This piece originally appeared on Medium.com
Clinton and Trump’s campaign of Truthiness
Both candidates rely on common misconceptions about our country and we’re feeding right into it. What’s clear from watching both convention spectacles is the continuing power of stirring emotions.
This campaign season is like one never-ending schoolyard fight. Mud is slung in all directions to the point where you wouldn’t be surprised if someone’s mother was brought into the arguments (or political points, as they’re presented to be).
The differences between Trump and Clinton’s acceptance speeches couldn’t have been more stark. Trump drew a black cloud over the proceedings, describing America as a dangerous, corrupt hell-hole that needed to be gutted from the inside. Listening to his speech, I had to check to see if maybe I’d been transplanted to Zimbabwe.
Clinton, along with President Obama, took the optimistic route, contrasting their sunny view with Trump’s dark pessimism. They described America as a wonderland, full of opportunity. Sure they didn’t stress the ballooning gap between the middle class the elite, but hey we’ve got Bernie for that.
But both candidates relied on a…let’s say stretching of certain truths. And while Trump hurls his half-truths out like a balloon drop, Hillary seems to get away with it more. Perhaps this is the appeal of Trump. He’s a liar, but he sort of acknowledges it in a weird, idiot-savant kind of way.
Stephen Colbert coined the term truthiness, defining it as someone preferring to believe their own facts rather than what is actually true. We’ve seen it daily on the Trump campaign trail, in an almost bragging manner. But it’s present on both sides.
These examples of truthiness are not just used as a cheap point, but they are the underlying principles of each campaign.
Donald Trump (I’m sorry…Donald J. Trump) has built his campaign on two primary points:
- Our immigration system is broken, primarily by immigrants from Central and South America, who take advantage of our lax security. They drive down wages, commit crimes and suck up our healthcare system.
- Manufacturing is being killed by Chinese competition. The Chinese manipulate their currency and have an unfair advantage in the world trade arena.
Perhaps people support Trump because he’s so explicit about his priorities. Hillary is a bit less clear, but what I’ve gathered her top two priorities are the following:
- Our middle class is crumbling due to the outsize influence of the 1%, who have taken an outsize share of income. This needs change through the tax system.
- America is overrun with gun violence and something needs to be done to ensure that the gun violence doesn’t continue, such as legislation banning certain weapons and establishing a federal database for potential gun customers.
Let’s begin with Trump because it’s much easier.
His idea that illegal immigration is a problem is certainly true. It’s dangerous on both sides to have citizens living in the shadows. For the immigrant, it exposes them to dangers like violence and scams, to which they have no legal recourse. It’s dangerous for the state because of healthcare spending, but also spending on law enforcement and the increase in unlicensed and uninsured drivers.
But the idea that illegal immigration is a growing problem is where the truthiness comes in. This may have been a real issue five or ten years ago, but it’s certainly mellowed since then. In November of 2015 a Pew report found that, for the first time in three decades, more Mexicans were moving dout of the country than coming in. Most of the exodus is credited to the need for family reunification. Other causes may be floundering US economy, stricter enforcement and the increase in deportations under President Obama.
Is it still a problem? Sure. But it’s misleading to present the idea that Obama has made the problem worse over the last decade. The present solution seems to be working, so it makes no sense to change course now.
Building a wall will be expensive and worthless. We already have a border fence and it hasn’t worked (mainly because the fence wasn’t finished).
Plus there’s the whole fact that most illegal immigrants are choosing to drive across the border rather than trek through miles of desert and risk death. Yes, you can drive into this country from Mexico as crazy as that sounds.
Of course there are illegal immigrants in our country. They are in every country and there’s no real way to ever completely stop the problem except becoming a terrible country where immigrants won’t want to go. Maybe we should just seek to become the next Somalia. Immigration would stop overnight.
The Myth of Manufacturing
A week doesn’t go by where someone mentions how manufacturing jobs don’t exist anymore. Everything is made in China. You used to be able to make a living right out of high school.
You’ve heard it.
The narrative of the Chinese dragon trying to take us over is an exciting story. But it’s just that, a story.
