While I followed a lot of the Republic National Convention via social media rather than watching live, I thought it was an important civic duty to watch Ivanka’s introduction of Donald Trump and to see his speech in real time (without reading the advanced copy). Like everyone else I found it hard to hear, overly dark, harsh, loud, and troubling.
But mostly I found it confusing. There were a number of things that raised significant questions for me that I wanted someone to explain. If you liked the speech, maybe you can help me. So here is a list of ten things that really confused me.
- The Use of Statistics. Trump made references to homicides for 2015 in the 50 largest cities and compared the numbers to 2014. He cited a 50% increase in Baltimore (without a comparison date). But this data was lacking context. There was a passing reference to crime rates declining over time — which is indisputable — but the data appeared cherry picked to support a pre-existing argument. This was true for police shootings and mass shootings as well. On economic news, he talked of 58% of African American youth that were unemployed or 14 million people who have left the workforce without referencing that the former includes people who are in school and the latter includes retirees. In almost every data point shared, my response was “wait, what?”.
- Whose Jurisdiction? Trump promised that on January 20, 2017 safety will be restored to our communities. But I teach criminal justice and know that law enforcement, like education, is a local issue. Presidents may use the bully pulpit to encourage action and may use budget incentives to promote certain behaviors, but controlling crime is not a national issue especially at the presidential level. Unless, of course, a president wants to use the military in crime control and I’m pretty sure that’s not what he meant. He said he would appoint the best prosecutors and law enforcement officers, even though this isn’t the president’s job.
- Separation of Powers. One of the words you will not find in the text of Trump’s speech is the word “Congress”. There were no references to asking congress to fast track his policy priorities. There was no recognition of the advice and consent role of the Senate or the budgetary authority of the House. Instead, nearly every “policy” matter was followed with “When I am president, I will…”. But it was not at all clear how those would issues would be turned into law except through executive order.
- The problem of small numbers. Many of the personal harm stories shared at the convention had a similar problem. A horrific act occurred to a family that involved an illegal immigrant. Maybe it was a car crash. Or it was the sad story of the young woman in Nebraska who was killed by a formerly deported undocumented immigrant. But making the linkage between the general policy of immigration reform and the specifics of the horrific case was really disturbing. There is virtually no way of stopping one bad actor out of 180,000 immigrants you’re concerned about. The car accident could have occurred due to a range of other people who drove under the influence. To focus on such isolated cases is bad enough (too much of the media does this) but to promise that it will not happen again is hard to fathom.
- The Free Market and the Government: Trump rightly complained about companies that felt no loyalty to their local communities. He recognized that there are economic incentives that make taking jobs to another country look like good business. Trump claimed that he wouldn’t allow companies to leave the country without consequences. It’s not clear at all where the authority to stop them comes from or how consequences would be legitimated (to say nothing of passing constitutional muster).
- An expanded federal role. He will expand the military, repair infrastructure, rework the TSA, insure quality education for all students, deal with the criminal justice issues, make our neighborhoods safe, expand our investigation into immigrants from terrorism threatened countries, and fix the VA. Doing all this, especially as fast as he said he would do it, would require a massive expansion of the federal workforce and a significant Keynesian investment of federal dollars. Yes, he wants foreign governments to pay their NATO bills and have a review of waste, fraud, and abuse but there’s no way around a massive shift in authority to the federal level from states and localities.
- Timing. In his delivered address (as opposed to the prepared text) Trump argued that all of this would happen Soon. This wasn’t a description of things he’d like to do during the first term — these were changes that would be happening within days, weeks, and months of the inauguration. Maybe this is the way things can happen when you have a worldwide business organization with just over 22,000 employees (according to Wikipedia). But the federal government is a huge responsibility and has all kinds of imbedded legal requirements and decision making processes. I really wanted to get some idea that he appreciated that difference in magnitude.
Maybe there are direct answers to everyone of the issues I’ve raised. If so, please fill me in.