Longtime political troll, temporary (we hope) Republican presidential frontrunner, and adept public entertainer Donald Trump has captured the attention of large swaths of the conservative base. Three aspects central to his success: His larger-than-life, captivating persona. His blunt, plainspoken, political outsider approach. And, most important of all, his unifying central campaign thesis: Make America great again. The bread and butter of successful revolutionaries and dictators the world over, “make us great again” is a powerful message. Unfortunately for Trump, who has historically been light on the details of his policy proposals, everything he intends to do to make America great again would, in fact, do exactly the opposite.
While there are plenty of terrible ideas in Donald Trump’s head to occupy pundits for ages, let’s focus in on his two biggest, and worst, proposals: keeping out illegal immigrants, and restricting trade with foreign countries.
The centerpiece of Donald Trump’s misguided platform is his plan for a grandiose border wall to end illegal immigration. Ignore for a moment that a wall currently exists, and the unlikelihood of being able to actually implement the policies necessary to effectively halt illegal immigration. For the sake of argument, let’s say Trump gets his way here. Building the border wall alone would cost tens of billions of dollars. Add to the bill the personnel required to monitor and maintain the wall, as well as respond to any security breeches anywhere on its length, and you have one titanic government program.
Looking at the costs of removing all illegal immigrants currently residing in the United States provides an even greater sticker shock. There are 11 million illegal immigrants residing in the U.S. today. That’s more than the collective populations of Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire put together. Many brought their families, others started families since moving (complicating the legal consequences of deportation), and all have fully integrated into the local economy. Put together the devastation of abruptly removing millions of tenants and customers and you have several industries scrambling to deal with the shortfall. The worst impact would be felt by industries that rely on cheap immigrant labor to survive, such as construction, landscaping, agriculture, and the restaurant industry. The prevailing counter-argument is that these jobs would be snapped up right away by American workers. This is, however, looking increasingly doubtful, especially after Alabama’s anti-immigrant policies ended up devastating its agricultural sector unable to find Americans to fill the job vacancies. Apparently, there are plenty of jobs that only poor immigrants will do.
The highest cost associated with the Trump border scheme isn’t economic at all: it’s lost liberty. One of the challenges to building a comprehensive border wall is that much of the land along the U.S.-Mexico border is privately owned, and while some landowners would consent to a massive federal government operation on their property, many would not. The only solution would be to use the force of government to steal private citizens’ land for public purposes (a concept that eminent domain-happy Donald Trump is no stranger to putting into practice). Enforcing immigration law behind the wall would be another matter of lost liberty entirely, requiring a transformation to a “papers please” society where all citizens are accounted for and their immigration status is routinely verified.
Finally, Trump’s vintage trade policy. And by vintage I mean 18th century. Chief among his retro economic fallacies is the notion that Americans somehow “lose out” to other countries over voluntary trade. He asserts that, when a company moves a factory to a place like China or Mexico, those jobs, and profits, are lost forever, gone into the mist that is the world beyond U.S. borders. What he misses is that, through trade, goods and services are able to be produced more efficiently, lowering the cost of living for all. This increased efficiency and savings allows companies to create more and better jobs than the low-end ones sent overseas. In addition, better jobs in other countries mean those foreign populations are able to afford to import more goods and services from America. In short, everyone, just about everywhere, is better off. That’s why, in a deregulated environment, global trade skyrockets. Everyone would trade with everyone else if it weren’t for would-be despots like Trump getting in the way. If allowed to, he would cause prices to go up many times over, all while restricting American workers to the same difficult and ill-paying jobs for years to come.
Now, if all Donald Trump’s ideas are so terrible, how has he had so much success using them to buttress his campaign? Simple: he blames those without a voice. To a rational, educated populace, every problem’s claims of cause and effect are open to objective investigation. Who’s ruining the economy? Let’s look at the facts, and test the various hypotheses. With an ignorant (willfully or otherwise) population, all manner of claims can be made into the void with no examination or pushback. The only thing that can cause resistance to a narrative among the ignorant is a public counter-narrative. Talk smack about someone, and they may come around to set the record straight. If your boogeymen are foreign countries and immigrants who have very real reasons for wanting to remain quiet and off the radar, the odds of them speaking up to call you on your nonsense are close to zero. You can keep blaming them for an eternity, because for your uninformed voters, all foreign countries are just specters in the massive black void of their ignorance. China and Mexico are whatever Trump supporters want them to be, because they have little to no real information to counter their beliefs.
Donald Trump surged to the top of the Republican presidential field through the vague proposition of making America great again. Too bad the policies he actually espouses would only make her weak. Let it be known that Trump is the weak America candidate.
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