Donald Trump's economic plan won’t fix middle America

Back in 2007, the late, great Joe Bageant wrote the classic book, “Deer Hunting With Jesus: Dispatches From America’s Class War,” which sought to explain why such a large contingent of voters traditionally walk into the booth and vote against their own best interests.

Bageant was a master at exploring his own people – and mine – the disaffected, mostly-white, thoroughly evangelical Christians who, from the view of the so-called media elite on the coasts, are too stupid to see through a political sham.

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Bageant, who was taken home by cancer in 2011, hailed from Virginia’s Appalachia. I hail from the Missouri Ozarks. I, too, am a white evangelical, and after watching Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpWarren defends, Buttigieg attacks in debate that shrank the field Five takeaways from the Democratic debate in Ohio Democrats debate in Ohio: Who came out on top? MORE’s economic speech in Detroit on Monday, I believe that what we need here is a hillbilly who loves Jesus and isn’t buying it.

On Monday, Trump laid out his vision for America’s economy. He mostly spoke in platitudes about long-past manufacturing days, without focusing much on the present or future. From the Tax Policy Center, his proposals look pretty much like more of the same, a padding of the nests of other 1-percenters, like himself. But he has the lingo down. Trump spoke in detail about the so-called “death tax” (estate tax) which affects just a handful of people, all of them quite wealthy.

But by reciting a damning litany of statistics (not all of which were entirely accurate) and by acknowledging bad trade deals that hurt American workers, Trump managed to, again, tap into the disconnect many American voters – particularly the white Evangelicals – feel for the political system. Give him this: He is a master communicator. He knows his audience – save for Monday’s protesters, who interrupted his speech 14 times. He used the word “regulations” (as in eliminating them) 10 times, and “workers” 10, to much applause.

But what he offered was a throwback to the Reagan days of union-busting and trickle-down economics that, in the end, were more the voodoo economics Pres. George W. Bush warned us about.

CNBC’s senior economics reporter Steve Liesman said Trump’s speech was a throwback to the days when Dad (and Mom) packed their lunch box and walked to their jobs at local factories, where they made things, and the kind of technology that replaced those workers running those machines was far off in the future.

His tax plan was more in line with House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanAmash: Trump incorrect in claiming Congress didn't subpoena Obama officials Democrats hit Scalia over LGBTQ rights Three-way clash set to dominate Democratic debate MORE’s policy agenda, “A Better Way.” Ryan, who coasted to a win in a Tuesday primary, nearly did so without Trump, who waited until Friday to endorse the House Speaker.

Ryan’s agenda, which rests on the belief that government anti-poverty programs have not eliminated poverty, has had a hard time getting traction for his plan, given the Republican candidate’s daily eruptions that range from urging “Second Amendment people” to take matters into their own hands should Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWarren defends, Buttigieg attacks in debate that shrank the field Democrats fear Ohio slipping further away in 2020 Poll: Warren leads Biden in Maine by 12 points MORE be elected, to Trump’s days’ long attack of a Gold Star family.

Trump’s proposals include making daycare expenses tax deductible (though parents can already set aside pre-tax money for child care expenses) and putting a moratorium on government regulations (what is he thinking?). What kernels of good in the speech were harmed by false and misleading statements, from misquoting Hillary Clinton to mischaracterizing the effect of the Affordable Care Act on jobs, and jobs in general.

So much of what Trump said was the kind of nostalgic for a better time, but that time wasn’t better. It was, however, for a certain stripe of people (my people) familiar. The country has become more progressive (and secular), and a large contingent of conservative voters see Trump as the antidote. A Pew Research Center study from July said that 41 percent of evangelical or born-again Christians claim it’s more difficult to follow their faith – up 34 percent from the previous year. As Robert P. Jones, CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute, writes in his new book, “The End of White Christian America,” the dominance of white Protestant Christians on public policy is waning. Those screaming Evangelicals backing a multi-married, ethics-challenged, vulgarity-spewing candidate? Are at their own wake. And I miss ol’ Joe more than I can say.

Campbell is a journalism professor and writer. She is the author of Dating Jesus: Fundamentalism, Feminism and the American Girl and the upcoming Searching for The American Dream in Frog Hollow. Her work has appeared in the Hartford Courant, Connecticut Magazine, The New Haven Register and The Guardian. Follow her @campbellsl


 

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