Archive for the Category Trump Derangement Syndrome


About my Trump Derangement Syndrome

Some of my commenters believe I’m suffering from Trump Derangement Syndrome. If I only thought about things rationally, I’d see the greatness of our Dear Leader.

Maybe . . .

But as you guys sit in your mom’s basement, surfing alt-right sites and trolling the MoneyIllusion, I’d like you to briefly consider an alternative hypothesis, just for a moment. Is it possible that you are the one suffering from this disease.

BTW, this comment is not directed at some of my smarter commenters who like Trump’s tax cuts and Supreme Court nominees, favor less immigration and sanctions on China, but also see Trump’s downside. I’m talking about Trump’s hardcore fans; those who reflectively reject any accusation of dishonesty made against him.


AFAIK, all the economists I greatly respect have a low opinion of Trump. That doesn’t mean I can’t respect an economist who likes Trump, it’s just that the guys who I think are flat out brilliant have a low opinion of him.

AFAIK, all the conservative commentators I greatly respect have a low opinion of Trump. And that’s not reverse causality; these are people who I respected before Trump came along. The George Wills, Ross Douthats, David Brooks, Jonah Goldbergs of the world all have a negative view of him. Yes, some famous conservative commentators like Sean Hannity and Lou Dobbs like him.  But these guys are not exactly the sharpest blades in the drawer.

Four of the past five GOP presidential nominees voted against him. These guys are free to speak their minds because their careers are basically over. (Romney’s protected by a safe seat in Utah.)

Republicans in DC who publicly support Trump will privately ridicule him when speaking to reporters.  Ditto for the GOP Congressional staff.

Trump’s own aides call him a moron and an idiot and a kindergartener when speaking privately to reporters.

Trump’s own tweets are written at the level of a fifth grader.

None of this means the corporate tax cut was a bad idea, or that his Supreme Court picks are bad. But when you look at all these facts, isn’t there just a tiny, tiny, possibility that I’m not the one with the Trump Derangement Syndrome? Is that a hypothesis that you are at least willing to entertain?

I mean think about it. If it really were true that YOU were the one with Trump Derangement Syndrome, you were the one taken in by his demagoguery, don’t all the stylized facts that I presented resemble what the world would look like?

I’m also not the sharpest blade in the drawer (as I’m sure you’ve noticed from my grammar), and I’m not capable of knowing my own biases.  That’s why I look at all this external data for objective clues about “reality”.

So here’s my request.  If you want to convince me that I’m suffering from TDS, explain to me why all these other brilliant people came down with this “derangement” at roughly the same time.  After all, if one intellectual suddenly thinks he’s the reincarnation of Jesus or Alexander the Great or Napoleon, all other intellectuals don’t simultaneously suffer from the same delusion.

Then explain to me how you know that YOU are correct, and these other intellectuals are wrong.  No, not what you like about Trump or why you disagree with them.  That information is worthless, as you may be biased too.  I want you to tell me why a view from 64,000 feet indicates that YOU are the one we should all be listening to, and not all these brilliant intellectuals.

I want you to explain to me why your eighth grade dropout-level taunts in the comment section are an indication of your intellectual clarity.  What makes you so smart?

One possible explanation is that these smart pundits who have a low opinion of Trump are blinded by their intelligence.  On the other hand, I’ve noticed that many Trump supporters are big fans of IQ research, and indeed oppose immigration due to fears of America being swamped with dumb people.  But IQ research says that people with high “g” tend to be good at everything—so how can high intelligence make people so wrong about Trump?

PS.  If Hunter Biden were corrupt, in what way would the corruption have shown up?  One possibility is that he would have gotten deeply involved in Ukrainian politics and business and engaged in corrupt transactions.  Or, his corruption might have taken the form of trying to influence his dad to help his paymasters in the Ukraine.  Can you guess which type of corruption is 100 times more likely than the other?

Now consider this, in each case who would you have investigate the case?  If he were doing corrupt things in the Ukraine, you’d have the Ukrainians investigate.  If he were doing corrupt things with his dad, you’d have the Justice Department investigate.

