By Shashi P.B.B. Malla & Chandra Bahadur Parbate
Both the Republican and Democratic parties are now definitely in general election mode and Republican standard bearer Donald J. Trump has ceaselessly and viciously attacked the Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. The ‘bumps’ in the various national polls after their respective national conventions have been superseded by their general national standings. Clinton usually enjoys a two-digit lead, and it will be extremely difficult, ceteris paribus, for the maverick Trump in the less than 100 days until the general election on November 8 to overcome this deficit.
Last week on Monday after intense urging from campaign strategists (and probably family members), Trump in a rare show of sanity, announced his proposals for economic reform in economically depressed Detroit. Reading from a prepared speech with the use of a teleprompter, he exercised caution suppressing his usual outbursts of idiosyncratic and abusive expletives. Speaking before the Detroit Economic Club, he announced that as president he would slash taxes, block onerous financial regulations and unleash the energy sector, pledging to “jump-start America” with his ‘new’ economic plan. He was attempting to get serious and trying to reset his faltering campaign. He ‘highlighted’ the “disastrous” policies that had eliminated US jobs in the nearly eight years of the Barack Obama presidency.
Trump unveiled a series of policies to revitalize a limping economy, including a sharp reduction of corporate tax from 35 percent to 15 percent, as a way to induce US corporations back that had relocated abroad. He would also set a 10 percent tax on the “trillions of dollars from American businesses that are now parked overseas” and get them repatriated back to the United States. Personal taxes would drop, with the top rate at 33 percent, compared with 39.6 percent at present. He also proposed repealing the estate tax, the levy on the estates of the deceased valued at above US$ 5.45 million. He also said he wants to “cut regulations massively” a move he claimed would lift the “anchor” weighing down small businesses.
As he tried to pivot away from various recent controversies plaguing his campaign, Trump portrayed Clinton as the “nominee from yesterday”…“There will be no change under Hillary Clinton – only four more years of Obama,” he warned: “But we are going to look boldly into the future.” Clinton, he claimed, offers more of the same: “more taxes, more regulations, more bureaucrats, more restrictions on American energy.” Republican Senator David Purdue praised Trump’s plan as “a bold vision” from “an outsider and businessman who is listening to the American people.” Clinton immediately reacted at a rally in Florida to savage Trump’s proposals as an effort to “repackage trickled-own economics”…“his tax plans will give super big tax breaks to large corporations and the really wealthy,” she said: “I am not going to raise taxes on the middle class, but with your help we are going to raise it on the wealthy, because that’s where the money is!” A Monmouth University Poll released last week Monday showed Clinton ahead of Trump by double digits, 46 percent to 34 percent – a dramatic increase from the three-point lead she held days before the Republican convention.
Also last week, out of the blue, a most damaging threat to Trump’s candidacy emerged from the very Republican bastion that should have been a source of major support for him. Fifty of the country’s most high-ranking Republican national security experts, many of them advisers or cabinet members for President George W, Bush, have signed a letter declaring that Trump “lacks the character, values and experience” to be president and “would put at risk our country’s national security and well-being.” These mandarins further warn most inauspiciously that Trump “would be the most reckless president in American history.” Even the Democratic campaign could not have formulated a worse certification for the most powerful office, not only in the United States, but in the world at large. Furthermore, the document elaborates that Trump would weaken the United States’ moral authority in the international community, and questions his very knowledge of and belief in the hallowed Constitution. It also highlights his basic deficiency in the realm of external affairs since he has “demonstrated repeatedly that he has little understanding” of the nation’s “vital national interests, its complex diplomatic challenges, its indispensable alliances and the democratic values” on which American foreign policy should be based. It also bemoans the fact that Trump “has shown no interest in educating himself.”
It is difficult to see how Trump will make good this litany of character and intellectual deficiencies paraded by such an illustrious group, especially since “it is extraordinarily rare for them to step into the political arena so publicly and aggressively” (INYT). His complete lack of aptitude in international affairs was laid completely bare, but he reacted in his typically asinine manner. He dismissed the signatories of the letter as “the ones the American people should look to for answers on why the world is a mess, and we thank them for coming forward so everyone in the country knows who deserves the blame for making the world such a dangerous place.” He rejected them as “nothing more than the failed Washington elite looking to hold onto their power.” The philippic undoubtedly highlighted the continuing fissures in the Republican Party, but particularly within its national security establishment. Robert Blackwill, one of the key signatories, was a former strategist in the second Bush’s National Security Council and a former aide to Henry Kissinger, the American guru par excellence of international relations. He is expected to endorse Hillary Clinton. Many other signatories were aides to Condoleezza Rice during her time in the White House and the State Department.
Hillary Clinton on her part launched a full-scale attack on her opponent’s economic plans. She accused him of paying mere “lip service” to being on the side of average Americans. His tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations would actually award “trillions in tax breaks to people like himself” and objectively lead to major reductions in spending on education, health care and environmental protection. In contrast to Trump, she underscored a strong government hand in creating jobs and driving up wages. She promised the biggest infrastructure investment – US$ 275 billion – since World War II, and underlined heavy spending in green energy to counter China and Germany. She also reiterated her plans to make public colleges and universities tuition-free for in-state middle-class families. She rejected outright all the important elements of Trump’s tax cut plans as benefitting only the wealthy and large corporations. Instead, she would impose an “exit tax” to penalize companies that move jobs overseas and offer tax incentives to companies that share profits with employees. She again underlined her opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, while at the same time denigrating Trump’s uncompromising attitude on international trade.
Faced with growing unfavorable poll numbers, Trump again abandoned his ‘presidential-like’ stance exhibited in Detroit and reverted to his true self. At a rally in North Carolina, he first said that Clinton wanted essentially to abolish the Second Amendment, referring to the US Constitution’s clause that enshrines “the right to bear arms.” He then went on to obliquely remark that ‘the Second Amendment people’ might take the law into their own hands to shoot Clinton and/or her Supreme Court nominees. Lawmakers, former national security officials and other critics immediately expressed concern that he had advocated violence against presidential rival Clinton – his most explosive and most offensive outburst to date. On another occasion – without rhyme or reason – he attempted to slander President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton by designating them as the ‘founders’ of ISIS – at the very time when the US-led international coalition was signaling success against the Islamic terrorists in Libya, Iraq and Syria! He told supporters in Pennsylvania that he could lose this state only through ‘cheating’ by ‘crooked’ Hillary. Finally, as a last straw, he vehemently attacked the ‘crooked’ and ‘disgusting’ print media and TV channels. Trump is finding great difficulty to transit from his strong grassroots primary performance to a more sophisticated head-to-head competition. As a Nepalese saying goes: he is striking his own feet with an axe!
The writers can be reached at: [email protected]