Today we bring you a public service courtesy of The Dialogue Venture.
The most disturbing aspect of the U.S. presidential campaign, for me, is how unhinged from reality it has become. Truth and nuance are casualties of most campaigns, but this year I see a widespread assumption that opinions matter and truth does not. The obligation to back up oneâ€™s rhetoric with facts and sober analysis is gone.
When things get unhinged, you fix the hinge. So letâ€™s try.
For starters, I strolled over to the website of the man most blamed for unhinging the campaign, one Donald J. Trumpâ€”specifically, to his Positions page. The first thing that struck me was the number of issues on which heâ€™s articulated positions here: five. Just five. All of them are issues worth exploring: immigration, the Second Amendment, others. But the gaps are, well, huge: nothing on the economy in general, foreign policy, raceâ€¦.
Putting that aside, I dove into his China policy. As a cornerstone of that policy, he promises that â€œon day one of the Trump administration the U.S. Treasury Department will designate China as a currency manipulatorâ€ (underlining in the original). This action, says the policy statement, will â€œforce China to the negotiating table and open the door to a fairâ€”and far betterâ€”trading relationship.â€
How much of that makes sense? Letâ€™s look at some facts and sober analysis to find out.
- Weâ€™ve done this before, and it didnâ€™t work. The U.S. Treasury slapped China (as well as Japan and Taiwan) with the currency manipulator tag in the late 1980s and early 1990s. As Foreign Policyâ€™s Joshua A. Keating reported, all three shaped up: they â€œmade â€™substantial reforms to their foreign exchange regimesâ€™ after the negotiations, and were removed from the list after their â€˜currencies appreciated and external trade balances declined significantly.â€™ However, the U.S. trade deficit with Chinaâ€¦has increased every year since 1988. Evidently, the labeling in the early 1990s didnâ€™t do the trick.â€
- Itâ€™s not clear whether China is still manipulating its currency. You manipulate currency to keep its exchange rate But from 2005 to 2013, Chinaâ€™s currency (the renminbi) rose 35 percent. No one really knows whether the renminbi is still undervalued. Even if it is, thatâ€™s not entirely bad: it allows U.S. consumers to buy Chinese goods at cheap prices, among other things.
- Mitt Romney made the same promise in 2012. Trump may think himself forceful and leader-like by making this pledge, but heâ€™s not original.
Based on all this, it seems Trump aims to provoke Chinaâ€”perhaps the worldâ€™s second-greatest military and economic powerâ€”over an issue that may have gone away some years ago.
Why did I do this research? Because itâ€™s nearly impossible to dialogue, let alone collaborate on policymaking, without a common understanding of the facts. When we disagree on facts, we do well to dig deeper and sort them out. When we ignore facts entirely, we can move in directions that may be not only irrelevant, but catastrophic.
Iâ€™m going to try doing this with his other positions. Perhaps Iâ€™ll find that some of them are solid and thoughtful. I hope so. Based on Trumpâ€™s public record so far, I doubt it. But letâ€™s see.