Now assume Trump didn’t actually think Biden was guilty.  Which of the two investigators could you more likely convince to put out dirt on Biden, even if not true?

Do you see where I’m going with this?  If Trump thought Biden were guilty, he would have had the US authorities investigate the case.  The corruption would have occurred here.  The fact that he asked the Ukrainians to investigate is powerful evidence that he thinks Joe Biden is innocent.  But deep down you already knew that, didn’t you?

Maybe the alt-right is correct

Alt-rightists often argue against large scale immigration from Latin America.  They worry that these immigrants will not share our Anglo-Saxon love of freedom, and will instead support authoritarian, populist demagogues, just as they do at home.

Tyler Cowen presents the results of a recent NPR/PBS poll that measures support for Trump:

African-American approval: 11%

White approval: 40%

Latino approval: 50%

So if I read this correctly, the alt-right is saying that we should not let in Latin American immigrants because once they get to America they might support  . . .  alt-right candidates?

(Do I have to say that I’m joking?)

Meanwhile, Politico reports that:

Across three surveys of eligible voters from 2016 to 2018, we found that as many as half of all Americans do not know that [Trump] was born into a very wealthy family.

So much for the view that Trump’s lies are harmless because people don’t believe him:

Throughout his life, the president has downplayed the role his father, real estate developer Fred Trump, played in his success, claiming it was “limited to a small loan of $1 million.” That isn’t true, of course: A comprehensive New York Times investigation last year estimated that over the course of his lifetime, the younger Trump received more than $413 million in today’s dollars from his father. While this exact figure was not known before the Times’ report, it was a matter of record that by the mid-1980s, Trump had been loaned at least $14 million by his father, was loaned at least $3.5 million more in 1990, had borrowed several more million against his inheritance in the 1990s after many of his ventures failed, and had benefited enormously from his father’s political connections and co-signing on loans early in his career as a builder. . . .

Using a 2017 University of Maryland Critical Issues Poll, we found that believing Trump was not born “very wealthy” leads to at least a 5-percentage-point boost in the president’s job approval, even after considering the many factors that can influence public approval ratings. This shift is rooted in the belief that his humble roots make Trump both more empathetic (he “feels my pain”), and more skilled at business (he is self-made and couldn’t have climbed to such heights without real business know-how).

In retrospect, Hillary ran the wrong campaign.  She should have run non-stop commercials portraying Trump as the spoiled son of a very rich New Yorker, who was given everything he needed in life and has contempt for average Americans.  At the very least, the public would have understood that he was handed great wealth on a silver platter, even if he did add to that wealth.  How much he added is hard to say, as he also lies about his own wealth.

Those inscrutable occidentals

Put yourself in the position of the Chinese leadership, trying to figure out the goals of Western policymakers, particular the Americans. Recall that last spring we negotiated a trade agreement with China, and then changed our mind.  What do those Westerners actually want from us?

For years the West has complained about the massive Chinese current account surpluses, which peaked at about 10% of GDP.  This year China’s surplus is expected to be 0.5% of GDP, the most nearly balanced of any major economy.  Only Belgium will be closer to “perfection”, if that’s how you look at a current account of zero.

Is the West happy?  Not at all.  Two new complaints have arisen.  First, China continues to run a large surplus in the trade in manufactured goods:

Many analysts doubt that most trading partners will be persuaded by Beijing’s rhetoric or by the declining current account surplus. While commodity exporters and tourist destinations have increased sales to China, displaced manufacturing workers who have fuelled support for Mr Trump and other populist leaders have not seen much benefit.

“Workers in the manufacturing sector around the world do not have much reason to be impressed by China’s rebalancing, since it hasn’t helped them in the aggregate,” said Brad Setser, senior fellow for international economics at the Council on Foreign Relations.

And second, many foreign policy hawks are now saying that the rise in China is itself a bad thing.  We need a “new cold war” aimed at slowing China’s rise.  So if those are your two policy concerns, what is the single most disastrous action that China could take?  Here’s a FT piece discussing the recent trade war truce:

Complicating matters further were different interpretations of the deal emerging on Saturday night from the two capitals.

