Trump and the damage done

By Joseph E. Stiglitz – August 4, 2016

The Boston Globe

One of Donald Trump’s slogans is “Make America Great Again.” The irony is that probably never before has a presidential candidate done so much damage — damage that will be hard to repair even if he is not elected.

In a democracy, each elected government has the intrinsic right to change policy; each president has the right to try to persuade Congress to support his priorities. Thus, in a democracy, a “commitment” is always temporary, but the credibility of a country and its government is based on confidence that there will be sufficient continuity among successive governments. Historically, in the United States, foreign policy has been largely bipartisan. At its base, such continuity is based on the premise that there is a broad social consensus. Governments seek to achieve political sustainability of the policies that they enact by working to achieve broad support, often through compromise and cooperation among all elements of society.

Regrettably, the Republican right has sought to polarize the United States. They enacted, sometimes with support of conservative and center-left Democrats, policies that led to the “great divide” between the rich and poor in the United States — to the point where median income, adjusted for inflation, of a full-time male worker is lower than 40 years ago, the hourly wage at the bottom comparable to levels 60 years ago. It is not a surprise that there are many angry people who see the economy not working for them.

Trump has exploited this great divide, announcing a striking change in US policies toward others. Trade agreements will be broken, so too will NATO agreements. Everything is to be renegotiated — even the US debt. Trump, in his own dealings, never seemed to have believed that a man’s word was his honor. A contract, a promise to pay, was just the beginning of a negotiation.

Unless Trump is ignominiously defeated, with something like the landslide that defeated Barry Goldwater, the fact that Trump has done as well as he has — that he has received the nomination of one the two major parties, the Grand Old Party — puts all countries on notice: Next time, someone as or more extreme may be elected, someone even less committed (if that is possible) to honor old agreements.

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