election. She won 2 out of 3 voters in mega-cities. After that, however, her support plummeted:
The problem is that the Democratic coalition fell apart below that. Her performance in small cities was closer to Al Gore’s 2000 performance than either Obama’s or Bill’s landslide wins. Beneath that, her performance was a disaster; she ran behind Michael Dukakis in large towns, about 10 points behind him in small towns, and about 15 points behind him in rural areas. She ran over 20 points behind Bill in small towns and rural areas.
Winning mega-cities by 30 points is great, but her margin there was mostly (though not entirely) neutralized by her poor performance in large rural areas and small towns alone. Again, her vote in these mega-cities was also inefficiently distributed in already-blue states; the swing states with mega-cities tend to have large amounts of rural land, which is why she lost Florida, Georgia and Pennsylvania.
What you’re seeing here, then, is a very highly clustered group of voters. People who live almost exclusively in mega-cities, disconnected with the rest of the country. While a few of these mega-cities can flip a state for Democrats, see Chicago in Illinois, in other states it doesn’t matter a bit (Atlanta, Georgia and Houston, Texas). While Democrats struggle with electoral college map, they’re in even deeper trouble with the House and Senate:
There are only nine “mega-cities” in America: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Miami, Atlanta, Houston, and Dallas. These, in turn, affect 11 states: New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, California, Illinois, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Florida, Georgia and Texas.
In other words, in seven of these states, further growth in this area does no good for Democrats, as they are already blue. In three others (Pennsylvania, Florida and Georgia), the rural areas, towns, and small cities cast enough votes to outvote the mega-city. The final one – Texas – may be the key to a Democratic majority down the road, but Hillary Clinton still lost it by nine points, with a lot of Romney’s votes going to third party candidates. Put differently, the place where the Democratic coalition is growing the most does them the least good, electorally speaking.
But if it causes problems in the Electoral College, it wreaks havoc in the Senate, House, and state legislatures. While only 11 states have mega-cities, 18 states have neither mega-cities nor large cities. To put this in perspective, a party that sweeps the rural and town-dominated states starts out with 36 Senate seats. This won’t happen, of course – Vermont isn’t going Republican any time soon – but Republicans also have a solid foundation in states with large cities, like Oklahoma and Kansas. Because of the Democrats’ concentration in cities, and because of the concentration of the urban vote in relatively few states, the Senate is now a natural Republican gerrymander.
In the House, it is largely the same story.
The point here is simple: If Democrats want to make an impact with these marches, they have to show they can do so in places and states without cities to push them over the edge. Democrats need an impact like the Tea Party movement: primary bad Democratic incumbents, win those primaries, and win in red counties. And they have to do it outside a major city. If the result of these marches is Democrats just eating their own in highly contested elections in deeply blue cities and states, then Democrats will be increasingly powerless. They may win the occasional Presidency, but they’ll lack an ability to get back into the House or Senate.
What we’re seeing is a natural segregation of our society along lines of politics. People are moving to places that reflects what they already believe about the world. They do it on Facebook and they do it in real life too. As a result, bubbles are forming in cities and elsewhere. These bubbles lead to real world headlines like this one from Politico: “Democrats hold lessons on how to talk to real people.”
Must of these structural problems have been happening over time. People don’t just move in a few years from one election to another. But you can see the definite geographic trend lines. Eventually, this will reverse itself and people will change parties. American politics is cyclical that way. These are long term trends, however. This should give pause to any Democrat believing the marches will lead to change. Since 2000, Democrats have had multiple marches from anti-war activists, pro-women activists, the Occupy Wall Street movement, Black Lives Matter, and now the post-Trump marches. Without Obama on the ticket, Democrats have won in one election year: 2006. Obama was a once-in-a-generation political talent who made use of the once-in-a-generation economic recession that the public blamed on Republicans. Aside from 2006, Democrats have been in a Congressional wasteland (the picture isn’t much better if you go back into the 1990’s).
This should be a wakeup call to Democrats that the progressive wing of the party is destroying them. They’ve forced old allies, like the blue dogs, to change parties and become Republicans. Sean Trende and David Byler of RealClearPolitics note why Democrats should care about this:
Democrats were once able to win rural areas, and send large numbers of members of Congress from these places. That was in part because they focused their message on these areas, and tolerated culturally conservative Democrats like Harold Volkmer in Missouri and Sonny Montgomery in Mississippi.
But for much of the Obama administration, these members were forced to take a series of tough votes that rendered the Blue Dog Democrat a near-extinct species. Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2016 was almost entirely directed toward the coalition of the ascendant in mega-cities, which is a decent enough coalition for the popular vote, but is highly problematic for the Electoral College.
We very much doubt that liberal Democrats will like some of policy compromises that winning back these areas probably entails. We suspect, however, that they will find that preferable to the policies that will be enacted over the next four years.
Trump’s Executive Orders: Executive overreach continues unabated
Broadly speaking, Trump has made a large use of his pen the first week of his Presidency. He’s issued an avalanche of orders on a wide array of subjects. It’s important to remember, an executive order can only go as far as the executive decides to enforce it. For instance, President Obama ordered Guantanamo Bay closed in his first week of office. He never carried out all the steps necessary to close the base.
Trump’s critics are mad at him for the substance of his the executive orders, not the fact that he has the power to issue them. It’s an important distinction. As a federalist on these types of issues, I argue the problem isn’t the substance of Trump’s executive orders…
It’s that he has the power at all.