China raised the prospect that the tariffs could be eliminated entirely after the new round of talks, which the US did not highlight. Beijing did not mention the 90-day deadline for the negotiations, or the possibility that the tariff escalation could return if no agreement was reached. China was also much less detailed on the purchases of American goods it was committing to.

However the optimistic tone struck by the two leaders in Buenos Aires suggested a willingness to strike a deal.

If China liberalized its economy then it would grow even faster.  That should be really bad news for the Cold War crowd, those who fear the increasing military strength of China.  In addition, a liberalized China would buy even more commodities, services and high tech goods, and export even more of the manufactured goods that are adversely impacting America’s Rustbelt.  So is this what the Trump Administration wants?  More Chinese liberalization?  Or would they prefer that China go back to the Maoist era when they were a threat to neither the US military nor to America’s blue-collar workers?  Search me.

As for the protectionists who are looking to Trump as their savior, good luck with that:

There were already some signs of a backlash to the truce from some of Mr Trump’s supporters most hostile to China.

“Is #Trump making a huge mistake? The devil is in the details! But I’d be lying if I didn’t say at first glance this is very disappointing,” wrote Dan DiMicco, a steel executive who led Mr Trump’s trade unit during the presidential transition. “I don’t agree but I defer to the president.”

Defer to the president? DiMicco might want to consider what happened to those who worried about the South Korean Free Trade agreement and “deferred to the president” to renegotiate it.  Or those who trusted Trump to re-negotiate NAFTA.  Or those who trusted him to strike a deal with EU President Juncker.  Or those who trusted him to negotiate with North Korea.  Or those who trusted him to lobby Congress to get rid of Obamacare.  Or those who trusted him to get Congress to build a border wall.

I’m actually not all that upset that’s there’s no there there.  When it comes to protectionism, incoherence and incompetence are something to be welcomed.  But I do feel for the Chinese leadership, trying to figure out whether the US wants China to be like the US, or whether the US believes the world’s only big enough for one United States of America.

I sometimes wonder if Trump is a secret fan of Mao, worried that rapacious capitalists residing in the world’s largest economy are exploiting Latin American countries:

At times, Mr Bolsonaro’s gripes echoed those of the Trump administration, far to the north. In October Mike Pompeo, the American secretary of state, accused Chinese state-owned firms of “predatory economic activity” in the region. Mr Pompeo’s predecessor, Rex Tillerson, had urged Latin Americans to reject “new imperial powers” like China, bent on extracting natural resources while issuing unpayable loans.

Is Noam Chomsky now writing Pompeo’s speeches?

PS.  In many ways the US is becoming more like China.  Consider the Tiananmen event of 1976.  Zhou Enlai had recently died, and there was an enormous outpouring of grief in Tiananmen Square.  Lots of flower wreaths were laid at a statue in the center of the square, for day after day.  This continued for so long that eventually people began to recognize that it was an implicit protest against Mao, and the square was then cleared by the military.  It happened again in 1989, after the death of the lead reformer in the Chinese government, Hu Yaobang.  In a totalitarian society, people are afraid to speak out in protest, and must work through a medium that cannot be criticized—the Catholic Church in communist Poland, Islam in Middle Eastern dictatorships, or the death of a hero in China.

Americans are free to publicly criticize Trump, unless they are Republican Party officials.  In that case, they must offer any criticism in the most subtle way possible, which is hard for us occidentals.  Fortunately, some GOP officials have learned from Communist China, and are now offering implicit criticism of Trump via extravagant praise for recently deceased GOP leaders such as McCain and Bush, especially praise focused on exactly those qualities that are lacking in Trump.

PPS.  Speaking of China, the American Cultural Revolution has still not crested.  As in China circa 1966-76, there is still lots of naming, shaming, and public confessions, especially if you are born into a privileged group.  Just today I learned that the holiday song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” has been banned from a Cleveland radio station.  With each new form of idiocy, I naively think it can’t get any worse.  I recall thinking the Yale Halloween fiasco was the peak.  I’d be interested in the views of commenters—predict the year of “peak idiocy” in the current wave of political correctness.  I say two years into the administration immediately following Trump.

