Last night’s State of the Union was particularly noteworthy for its showmanship. Scholarships were given away, medals were awarded, families reunited. At a time when national politics is bad theater, President Trump is clearly its most gifted star.
Trump also knows what sells. As a political figure, he’s motivated not by any consistent ideology, but rather by transactional legislation. Following the performance, an MSNBC pundit noted that the speech was a “microtargeted ad” to various demographics aimed at expanding his base before next year’s election.
Combined with his Super Bowl ads highlighting criminal justice reform, his focus on charter schools and honoring a hundred-year-old Tuskegee airman are aimed at eroding away the Democrats’ 90 percent control of black voters. The cameo by Venezuela opposition leader Juan Guaidó was an appeal to Hispanic families who have fled communist regimes—perhaps a poke at Bernie Sanders. Paid family leave, a policy focus of his daughter, is intended to help him with suburban women.
What doesn’t sell? Fiscal responsibility.
The political equivalent of Crystal Pepsi, the Republican Party has given up its long-standing façade of budgetary restraint. As Donald Trump told donors earlier this year, “Who the hell cares about the budget?”
Of course, some people do care, particularly those who understand the real costs of runaway spending. Unfortunately, politics isn’t about the economic literacy of the few, but the prevailing ideology of the masses. As Jeff Deist noted in 2016, the implicit ideology of the American population is much closer to Bernie Sanders than it is to Ludwig von Mises. As such, it should be no surprise that the policies of the country align more closely with the “deficits don’t matter” vision of Modern Monetary Theorists than the sober analysis of Austrians economists.
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