When Donald Trump comes to Wisconsin and lies in a way that could conceivably provoke violence against innocent people, it’s hard to ignore.
But, for the most part, ignore it we should.
Last weekend, President Trump — among scores of lies at a Green Bay rally — falsely claimed that mothers and doctors sometimes discuss whether to “execute” babies after they are born.
He then lashed out at Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers for promising to veto a related anti-abortion bill being approved by Republicans in legislatures around the country, a bill intended to enflame the GOP’s conservative base.
It’s a phony issue.
Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, “This is the kind of dangerous rhetoric that encourages the violence carried out today.”
He was referring to a deadly attack on a California synagogue that happened earlier in the day that Trump spoke in Green Bay. The shooter expressed white-supremacist and anti-Semitic views in an online forum shortly before the attack.
At the rally, Trump said, “We’re going to get to the bottom of a lot of things happening in our country.”
Yet it is Trump’s incendiary lies that serve as calls to action for unstable haters — or, as Trump might call them, “many fine people.”
For all of Trump’s noxious rhetoric, defeating him in 2020 before he can further debase America could well depend on answers to three questions, none relating to such politics of hate. They are:
Is the economy working for me?
Is Trump really on my side?
Do I like the Democratic candidate’s approach?
My first question should be asked by the working class. Its members continue to struggle as they did pre-Trump. Unemployment is low, but many jobs cannot support families. Many of those jobs are at or near the minimum wage, and it is Trump and fellow Republicans who regularly oppose any increases. Trump boasted in Wisconsin that state unemployment is at a historic low, but there’s no boasting about how much those jobs pay.
And a new Washington Post-ABC News poll suggests that how people feel about the economy may drive their perception of whether he’s on their side.
The potency of the economic issue for Trump is “complicated,” a Post story said, because those polled believe the economy mainly still benefits people other than them. In the survey, 60 percent of voters said the country’s economic system primarily helps those in power, while 72 percent said that about the country’s political structures.
Trump needs to win the economic argument. Other core issues of Trump’s first campaign — illegal immigration, health care and trade — do not poll well for the president, the story said. He failed on promises to build a wall against immigrants and to overturn the Affordable Care Act, and his protectionist trade policy has been a controversial mess across broad swaths of the economy.
So, it’s the economy, stupid — to borrow a Bill Clinton political adage.
Trump and the GOP love to brag about tax changes in 2017 — I refuse to call it “reform” — that ballooned federal budget deficits.
Ordinary people seem to understand what it really meant, reflected in this recent Bloomberg Businessweek headline: “The tax law’s big winner is the millionaire CEO.” The article cited a poll that said a majority of respondents did not think the law saved them any money, though an analysis by the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center estimated that Americans saved an average of $1,600, an amount “so slight and so spread out that they didn’t notice.”
The wealthy, the article said, must certainly have noticed how tax cuts impacted them. Savings by the top 1 percent of income earners averaged more than $51,000 and by the top 0.1 percent more than $193,000, the study revealed.
An under-emphasized impact of the cuts was the massive reduction in corporate tax rates. “Corporate shareholders made out like bandits,” said a senior fellow at the tax policy center.
Trump succeeds marvelously at playing working-class whites. Paul Krugman of the New York Times explains how.
“Exploiting racial resentment to capture white working-class voters, while pursuing policies that benefit only the wealthy, has been the core of the party’s political strategy for decades. That’s why, in an increasingly diverse country, Republican support has stayed overwhelmingly white.
“In a fundamental sense, Trumpism is the culmination of that strategy. Commentators keep calling Mr. Trump a ‘populist,’ but the only way in which he actually caters to working-class white voters is by appealing to their racial animus. He may be successful in doing so partly because it’s the only thing about his political persona that’s sincere: All indications are that he really is a racist.”
My third question — which of the Democrats will offer the most broadly appealing economic message? — will play out in months ahead.
That the Democratic nominee will be of higher character than Trump is a given. Has there ever been a lower bar?
But one assumes that the fundamental variable in choosing the nominee — perhaps trumping personality, experience, age, race and gender — will be his or her master plan for the economy.
Will it be a fiery democratic socialist making dramatic promises about upending the health care system and giving free tuition, or, conversely, will it be someone who makes a credible case for achievable change?
My framing betrays my preference.
Here in Wisconsin, Evers provides a model. He promised and now is attempting to deliver on improving health care, public education and fixing roads — credible, relatable goals. They appeal especially to educated GOP-leaning voters, especially women.
Conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt chortled in a recent Washington Post op-ed that Trump will win easily in 2020 because financial markets and the economy are generally strong and incumbent presidents hardly ever lose. (The last was George H.W. Bush in 1992.)
So, to fellow progressives, my advice is that when Trump blurts out his next incendiary lie, don’t simply turn to cable television for talking points in response.
Instead, you should spend time identifying and then supporting the Democrat who best speaks to the nation’s economic future, one that will benefit our children and grandchildren.
Because, more than ever, that’s what matters most.