Manufacturing in the US is experiencing a boom. I wish we could take this time to celebrate instead of acting like manufacturing is going the way of the typewriter and the Furby.
Ball State professors conducted a study of US manufacturing and found in every measurable index that manufacturing is improving. Another study found that productivity in US manufacturing grew four-fold since 1970.
Yet it is true that employment in manufacturing has decreased. But this is mainly due to technological innovation and automation. Don’t blame the Chinese, blame the robots. I guess it is kind of a typewriter situation after all.
In fact, it’s predicted that manufacturing will see a shortage of employees in the future. The jobs are there, we just don’t want them. Why? Manufacturing jobs kind of suck. Much like the jobs illegal immigrants do, we generally take a pass on manual labor these days. Blame the lazy millennials (and I know you will).
But this problem can only be solved by mandatory wage increases and most likely pay decreases for top managers. Surely Trump wouldn’t endorse such a socialist plan, at least if it didn’t help his reputation(in which case, he’d support anything).
There’s no doubt that China has impacted US manufacturing to some degree. But think about the things that are “Made In China.” They’re cheap goods, disposable crap. US manufacturing is more about high quality products now; aerospace, farm equipment, that sort of stuff. We still manufacture, but we tend not to notice it. We make the good stuff while they make the cheap stuff. Do we really want to be known as the makers of shit?
And China’s impact isn’t as apocalyptic as we might assume. Robert Lawrence, a Harvard economics professors, estimates that trade policies with China account for a fifth of manufacturing decreases in the US. The rest? Automation.
If we want to make real inroads into improving manufacturing, we need to become John Connor and destroy the robots. They’re taking our jobs. Next will be our homes.
Okay next up, it’s Hillary. While not as overtly, comically truthy as Trump, she may be more skilled at misdirection, like the David Copperfield of politics.
Let’s start with the popular refrain that the 1% is running the country. I participated in the Occupy protests, campaigned for Bernie Sanders. On an emotional level, I’m with this idea.
Studies on the topic do find that the 1% took home more income gains than the rest of us. There’s no real debate on whether this is true.
But Hillary says that the 1% took 90 percent of income gains since the economic crash of 2008. This number is shocking.
And it’s also false.
We hear the 90 percent statistic a lot. Bernie used it, even inflating it to 99%. But the numbers are based on a miscalculation of research done by Emmanuel Saez of the University of California, Berkeley.
In Saez’ first report in 2014, he cited the 99% statistic, repeated by Justin Wolfers of the NY Times, from which Bernie got his info. Each year since then, Saez adjusted his numbers. This year his estimate was lowered to 52%. There’s still a gap, but it’s not as frightening as it looks from Hillary’s point of view.
Maybe more exaggeration than truthiness, but it still counts.
Now onto guns. The best part of this one is that it refutes both candidates in one.
Hillary’s campaign has advocated for stricter gun controls in response to high profile mass shootings, along with alarming violence in our inner cities and the recent shootings of police.
Trump’s convention speech highlighted the dangers of our society, sketching out a picture of a dark wasteland crawling with criminals preying on our good citizens.
Both are inaccurate.
Here is another instance where we should be celebrating. In every measure, violence has drastically decreased since its high in the 90s. There was a slight uptick in the past year, mostly due to a rash of gun violence in cities such as Chicago and Detroit. But this is a one year difference, what could easily be interpreted as a statistical anomaly. Next year it might go back down. We have no idea.
And it’s not just overall violence that’s decreased. Gun homicides in particular were halved since 1993, which should be a good sign. Yet we cling to the narrative that it’s dangerous these days as if it were a wonderland 50 years ago.
Painting this picture of violence taking over the streets is being at best ingenuous, at worst dangerous. Violence levels are at a low, but trust levels are also at a low. Distrust is a sign of a failing nation.
We should be more worried about this.
Conclusion: Liar vs Liar
So there you have it, one liar against another. The big question in this election who lies less. Which is quite pitiful. I’m not going to answer that question for you because I don’t feel that it’s an answer that deserves to be answered.
You can always vote third party after all.