Sunday, October 02, 2016

Trump's Noir Power

This piece blames the Democrats for the persistence of Trump. My reason is that Trump wields what I'll call the power of noir, and the mainstream Democrats are unable to fight it.  Noir is a vision of terrible trouble and of violent recovery that in this election mixes authoritarianism, economic pessimism and racial fear (of white weakness, rather than certainty of white supremacism).  In the U.S., noir always beats nothing.  And that, at the moment, is what the Dems are offering--the status quo, no change, nothing, nothing that we don't already have with Obama, and that is clearly not enough.

This was Clinton's weakness in the debate she won.  The first question noted that half of all Americans live paycheck to paycheck and asked how the candidates would create good jobs.  Clinton answered that this is an opportunity to think about the country we want, mentioned her two-year-old granddaughter, said "I want us to invest in you," called for more profit-sharing, and said she supported better work-life balance.  All very nice.  None of them offer a direct means of restoring middle-class jobs.

Here's Trump.
Our jobs are fleeing the country. They're going to Mexico. They're going to many other countries. You look at what China is doing to our country in terms of making our product. They're devaluing their currency, and there's nobody in our government to fight them. And we have a very good fight. And we have a winning fight. Because they're using our country as a piggy bank to rebuild China, and many other countries are doing the same thing.
So we're losing our good jobs, so many of them. When you look at what's happening in Mexico, a friend of mine who builds plants said it's the eighth wonder of the world. They're building some of the biggest plants anywhere in the world, some of the most sophisticated, some of the best plants. With the United States, as he said, not so much.
So Ford is leaving. You see that, their small car division leaving. Thousands of jobs leaving Michigan, leaving Ohio. They're all leaving. And we can't allow it to happen anymore. As far as child care is concerned and so many other things, I think Hillary and I agree on that. We probably disagree a little bit as to numbers and amounts and what we're going to do, but perhaps we'll be talking about that later.
But we have to stop our jobs from being stolen from us
Trump said, of course we need child care.  But we're talking about other countries stealing our jobs. He offered a direct cause for job loss: other countries are getting our jobs.  He then turned to two direct solutions:
All you have to do is take a look at Carrier air conditioning in Indianapolis. They left -- fired 1,400 people. They're going to Mexico. So many hundreds and hundreds of companies are doing this.
We cannot let it happen. Under my plan, I'll be reducing taxes tremendously, from 35 percent to 15 percent for companies, small and big businesses. That's going to be a job creator like we haven't seen since Ronald Reagan. It's going to be a beautiful thing to watch.

 Trump's first direct solution helped caused the problem he laments: Reaganite deregulation allowed companies to offshore production with no financial penalties. It's a terrible solution, and will in fact make the problem worse. But he did offer a direct response to the problem, and scores points for that.  He then offered a better, second response:
The first thing you do is don't let the jobs leave. The companies are leaving. I could name, I mean, there are thousands of them. . . . And what you do is you say, fine, you want to go to Mexico or some other country, good luck. We wish you a lot of luck. But if you think you're going to make your air conditioners or your cars or your cookies or whatever you make and bring them into our country without a tax, you're wrong. 
And once you say you're going to have to tax them coming in, and our politicians never do this, because they have special interests and the special interests want those companies to leave, because in many cases, they own the companies. So what I'm saying is, we can stop them from leaving. We have to stop them from leaving. And that's a big, big factor.
This is Trump's best line, and it's straight noir.  "Big people are screwing you.  They have to be made to stop. I will stop them.  I will charge them to leave, and that will make them stop."

How did Clinton respond? By recalling the financial crisis eight years ago, and saying this:
That was in large part because of tax policies that slashed taxes on the wealthy, failed to invest in the middle class, took their eyes off of Wall Street, and created a perfect storm.
In fact, Donald was one of the people who rooted for the housing crisis. He said, back in 2006, "Gee, I hope it does collapse, because then I can go in and buy some and make some money." Well, it did collapse.
TRUMP: That's called business, by the way.
CLINTON: Nine million people -- nine million people lost their jobs. Five million people lost their homes. And $13 trillion in family wealth was wiped out.
Now, we have come back from that abyss. And it has not been easy. So we're now on the precipice of having a potentially much better economy, but the last thing we need to do is to go back to the policies that failed us in the first place.
Independent experts have looked at what I've proposed and looked at what Donald's proposed, and basically they've said this, that if his tax plan, which would blow up the debt by over $5 trillion and would in some instances disadvantage middle-class families compared to the wealthy, were to go into effect, we would lose 3.5 million jobs and maybe have another recession.
Clinton is basically right, but it doesn't matter.  There is no noir agent in her crisis. "Tax policies that slashed taxes on the wealthy" isn't an agent: it is an effect of some unnamed parties. How do we know she knows who they are?

Clinton needed to say this: "Donald has supported tax cuts his whole life, and is a champion tax avoider.  I mean he's the king of the legal tax dodge--at least I assume they're legal, Donald.  The congresspeople he gave money all through the 1970s and 1980s when jobs were leaving--they paid him back.  They cut his taxes and deregulated real estate and Wall Street.  When Wall Street blew up the economy with exactly the know-it-all arrogance we see Donald show, Donald and his friends make more money than ever, while his banker friends evicted you or your neighbor or your family member from your house.

