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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

When Trump insists his statements are just "suggestions," don't trust him. Here's why.

Donald Trump famously led the "birther" movement against President Obama.
When George H.W. Bush famously broke his 1988 signature election pledge to not raise taxes, his promise earned its storied place, in the annals of political history, among the legions of politicians' broken campaign vows. It is a well-worn trope of public discourse that presidential candidates routinely break their promises once they're in office.

That discussion is not entirely without merit and there are varying reasons, some more justifiable than others, for that. However, that prevailing public thought obscures the larger picture and that is that presidents - wait for it - typically do, or try to do, what they promised on the campaign trail. This statement might come as a shock to some readers who insist that politicians consistently disappoint them.

But the truth is that the historical evidence suggests that presidents usually seek out to accomplish what they run on, especially their high-profile policy proposals. Last year, Vox published a very compelling read on this exact subject; I was admittedly irked because it echoed what I was trying to say to friends all year but Vox beat me to it. With regards to Bush 41's "read my lips" pledge, Vox rightly noted that that pledge violation was a rarity thus why it's remembered.

The relevance of this pattern for this election cycle is that we, as the American electorate, should take presidential candidates at their word when they say they are going to enact, or attempt to enact, certain policies. Far too often I've heard from Republican voters, who claim they don't support all of Donald Trump's heinous proposals, that Mr. Trump likely won't build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border or that he likely won't ban Muslims from entering the U.S. despite his commitment to both of those ideas.

These voters explain their comfort level with their party's presumptive presidential nominee by insisting that the ostensible improbability of the enactment of those policies justifies overlooking them. Trump has fed into this mindset when he reportedly privately told The New York Times editorial board that the wall proposal was merely a starting "negotiating" position and when he more recently said his Muslim ban proposal was "just a suggestion." Not only did he say that the Muslim ban proposal was merely a suggestion but he also insisted that all campaign trail policy proposals, generally, are just that: suggestions and not promises.

Contrary to Trump's latest iterations and contrary to the suggestions of some, more moderate GOP voters, that is a problematic way of looking at the Trump campaign's proposals. Keep in mind that millions of Republican primary voters cast votes for Trump in part because he ran on those ideas; his remarks on Mexicans "bringing crime [and being] rapists" were delivered in his very first speech as a candidate. They define his authoritarianrace-baiting campaign.

A majority of GOP primary voters, in the states where Trump was victorious, support the Muslim ban. These supporters will inevitably hold Trump accountable to these promises if he's elected president. We've seen this pattern before as liberals held President Obama accountable to his signature promises and conservatives held President Reagan accountable to his most significant promises. You can bet that if a President Trump attempts to renege on these campaign ideas, he'll face the wrath of a right-wing base that's eager to see a president stand up for them.

Further, as aforementioned, the historical record suggests a President Trump would follow through on his big-ticket campaign statements because that's what presidents do as they know they'll be judged on whether they abided by their words. That would likely particularly be the case for Trump given that he has famously campaigned against politicians who are "all talk, no action." However, some observers insist that Trump's malleability implies he shouldn't he believed when he says he'll push these policies. But that analysis cuts against the reality that, though Trump is famously flexible, there is at least one component of his persona that's been consistent in his public life: his racism.

To paraphrase The Intercept writer Glenn Greenwald, anyone who's lived in New York City for the last couple decades knows Trump for what he is: an authoritarian. This is a man who engaged in discriminatory housing practices against blacks, took out a full-page newspaper ad for the death penalty against wrongfully convicted black men, wanted to pit blacks vs. whites on The Apprentice, and led the racially tinged birther movement against the first black president -- all before he ran for the Republican presidential nomination. He's not running as a racist only to appease ultra-right voters; he is and always has been a racist. It is fair to say a man with that history, and with other racially coded campaign rhetoric too, would further discriminatory public policy.

Nevertheless, there are those, still, who suggest that there's little cause for concern because a president is limited in power so Trump wouldn't be so dangerous unless he got supposedly unlikely congressional backing. First, if Trump wins, there'll likely be pressure from voters on the GOP congressional leadership to enact his agenda as he's certain to boast of a "mandate."

Second, there is a vast array of executive powers, even in domestic affairs and particularly in immigration (Trump's campaign focus), at hand for Trump to exercise. For precedent, look no further than the fact that Obama has used his executive authority domestically to shield immigrants from deportation, expand overtime pay, and enact sweeping environmental regulations, among other things. Presidents have enormous power and they, naturally, wish to use this power.

In fact, Trump has already pledged to seek the counsel of his friend Rudy Giuliani, no stranger to discriminatory policy, and, together, along with a cadre of other authoritarians, they'll surely use existing presidential power to toughen immigration practices. As such, even if Trump doesn't fully succeed in building a wall or banning Muslims, it's a good bet that he'll, at least, undo the administratively granted deportation relief for DREAMersfurther boost deportation efforts, make it harder to get asylum in the U.S., reverse the progressive executive progress of the Obama Justice Department's civil rights division, and toughen visa acceptances through administrative actions, appointments, and other means. He can do all of that without Congress.

So when Donald Trump says he's merely laying out "suggestions," voters, if they care about preserving our special status as a uniquely welcoming country for immigrants, should be skeptical. If you think America is already great, which it is, and that part of that greatness is our rich history of immigration, you should be skeptical.

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