Donald Trump and the Plan of No Plan

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gives a thumbs up during a visit to the childhood home of Dr. Ben Carson, Saturday, September 3, 2016, in Detroit. 

In the course of trying to sell himself to African Americans—or to convince white moderates that he isn't a despicable bigot by making a show of trying to sell himself to African Americans—Donald Trump has said that unlike Democratic politicians, he can deliver jobs. "You're living in your poverty," he says, "your schools are no good, you have no jobs, 58 percent of your youth is unemployed—what the hell do you have to lose?" The 58 percent figure is bogus (as you might expect), and the rest of what he says practically oozes contempt (also as you might expect), but underneath it there's an argument that's worth considering, for African Americans and everyone else: Can Donald Trump deliver jobs?

That's the supposed appeal of every businessman candidate: Unlike those Washington politicians, I have a deep understanding of the economy, and armed with this knowledge and experience I can do what they can't. Or as Trump's ads say, "In Donald Trump's America, working families get tax relief. Millions of new jobs created. Wages go up. Small businesses thrive. The American Dream: achievable." Well that sounds great! I hope that even if Trump loses he shares whatever secret wisdom he has with Hillary Clinton, so perhaps she can deliver us to this paradise on his behalf.

But something interesting happens when Trump is asked exactly how he's going to create those millions of jobs. Take, for example, this interview Trump did with a local TV station in Michigan. When anchor Dave Bundy asked what Trump's plan was to bring jobs to African Americans, he responded, "I do have a plan. We're bringing our jobs back. You look at all the empty factories, all the empty warehouses you have all over this area." Bondy then pressed him: "Is there an exact plan how to do that?" Here's Trump's reply:

Yeah, sure. I mean, but basically, we have to bring our jobs back. I mean, the real plan is we have to negotiate trade deals that are good deals, not bad deals. And we're gonna renegotiate these horrible trade deals that have been made by people that don't know what they're doing. ... And we're going to bring our jobs back. I mean, you look at the African American community, there are no jobs—there's nothing you can do—there are no jobs. And we're gonna bring our jobs back from Mexico and from lots of other places that have taken them. And we're gonna get people that have, not only jobs, but really good paying jobs.

So how will Trump bring jobs? By bringing jobs! Now why didn't anybody else think of that? And also "renegotiating" trade deals, though he never actually says what that renegotiation would entail, other than presumably going to China to say, "Hey China, give us back our jobs!" On the other hand, fewer than one in 11 Americans now works in manufacturing, and the idea that after a couple of renegotiated trade deals we're all going to be sewing tube socks and assembling iPhones for fantastic wages is, shall we say, less than realistic.

We all know that Trump is a spectacularly shallow candidate. But even here, on his supposed area of expertise, it's obvious that "How?" is a question he is utterly incapable of answering. Perhaps he's never really thought about it, or perhaps he thinks he'll just improvise once he becomes president. I'd be curious to hear what Donald Trump thinks a president does when it comes to the economy. What does he imagine he'd be doing when he sits down at his desk in the Oval Office?  

Nevertheless, many voters believe that Trump must have the ability to make the economy flourish, because he's a businessman—no matter how ludicrous is the idea that building hotels and casinos qualifies someone to set macroeconomic policy for the nation. The polls have wavered on this question, but usually show about as many people saying that Trump would do a better job on the economy as saying Hillary Clinton would.

It may be that by saying they think Trump would do a better job, conservative respondents are saying nothing more than that they prefer conservative policies, which Trump would be more likely to implement. And if you set aside Trump's opposition to existing trade agreements, everything he offers on the economy is standard Republican fare: Cut taxes on the wealthy, remove regulations on corporations, and watch while all Americans are lifted up on a glorious tide of prosperity.

In a better world, Hillary Clinton might say this: Donald Trump is offering magic on the economy, and I have have no magic to offer. I don't think the voters are so dumb that I can tell you that if you elect me, in a couple of weeks everyone will be driving a BMW. But Trump and I do have two different basic ideas about what government and the president can do about the economy. And it's not like these ideas have never been tested before. All you have to do is look at the economic records of recent Republican and Democratic presidents to know which one produces better results.

The real secret is that while the actions of the federal government can matter greatly, no president, no matter how wise, is going to single-handedly transform the economy. That's part of the problem: Once a candidate starts getting specific, it becomes harder to believe that their policies are going to be revolutionary, even if you think most of them are good ideas.

So Trump has solved the problem. How's he going to create jobs? By creating jobs. How's he going to increase wages? By increasing wages. And how's he going to make America great? By making America great, of course. Sounds like quite a plan.

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