She should have continued: "Donald will say, 'that's called business.'  Donald means, 'I win when you lose.'   Now he wants to take another $5 trillion away from you by depriving the government of $5 trillion more after he and his friends lost $13 trillion in family wealth.  He wants to take another $5 trillion from schools, clinics, roads, bridges, colleges, parks, police, firefighters, everything you need for a decent life, and give it to the same wealthy people who made all the money from the crash. Made money from the crash just like Donald did.   I won't allow that.  As president, we'll put the money Donald and his rich friends took from you back into your communities and the economy."

Clinton can only fight Trump noir by writing her own noir plot and making Trump the predator.  As many a Bernie voter knows, she is probably prevented from doing this by her own alliances with Wall Street and her own distance from the working class Democrat base that, starting with the Carter and ending with the Clinton presidencies,

The Clinton-Trump exchanges I mentioned all occur in the first six pages of a forty-page debate transcript.  Clinton goes on to invoke solar energy, inviting Trump to defend another of his terrible claims, which is more oil and coal because global warming is a hoax.  Trump instead turns Clinton-Obama back into the noir villain:
TRUMP: She talks about solar panels. We invested in a solar company, our country. That was a disaster. They lost plenty of money on that one. 
Now, look, I'm a great believer in all forms of energy, but we're putting a lot of people out of work. Our energy policies are a disaster. Our country is losing so much in terms of energy, in terms of paying off our debt. You can't do what you're looking to do with $20 trillion in debt. 
The Obama administration, from the time they've come in, is over 230 years' worth of debt, and he's topped it. He's doubled it in a course of almost eight years, seven-and-a-half years, to be semi- exact. 
So I will tell you this. We have to do a much better job at keeping our jobs. And we have to do a much better job at giving companies incentives to build new companies or to expand, because they're not doing it. 
And all you have to do is look at Michigan and look at Ohio and look at all of these places where so many of their jobs and their companies are just leaving, they're gone. 
And, Hillary, I'd just ask you this. You've been doing this for 30 years. Why are you just thinking about these solutions right now? For 30 years, you've been doing it, and now you're just starting to think of solutions. 
CLINTON: Well, actually... 
TRUMP: I will bring -- excuse me. I will bring back jobs. You can't bring back jobs. 
CLINTON: Well, actually, I have thought about this quite a bit. 
TRUMP: Yeah, for 30 years. 
CLINTON: And I have -- well, not quite that long. I think my husband did a pretty good job in the 1990s. I think a lot about what worked and how we can make it work again... 
TRUMP: Well, he approved NAFTA.. (CROSSTALK) 
CLINTON: ... million new jobs, a balanced budget... 
TRUMP: He approved NAFTA, which is the single worst trade deal ever approved in this country.
Trump gets Clinton to defend NAFTA, which destroys her image as tough on Wall Street. She doesn't ever say what the great new ideas are that have come from 30 years of thought.  He goes on to point out that her own party's president is pushing a new trade deal that's like NAFTA, and she doesn't repudiate Obama.  She says, "there are different views about what's good for our country," which proves Trump's point that she can't be trusted to know who the enemy is or to do anything to that person.

When they get to the next segment on taxes, her big line is that she "would not add a penny to the debt." This puts her entirely in the camp of the conventional Republicans that Trump torpedoed in the primaries.  So it doesn't matter that Trump says "the wealthy are going to create tremendous jobs" when the wealthy have been doing the opposite for thirty years, because he is talking directly about overcoming an enemy--people who send American jobs abroad.  She is not.

In the final two-thirds of the debate, Trump lost focus and became defensive, so most pundits have declared her the victor. She was not. She didn't become a noir hero battling an identified evil with a direct intervention.  Trump remained one.

The same problem dogs today's New York Times revelation that Trump may not have paid income taxes for twenty years. Previous NYT reports have showed that Trump built much of his empire on political connections that generated $885 million in tax breaks in postindustrial New York, made his money on a labyrinth of debt, on bankruptcy, and on shorting investors he'd attracted while stiffing working-class contractors.   As U.S. manufacturing and its blue-collar workers declined, real estate deals and Trump's extractions soared.  So you'd think Clinton could make Trump the poster child of American decline, caused by its greedy extractive financiers.

Not so far.  In response, Trump said the Times is an arm of the Democratic party,  that they broke laws to get the tax documents, that Hillary Clinton is even more criminal than Trump is, that Trump is a supremely skilled businessman who was obliged to minimize his tax burden which is what he did. The crucial statement appeared in a Trump tweet: "I know our complex tax laws better than anyone who has ever run for president and am the only one who can fix them."

Translating the noir code: "I know the system, I used the system, I broke the system. If you want to fix the system, hire the person who was big enough to break it.  And if you don't, I will keep breaking it."

In a guilt-driven nation like ours, he who shows no guilt will be considered innocent, and receive a hero's welcome.  This is how we have gotten to Trump, the conquering hero.  Some analysts feel that Trump is such an obviously unqualified and corrupt candidate that it's a miracle that Hillary Clinton isn't 20 points ahead. I feel that Hillary Clinton is such a weak candidate on working-class and middle-class economics that Trump still can win. 

UPDATE: Trump's "bitchy sewing circle of overweight men" performed exactly this spin control about the NYT story today (h/t Meranze)--Trump the conquering tax hero.