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President Trump has humbled me. Since his 2015 ride down the escalator he has taught me time and again that there are two kinds of people in the world: Donald Trump and everybody else.

As an everybody else, I think I understand why he blasts out aggressive tweets (because most media won’t cover him fairly), attacks athletes like Colin Kaepernick and LeBron James (they are influencers advancing a view of America he rejects) and exaggerates so mightily that his enemies can brand him a liar (he’s a salesman).

What I don’t get is the distasteful intensity and anger of his tone – can’t you make the same point a little more elegantly?

As an everybody else, I am also mystified by the case he is not making for his reelection. Start with the economy. At every turn he makes the over-the-top claim that he had built “the greatest economy” in our history before the pandemic and that he has been the best president for African Americans except, perhaps, for Lincoln. If I were running his campaign, I would downplay such debatable claims and bear down on the data that shows how his approach of lower taxes and less regulation has delivered gains to the very groups Democrats say they represent and always disappoint: the middle class and people of color.

He makes those points, but generally. In every stump speech I would stress the specifics. I’d quote the Census Bureau’s September report that found that real median household income rose by $4,379 dollars in 2019, to $68,709. I would quote the Wall Street Journal, which reported that “in dollar amounts, that is nearly 50% more than in the eight years of Barack Obama’s Presidency.” I would note that the biggest beneficiaries have been African Americans, Hispanics and foreign-born workers, whose real median incomes grew faster than that of whites between 2016-19. So much for “white supremacy.”

This would lead to the larger point that while Democrats demagogue the issue of income inequality, Trump’s policies have actually reduced it. The Federal Reserve reported last month that the biggest beneficiaries in real median income between 2016 and 2019 were those who have not completed high school (+9%), followed by those with only a high school diploma (+6%).

I would conclude my discussion with this capper: the Fed reports that “families at the top of the income and wealth distributions experienced very little, if any growth” in net worth in 2016-19 “after experiencing large gains between 2013 and 2016,” during the thoroughly progressive Obama/Biden administration.

As an everybody else, I also don’t understand why Trump isn’t drawing a stronger comparison between his achievements in foreign policy and the failures of the Obama/Biden administration.

I would stress how the Obama/Biden approach empowered ISIS and Iran while Trump has largely vanquished the terrorists and also brokered once unimaginable peace deals between Arab/Muslim nations and Israel.

I would hammer home the point that the Obama/Biden administration’s leading-from-behind strategy that emphasized accommodation did little to counter the expansionist policies of China and Russia – remember Obama’s dismissal of Mitt Romney’s 2012 claim that Russia was our greatest geopolitical threat? Remember Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014? Trump, by contrast, has actively sought to limit both countries through tariffs and sanctions while forcefully making the Reaganesque argument that they are bad actors on the world stage. In that regard, I would observe that while Democrats claim Trump embraces authoritarian regimes, it was Obama/Biden that sought to prop up dictators in Venezuela and Cuba.

In every speech I would repeat the observation of Obama’s former Defense Secretary Robert Gates that Biden has "been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades."

I know that Trump has alluded to all these points, but not in the forceful, disciplined way that would give them the oomph I think they deserve. For that matter I don’t know why he hasn’t made the point more strongly that Biden’s COVID-19 plan largely plagiarizes what Trump has already done.

As an everybody else, I scratch my head at his strategy. I see the polls and find it hard to conclude it won’t cost him the election.

But then I remember that I, along with everybody else, gave him no shot the last time around. It is still stunning to think that a man with no political experience and a small war chest beat the best the Republican and Democratic establishment had to offer.

He humbled us all because he knew something profound about himself and our nation. To put it simply, consider this sentence for a moment: Donald Trump became president of the United States. It almost boggles the mind. He alone made that happen. I remind myself of that every time I question him. Then I ask myself: What do I know?

That said, my fear is that his rise may reflect the entrenchment of the post-policy politics that began when Obama rode to the White House on vague promises of hope and change. When the American people finally saw what that meant, Democrats suffered historic losses at all levels of government in 2010.

The Trump/Biden race makes 2008 look like a wonkfest. It has been almost completely devoid of meaningful discussion of the very different directions that these candidates want to take the country. The two candidates have not been selling their policies, but themselves.

The media have shown little interest in exploring their records or their promises. And, frankly, the American people seem content to watch this show rather than ask: What would either man’s election mean for me and the country? In this scenario, everybody loses.

J. Peder Zane is an editor for RealClearInvestigations and a columnist for RealClearPolitics.



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