The First Presidential Debate: Trump Argues This Country is a Mess!

Sunday was the second Presidential debate but for now I’m still processing the first one. Let’s start with a comment voiced by Republican Vice Presidential candidate Governor Mike Pence, during the campaign’s only Vice Presidential debate, which took place on Wednesday, October 5th:

PENCE: You — honestly, Senator, you can roll out the numbers and the sunny side, but I got to tell you, people in Scranton know different. People in Fort Wayne, Indiana, know different. I mean, this economy is struggling. The answer to this economy is not more taxes.

Governor’s Pence comment is interesting, because every policy decision has economic repercussions, which involve a shift from the previous equilibrium – often creating winners and losers. It is the role of good government to maximize the positive outcomes and minimize the negative effects. This is usually achieved through prudent use of income redistribution through taxation of the winners.

Donald Trump proudly insists that not paying his share of taxes makes him smart. While there had been hints that the details from his unreleased tax records would be controversial, the fact that he spent years without paying any tax didn’t come out until after the first debate. I’m sure that this will continue to be a big issue in subsequent debates.

I was taking notes while I watched the first presidential debate on Monday, September 26th. Unsurprisingly, the takeaway from the debate was very subjective: Clinton supporters viewed it as a clear win for Hillary; likewise, Trump supporters saw it as a victory for him.

At the end, most of the polls that I saw gave the debate to Hillary and general polls – both national and state, saw a bounce of few percent in Hillary’s direction.

Almost all sources acknowledge that while the first third of the debate was decent and balanced, what followed was an almost complete disintegration on Trump’s part. It got to the point where it was almost impossible to follow his arguments. This also speaks to a wildly held opinion that Trump’s short attention span might be a serious issue for him. I agree on both counts.

Nor am I alone in thinking that Trump was acting as a bully  when he interrupted and talked over both Hillary and the moderator at every opportunity.

There was plenty of fact checking available both during and immediately following the debate. The part that interests me more is certain unverifiable claims. For example:

Trump asked Obama not to pardon Hillary but she was never charged with, much less convicted of any crime. (Jenna Johnson – The Washington Post – Friday, September 30, 2016)

“Mr. President, will you pledge not to issue a pardon to Hillary Clinton and her co-conspirators for their many crimes against our country and against society itself?” Trump said to a cheering audience in this Detroit suburb on Friday evening.

He added: “No one is above the law.”

Trump “promised” to use Bill Clinton’s infidelities against Hillary in the next debate: “Hillary Clinton was married to the single greatest abuser of women in the history of politics,”

That claim, “single greatest abuser of women in the history of politics” is a whopper of a charge, especially when you consider that it counts back many thousand years when ancient societies first started to form governments. How can you possibly refute this kind of generalization? One could start by trying to disprove that Bill Clinton abused women at all, or by finding someone with a worse record, but part of the problem is that he’s not even the one running for office right now.

I have discussed the importance of refutability when presenting any statement as an objective description of reality (October 27, 2015), in the same way that it is vital to Popper’s definition of the scientific method (June 18, 2012). For me, arguments and claims that cannot be refuted are much worse than false arguments because unfortunately they stick better.

Now let’s look at the first debate itself, using the full transcript via the New York Times. I will try to take my examples from the time period when most agree Trump was still coherent.

Trump’s two strongest topics, according to his adherents, are trade and immigration. Trade was discussed prevalently within our focus time frame but the first debate hardly referenced immigration.

One of Trump’s main campaign themes is that our country is in a big mess since President Obama took office; a total failure. He includes Hillary Clinton in his summation of the administration, even though she has not participated in Obama’s second term:

Our country’s in deep trouble. We don’t know what we’re doing when it comes to devaluations and all of these countries all over the world, especially China. They’re the best, the best ever at it. What they’re doing to us is a very, very sad thing.

So we have to do that. We have to renegotiate our trade deals. And, Lester, they’re taking our jobs, they’re giving incentives, they’re doing things that, frankly, we don’t do.

Let me give you the example of Mexico. They have a VAT tax. We’re on a different system. When we sell into Mexico, there’s a tax. When they sell in — automatic, 16 percent, approximately. When they sell into us, there’s no tax. It’s a defective agreement. It’s been defective for a long time, many years, but the politicians haven’t done anything about it.

