This dyspeptic election is finally coming to an end in just a few days amid ugliness the likes of which has not been seen in modern American history. This nastiness has focused on the personal and the irrelevant, from the ridiculous non-scandal of Clinton’s emails to the revolting but ultimately superficial fact that Donald Trump apparently carried on an affair for years that we’re only just learning about.
With so much discussion of temperament, lawsuits, sex, indictments, investigations and nuclear launch codes, it’s easy to forget the dramatic policy consequences of the election in this environment, but it’s important not to. Because policy is really what it’s all about.
Matt Yglesias at Vox was kind enough to remind us of the stakes a few days ago:
The result would be a sweeping transformation of American life. Millions would be forcibly removed from their homes and communities as new resources and a new mission invigorate the pace of deportations. Taxes would drop sharply for the richest Americans while rising for many middle–class families. Millions of low–income Americans would lose their health insurance, while America’s banks would enjoy the repeal of regulations enacted in the wake of the financial crisis. Environmental Protection Agency regulation of greenhouse gas emissions would end, likely collapsing global efforts to restrain emissions, greatly increasing the pace of warming.
But it gets even crazier. Trump apparently wants to privatize new roads and bridges, too–which is something not even vulture capitalist Mitt Romney dared propose:
Under Trump’s plan—at least as it’s written (more on that in a minute)—the federal government would offer tax credits to private investors interested in funding large infrastructure projects, who would put down some of their own money up front, then borrow the rest on the private bond markets. They would eventually earn their profits on the back end from usage fees, such as highway and bridge tolls (if they built a highway or bridge) or higher water rates (if they fixed up some water mains). So instead of paying for their new roads at tax time, Americans would pay for them during their daily commute. And of course, all these private developers would earn a nice return at the end of the day.
And he doesn’t just want to pull back from international climate change obligations. He would end renewable energy investment entirely:
In the last week, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has repeatedlyvowed to zero out all federal spending on clean energy research and development. And the plan he released would also zero out all other spending on anything to do with climate change, including the government’s entire climate science effort…
What leaps off the screen is that the overwhelming majority of the money that was spent during the Obama years on “climate change” was in fact spent on clean energy technologies from solar energy to advanced batteries. In fact, CRS concluded, “more than 75 percent” of that total spending “funded technology development and deployment, mostly through the Department of Energy (DOE).”
If Trump isn’t planning to zero out federal funding for clean technology development and deployment, then there is no possible way of coming anywhere close to $100 billion dollars over eight years or $12.5 billion a year.
Now, much of this is because Trump is all sizzle and no steak: he throws around impossible numbers to make his infrastructure plan budget-neutral, or to talk about redeploying “climate change funding” into urban communities, and then number crunchers try to make sense of it and determine the only way he can do those things is by killing all renewables funding and privatizing all new infrastructure.
But politicians have to be judged on the policy they propose, even if it’s gimmickry. Either Trump is serious about the policies he is proposing, in which case he’s a terrifying anti-science and plutocratic radical worse than Romney or Bush, or he’s a complete charlatan without policy convictions at all.
Either way, voters should be very worried about it. More worried, in fact, than about whatever personal sins he might commit. This stuff profoundly affects the planet, people’s lives and America’s economic future.