Legislative type actions should be taken by Congress. Not the Executive. That is the essence of conservative/federalist critique of federal power for the last 100 years. If you want large actions taken, then Congress should vote. Everything from the Wall with Mexico, various oil pipelines, funding for foreign abortions, or the UN. Congress should be forced to take these votes and debate the issue.
I didn’t like Obama wielding the power of executive orders. I don’t like Trump using them either. It’s a form of executive overreach. Executive power needing to be checked should be what people should be arguing. Instead, the anger is directed only at the substance of Trump’s executive actions. Here’s the problem: If you believe Trump should have that power, and he won the election, then he has a popular mandate to use that power how the people elected him to use it.
I’m all for stripping power from the executive. I’d prefer a Congress with the power of the early 1800’s. But we’ll never get there unless the left embraces federalism and not just anger at the substance of executive actions.
Why do I say this? Because executive and government power overall has long been a one way ratchet. You can crank up the power. But no one wants to lessen that power. So now we’re getting more powerful Presidents with each passing term. Until the left embraces federalism and joins conservatives who want to check it, the executive branch will continue to grow more powerful.
Import / Export taxes are a bad idea and only increase the prices of goods
While writing this piece, a news flash hit my news feed that President Trump plans on enacting a 20% import tariff against Mexico as a means of paying for the Wall. This is a bad idea.
Let’s rephrase it for those who don’t understand import/export taxes.
Donald Trump is effectively proposing a 20% sales tax on any good you buy that comes from Mexico. It will only apply to goods that are specifically shipped from Mexico to the United States (an import). He claims this makes Mexico pay for the wall.
You pay for it.
Mexican companies (the producers) aren’t going to eat that cost increase. They’ll just hike their prices to make up for the 20% increased costs. That cost gets passed to you. The consumer.
In turn, Mexico, seeing that its companies are being punished will hike taxes on US goods in retaliation. This will allow both sets of companies to compete on a “fair playing field.” Trade wars like this never work well for consumers. They only increase costs. Consumers benefit from free trade where tariffs (taxes) are dropped to near-zero. These free-trade deals benefit everyone by forcing more competition into the market and stretching shopping dollars further.
Of the countries we import goods from, Mexico ranks 3rd. We imported $236 billion in goods from Mexico in 2015 (2016 numbers unavailable). Mexico is the 2nd largest supplier of agricultural goods to America:
Leading categories include: fresh vegetables ($4.8 billion), other fresh fruit ($4.3 billion), wine and beer ($2.7 billion), snack foods ($1.7 billion), and processed fruit & vegetables ($1.4 billion).
Take all those cheap fruits, vegetables, and meats from Mexico you like and slap a 20% sales tax on them. That is a massive blow to the 3rd largest trading partner of the United States. Mexico supplies food, cars, and raw materials we use to make our own goods. Hike the prices 20% on all those things. That’s a massive impact on the economy that will harm growth.
If you don’t like those increased costs, or the thought of paying for a wall, then congratulations. Welcome to the free trade side. That’s what free trade deals do. They dramatically decrease the costs of goods and lets you buy an Avocado for 50 cents from a foreign country at Wal-Mart.
Things you need to keep on your radar
Russia Crackdown on potential US intel informants – LawFare Blog
Russia is cracking down on some security researchers that it claims have committed treason. One worked for the Russian company Kaspersky Labs, a internet security firm. These arrests could potentially be linked to US intelligence agencies looking for information regarding the Russian hacking of various political and government systems.
Israel increases the number of settlements in the West Bank to 2,500 – The New York Times
In the immediate days following Trump’s inauguration, Israel began ramping up settlement activity in the West Bank. Regardless of your views on them, the PLO will doubtlessly use this as an excuse to retaliate with lethal means. Look for this cause new war sparks in the region.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg for President? – The Ringer
With Trump’s surprise win in November, many business journalists have been watching how CEO’s and other business leaders react. If big business tycoons see Trump’s pathway as a new way to get into politics, it may encourage more to jump in. Canada has seen this with Kevin O’Leary, billionaire and star of the ABC show Shark Tank, run for office. In America, Mark Cuban and Mark Zuckerberg are the two big names to watch. The Ringer does a good job of rounding up all the information here. The key to note, Zuckerberg would have a massive advantage over anyone: he would have all the algorithms of Facebook at his disposal. As this piece notes, it’s like he would have his own nation.
Russia is encouraging a Balkans civil war again – John R. Schindler
“In the decade-and-a-half of war in far-flung places since the 9/11 attacks on our country, it’s easy to forget how much time Western spies, soldiers and diplomats spent in the 1990s trying to save the Balkans from themselves. After Yugoslavia collapsed in 1991, leaving violence and turmoil in its wake, it fell to NATO, led by the United States, to sort out that ugly mess. Now, a generation later, the temporary solutions Washington crafted are coming apart, and war may be returning to Europe’s unstable Southeast.”
Quote of the week
Border security yes, tariffs no. Mexico is 3rd largest trading partner. Any tariff we can levy they can levy. Huge barrier to econ growth. Simply put, any policy proposal which drives up costs of Corona, tequila, or margaritas is a big-time bad idea. Mucho Sad.
Senator Lindsey Graham, on Twitter regarding the 20% tariff to pay for the wall.
Thanks for reading!