He also claims that we are experiencing the worst revival in history:

TRUMP: Typical politician. All talk, no action. Sounds good, doesn’t work. Never going to happen. Our country is suffering because people like Secretary Clinton have made such bad decisions in terms of our jobs and in terms of what’s going on.

Now, look, we have the worst revival of an economy since the Great Depression. And believe me: We’re in a bubble right now. And the only thing that looks good is the stock market, but if you raise interest rates even a little bit, that’s going to come crashing down.

We are in a big, fat, ugly bubble. And we better be awfully careful. And we have a Fed that’s doing political things. This Janet Yellen of the Fed. The Fed is doing political — by keeping the interest rates at this level. And believe me: The day Obama goes off, and he leaves, and goes out to the golf course for the rest of his life to play golf, when they raise interest rates, you’re going to see some very bad things happen, because the Fed is not doing their job. The Fed is being more political than Secretary Clinton.

Since he has been kind enough to give us parameters, let’s try to refute this argument with some data:

Table 1 compares the economic performance of the US with four other major developed countries, as well as with Mexico and China.

Country GDP Growth Rate (%) – 2015 GDP/Capita – 2015 ($) GDP Growth Rate (%) – 2009 GDP/Capita – 2009 ($)
Canada 1.1 43,296 -2.95 40,774
France 1.2 35,928 -2.85 41,577
Germany 1.7 41,278 -5.6 41,514
Japan 0.5 32,283 -2.85 39,062
US 2.4 55,919 -2.8 47,059
China 6.9 7,956 9.2 3,835
Mexico 2.5 8,661 -4.7 7,607

Table 1 – Economic performance of major developed countries and China and Mexico during President Obama’s presidency (based on Worldbank data)

The US looks like the best performer in the bunch. China made a lot of progress but started from a much lower level. China’s performance during the Republican presidency was actually considerably stronger than its present performance. The US economy is far cry from a state in “deep trouble” and clearly has not been in the hands of “incompetent stewards” since 2009. In other words, Trump’s loud global slogan is empty of facts.

The second issue that is very close to my heart is Trump’s comment on the development of sustainable energy choices. Here was Trump’s take on the matter during the first debate:

TRUMP: She talks about solar panels. We invested in a solar company, our country. That was a disaster. They lost plenty of money on that one.

Now, look, I’m a great believer in all forms of energy, but we’re putting a lot of people out of work. Our energy policies are a disaster. Our country is losing so much in terms of energy, in terms of paying off our debt. You can’t do what you’re looking to do with $20 trillion in debt.

The Obama administration, from the time they’ve come in, is over 230 years’ worth of debt, and he’s topped it. He’s doubled it in a course of almost eight years, seven-and-a-half years, to be semi- exact.

So I will tell you this. We have to do a much better job at keeping our jobs. And we have to do a much better job at giving companies incentives to build new companies or to expand, because they’re not doing it.

And all you have to do is look at Michigan and look at Ohio and look at all of these places where so many of their jobs and their companies are just leaving, they’re gone.

And, Hillary, I’d just ask you this. You’ve been doing this for 30 years. Why are you just thinking about these solutions right now? For 30 years, you’ve been doing it, and now you’re just starting to think of solutions.

On this one I will directly quote Paul Krugman:

Everyone has heard about how loan guarantees to one solar-energy company, Solyndra, went sour — at a cost, by the way, that amounted to only a bit more than half the amount Mr. Trump personally lost in just one year thanks to bad business decisions. Few people, by contrast, have heard about the green energy revolution that the administration’s loans and other policy support helped promote, with plunging prices and soaring consumption of solar and wind power.

Trump was talking about one instance: Solyndra. Here are the numbers on which Krugman is basing his comments:


Figure 1

renewable-energy-production-and-consumptionFigure 2

I will discuss immigration, trade, taxation, and other issues that came up in the first two debates next week. So far, based on Trump’s first debate and having listened to him carefully throughout his campaign, I find his opinions on all of the major issues as empty and baseless as the two that we analyzed here. You might disagree. I’d be delighted to hear your thoughts on the matter in the comments, so long as you accompany them with some reliable data.

About climatechangefork

Micha Tomkiewicz, Ph.D., is a professor of physics in the Department of Physics, Brooklyn College, the City University of New York. He is also a professor of physics and chemistry in the School for Graduate Studies of the City University of New York. In addition, he is the founding-director of the Environmental Studies Program at Brooklyn College as well as director of the Electrochemistry Institute at that same institution.
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