Did he really say that?

It’s hard to keep up with the President’s logic, but this has me especially confused:

President Trump on Wednesday again sought to turn the nation’s attention to his hard-line stance on immigration ahead of next week’s midterm elections, claiming that birthright citizenship is not covered by the U.S. Constitution and vowing the issue will ultimately be settled by the Supreme Court.

“So-called Birthright Citizenship, which costs our Country billions of dollars and is very unfair to our citizens, will be ended one way or the other,” Trump tweeted.

The concept of birthright citizenship, which grants citizenship to everyone born in the United States, is guaranteed by the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. It reads: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States.” . . .

“It is not covered by the 14th Amendment because of the words ‘subject to the jurisdiction thereof,’” the president said, adding that “many legal scholars agree” with him. Most legal experts disagree, interpreting the clause narrowly, to exclude, for example, the families of foreign diplomats residing in the United States.

Is the President saying that children born in the US to non-residents are not subject to the jurisdiction of the US?  If not, what is he saying?  And if the answer is yes, isn’t that pretty shocking?  Do these kids really have immunity to our laws?  I know, we are long past being shocked . . . but still.

BTW, have you noticed how conservatives interpret the Constitution:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States.

Both really confusing. Right?

I’m sure we can trust Brett Kavanaugh to figure it all out.

Fed bashing

I’ve tried to avoid commenting on Trump’s Fed bashing, as I don’t wish to insult my reader’s intelligence.  But the media reports that Trump is now bashing the Fed on an almost daily basis, in order to have a fall guy in case the economy turns south.  So I suppose I must say something:

1.  In the real world, presidents don’t get to excuse policy failures by pointing to the mistakes of government officials that they themselves appointed.  But of course we no longer live in the real world; we live in TrumpWorld, where it is rhetoric, not reality, that matters.  (If you want a good laugh, read a serious media report (say the NYT) where they go out and interview Trump voters who explain why they are thrilled with Trump’s performance.  Great accomplishments like the peace deal with North Korea.)

2.  OK, enough Trump bashing.  What about the substance of his complaint?  Here I’d say he’s very likely wrong, but not obviously crazy.  The indicators I look at (NGDP, inflation, unemployment, etc.) do not indicate that money is too tight, but there’s at least a small possibility that we still don’t have a credible 2% PCE inflation rate going forward.  It’s at least debatable.

3.  If you talk to the average economist, point #2 is what they’d complain about.  Most economists don’t see money as being too tight.  But the real problem is elsewhere; Trump assumes that interest rates represent the stance of monetary policy.  Even worse, he thinks that low rates mean easy money.  Other economists are less likely to ridicule Trump for this error, as many economists are similarly confused.

The Fed influences the economy in many ways.  One method is by adjusting the policy interest rate (fed funds or IOR).  A far more important way is by affecting the natural rate of interest.  Thus the Fed sharply reduced the natural rate in 2008, while only gradually reducing the policy rate.  To the average economist (and to Trump) the Fed was “easing” monetary policy.  In fact, because the natural rate was falling even faster than the policy rate, they were tightening policy.

How does the Fed affect the natural rate of interest?  By shifting the expected NGDP growth rate (and also the level of NGDP relative to trend.)  A tight money  policy (such as late 2007 through 2008) will reduce NGDP growth expectations, and this reduces the natural rate of interest. That’s what Trump doesn’t understand, but it’s also what lots of economists don’t understand. Even the smarter economists, the one’s that understand it’s the gap between the policy rate and the natural rate that matters, often think that the natural rate is falling due to external “shocks”, not bad Fed policy.

So by all means ridicule Trump for the insanity of excusing potential policy failures by pointing to the mistakes of his own appointees, but don’t bash him for making the same mistake that many economists make.  Instead, it’s the economists that deserve ridicule.