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Trump: Too Easy an Excuse and Target

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Even only-occasional readers of this blog know that I am no fan of Donald Trump. I never have been a fan. I never will be a fan. Quite the opposite. And at the risk of appearing arrogant, I doubt that many people have been more harshly and consistently – indeed, obsessively, repetitively, tiresomely – critical of his trade policies than I have been. Trump’s ignorance (not least of, but not exclusively of, economics) is bottomless and his economic nationalism is disgraceful.

And yet I disapprove of, and fear, the anti-Trumpism that is now stampeding madly throughout the news media and punditry-land. Every real or imagined failure of government to prepare for, to anticipate, to warn of, and to deal with the spread both of COVID-19 and of the resulting public fear is conveniently blamed on Trump. Too conveniently, I’ve become convinced.

“Things would be much better now if only we’d had a better person as president,” the lazy thinking seems to be.

One major danger of this particular blame-game is that it creates the impression that little or no deep thinking about this crisis need be done. All or most problems are caused by Trump’s incompetence, megalomania, and evil mien. End of story. There’s no need, therefore, to question objectively the incentive structures within government agencies and within legislatures. Also, there’s no need to investigate carefully whatever changes in incentives and constraints are created in private markets by taxes and government spending, proscriptions, and prescriptions.

There’s no need for any such hard-nosed analysis because we all know the chief reason for any and all problems: President Donald J. Trump.

Would matters be better today if Hillary Clinton had won the 2016 election? Or if Barack Obama had been anointed to serve a third term? Or if Ronald Reagan or George Washington had been resurrected and ensconced in the Oval Office? Maybe. But if so the improvement would have been small. We Americans would still be in a heap of trouble.

Trump did not create the FDA, the CDC, or any of the countless occupational-licensing and certificate-of-need restrictions [2]. Trump, being governor of no state, has imposed no stay-at-home diktats on private Americans. Trump isn’t the author of federalism. Trump did not create COVID-19. Nor did he bring this virus to the U.S.

As best as I can judge, a Pres. Clinton (H. or B.) or Pres. Obama or Pres. Biden or Sanders or Warren or Klobuchar in this moment would likely have done some things better than Trump, but also would likely have done some things worse. The social-engineering itch of modern-day Democrats would have prevented any of them from easing some of the regulations that Trump justifiably eased, and would perhaps have, in addition, moved them to impose restraints and restrictions that Trump never dreamed of and which – although surely these would have been greeted with “Oooohs” and “Ahhhs” from the intellectual and entertainment-world elite – would perhaps have inflicted even graver damage on the economy than that which we are enduring now.

As matters stand, however, Trump is the excuse. It’s lazy. It’s largely mistaken. And, as such, it’s dangerous. But it’s oh-so convenient and cool.

……

The above post is not a defense of Trump. I have no interest in defending the man, for I dislike him thoroughly. It is, instead, a criticism of the media. It’s a lament of the media’s laziness and mindlessness – of their reversion to the path-of-least resistance of blaming Trump – of the media’s habit of following the popular practice of explaining outcomes as being exclusively the results of the personalities of relevant actors and of those actors’ intentions. Members of the media should practice what they preach and be more mindful, more thoughtful, more analytical, more rational than Trump. It’s a shame that so many people in the media now are, at bottom, akin to him in their enthusiastic embrace of thoughtless prejudices.

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