Opinion

Donald Trump is the best president the left has ever had: Neil Macdonald

From fiscal policy, to trade, to war — when you look at what Trump has actually done, he's the most left-wing president the U.S. has ever seen.

From fiscal policy, to trade, to war — Trump has been an objective ally for those on the left

The reaction from many is fascinating when you advance the argument that Trump, judged solely on his actions, is the most left-wing president any of us has ever seen. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

I shouldn't, but I delight in discussing Donald Trump's presidency with friends on the left.  

Not to commiserate over what a pig the man is (calling someone a pig is presidential language now, so that's fair ball, right?). That's just easy. What's fascinating is the reaction when you advance the argument that Trump, judged solely on his actions, is the most left-wing president any of us has ever seen.

By people "on the left," incidentally, I don't mean small-l, bourgeois, reflexive urban liberals. I mean committed progressives; people who believe in collectivism over rugged individualism, in the replacement of social hierarchy with social equality, who advocate wealth redistribution and robust government intervention to restrain the predations of the market. Generally, these people also oppose government austerity and militarism and globalization.

They are generally well educated and serious. And they can be irritatingly self-righteous. Which is why it's such fun to point out that Trump has often been their objective ally.

Free trade

Many leftists are deeply suspicious of the very concept. Trade treaties, in the eyes of real progressives (again, as opposed to garden-variety liberals), involve government surrendering its sovereign ability to protect industries that need protecting, and letting the markets attack workers' rights. Free trade can also make it easier for companies to "offshore" jobs into low-wage countries.

For that reason, most of the opposition to the original Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement came from the political left, and from labour unions. They lost.

Jean Chrétien's Liberals, once in power, discovered a great affection for trade deals, and while U.S. presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama evinced sympathy with workers, they ultimately refused to restrict trade. Clinton in fact signed NAFTA, the original deal's big expansion.

Trump's protectionist rhetoric outdoes even that of labour leaders and social democrats, writes Neil Macdonald (Martin Mejia/Associated Press)

Then along came the left's most important ally on the issue in nearly 100 years. Donald Trump not only made it a priority to attack and ultimately get rid of NAFTA, he used tariffs to, among other things, punish companies for sourcing manufacturing offshore.

Trump's protectionist rhetoric outdoes even that of labour leaders and social democrats. He ferociously attacks globalization, which he his followers call "globalism." He declares himself a nationalist. He's turning back the clock. Logically, Mel Hurtig's Council of Canadians and old-school trade warriors like Maude Barlow and North America's union leadership should be proud of him. I doubt they'd admit it, but they should be.

Fiscal policy

True, the thinking of leftist politicians has evolved somewhat on the question of government borrowing, but progressives' attitude is still often: deficits be damned, people come first. Spend what is necessary. Prime that pump.

Again, judging by the evidence, Trump agrees. He promised as a candidate to get rid of the national debt, but once in office, his leftist leanings took hold. Not only is he "Tariff Man," to use the title he invented for himself, he's also Stimulus Man.

At the end of 2018, the U.S. national debt stood at $21.974 trillion, more than $2 trillion higher than it was when Trump assumed office two years ago. In the last fiscal year, which ended on Sept. 30, 2018, the national deficit was $779 billion, up about 17 per cent from the previous year. It's on track to hit a trillion this year, according to some analysts. Conservatives who complain about bequeathing a legacy of debt to future generations are simply ignored by this White House.

Back in the 1990s, when socialists ruled Ontario, NDP finance minister "Pink Floyd" Laughren presided over unheard-of borrowing, too, but he did it to help an economy in deep recession. So did Obama.

But Pink Donald is doing it during a boom.

Granted, Trump's stimulus has mostly been tax cuts, but that's what Congress allowed. Remember, Trump also promised $1.5 trillion in infrastructure spending. Maybe that's coming, too. Who knows?

Monetary policy

A few years ago, a coalition of left-leaning interest groups, alarmed over the U.S. Federal Reserve's stated intention to raise interest rates as the economy picked up momentum, started sending out email blasts in support of a petition titled "Tell the Fed: Don't Raise Interest Rates."

It didn't work. The Fed decided the years of super-cheap money and crazed borrowing had to stop, and began raising rates. The Bank of Canada followed suit.

As they most often do, politicians here and in the United States accepted the policy change, abiding by the convention that the central bank must operate independently.

Except, of course, for Pink Donald.

"The only problem our economy has is the Fed," tweeted the big blond lefty, who sees himself as an expert in monetary policy, among a great many other things. "They don't have a feel for the Market, they don't understand necessary Trade Wars or Strong Dollars … The Fed is like a powerful golfer who can't score because he has no touch - he can't putt!"

Basically, Trump was making the same argument as many progressives: the Fed is endangering the recovery by raising interest rates.

War

Like many on the left, Donald Trump thinks the United States should get out of Syria, and Afghanistan, too, and, in general, avoid spending blood and treasure trying to force the American way upon, or police, the world.

When Trump abruptly tweeted in December that he was withdrawing American troops from Syria, almost all the negative reaction came from conservatives and centrist liberals. The left, which has consistently argued, correctly, that the Iraq war was a disaster, that very little has changed in Afghanistan, and that American interventions in the Middle East have only ever made things worse, remained largely silent.

Now, it's obvious why there is such reluctance on the left to credit any of Trump's policies, however much they align with the progressive agenda: the man is a serial liar, a racist and a vulgar boor.

But then, all presidents lie. Trump is just promiscuous about it.

At one point in his presidency, Obama was nicknamed the 'deporter-in-chief.' (Susan Walsh/Associated Press)

Yes, he's persecuting undocumented immigrants. But Obama was at one point nicknamed the "deporter-in-chief."

Yes, he is running an imperial presidency. But so did his predecessor. And his predecessor's predecessor.

Yes, he has talked about bombing enemies into oblivion. But Hillary Clinton enabled George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq, and a fair amount of oblivion-bombing, with her Senate vote. She is more hawkish than Trump, period.

And yes, he is dismantling protections for the poor and vulnerable. But President Bill Clinton signed then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich's Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act, a bill that leftists considered a direct attack on a generation of low-income Americans.

Finally, yes, Trump is an appalling human being: he uses a powerful pulpit to belittle women and minorities, brags about molesting women, and tacitly eggs on bigots. But policy is policy.

My old friend Tom Walkom, one of the Toronto Star's most progressive columnists, went ahead and said it a few weeks ago:

"I know it is heresy to write this. Sometimes, Donald Trump is right."


This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read our FAQ.

About the Author

Neil Macdonald

Opinion Columnist

Neil Macdonald is an opinion columnist for CBC News, based in Ottawa. Prior to that he was the CBC's Washington correspondent for 12 years, and before that he spent five years reporting from the Middle East. He also had a previous career in newspapers, and speaks English and French fluently, and some Arabic.

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