Flash: Donald Trump is/was a womanizer, a braggart and a crass materialist. Flash: Hillary Clinton is a Kleptocrat, congenital liar and enabler of abuse. Perhaps these realities are new to you—unlikely. Perhaps you use demonstrated moral character as a signaling device for how a candidate will act in office or whether they will abuse their power. If this is the case, you have a difficult and, perhaps, traumatic choice. It may be hard for you, as it is for me, to vote for someone who you cannot look up to or tell your children to emulate. However, Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton will be our next President.
Choosing a third party alternative may seem virtuous, however, in this election, none of the third party candidates has distinguished themselves or presented a viable alternative. Not being able to name a single world leader is, for me, disqualifying. Maybe you believe the Detroit Free Press’ drivel that Hillary is the accomplished choice. Accomplished at what –enriching herself through the implied or explicit abuse of public trust? Mature? Yes, if you mean set in long established patterns of concealment and lying. Perhaps you believe the Free Press’ fantasy statements that Hillary has brought America back to being a world leader that is looked to for direction. Grandiose statements unanchored by facts are always a giveaway. Look to Russia and the Crimea, a Middle East in flames, an emboldened Iran, an Asia terrified by developments in the South China Sea and in North Korea; or a Europe undergoing an existential threat as a result of our country failing to hold to a redline. No, this is a tough choice. Failing to choose between amputation and death is not noble.
Life generally consists of imperfect choices. Failing to act because neither choice is good is not leadership. In this election, both candidates have displayed weaknesses in character, which undermine their ability to lead. Yet, one will be President. I believe stark differences in their pronounced policies provide direction.
In broad terms, Trump supports lower taxes and shrinking the federal government. Clinton supports higher taxes and increasing government and regulation. If you are suspect of both candidates, perhaps placing less of the economy under their control is generally preferred but perhaps not dispositive.
Specifically, Trump has called for a major reduction of the corporate tax rate to 15 percent from 35 percent. At 35 percent, the United States has the highest corporate tax rate in the industrialized world. This tax rate has led to a growing number of huge multinationals moving their headquarters overseas. Multinationals locate operations where they are likely to provide the highest after tax return to their shareholders. The United States makes it worse by taxing activities in foreign countries upon the return of profits to the United States. This anomalous tax treatment, shared by no other major industrial country, according to the Harvard Business School’s Competiveness Project, has led to between $2 and $3 trillion of “stranded profits” which multinational corporations will not bring back to reinvest in the United States.
Trump has called for the elimination of this repatriation tax. This would bring a large surge of reinvestment in the United States. This proposal will expand the economy. It will increase corporate activity in the United States, creating jobs and profits. Unfortunately, it will likely disproportionately benefit the wealthiest individuals and could have negative effects on the deficit. Mr. Trump has addressed these concerns by calling for the elimination of the carried interest deduction. This arcane sounding deduction, sometimes called the billionaires loophole, provides leveraged buyout specialists, venture capitalists and hedge fund managers, who obtain huge compensation for investing other people’s money, to receive the bulk of their compensation for their labors at preferred capital gains rates rather than at the normal higher rates applied to earnings derived from ordinary labor, a perverse policy which provides no efficiency incentives or distributional benefits while costing billions and goes only to a very wealthy few.
Both candidates support this multibillion-dollar reform but mysteriously, the preference, which benefits primarily rich buy out and venture fund managers located in the blue states of California, New York, Illinois and Massachusetts, remains. The reform would help fund the reductions in corporate taxes that Trump proposes. The difference, Trump claims, would be made up by growth and elimination of other non-identified preferences. While voters can argue over amounts and the breadth of the tax reduction, almost all bipartisan economists support reduction of corporate taxes to spur the economy.
Hillary Clinton’s proposal on taxes moves in a different direction. She would like to increase taxes on the wealthy, and would increase estate taxes on the super wealthy and increase government involvement in all aspects of the economy, in particular, health care, finance and energy.
The differences in policy are mirrored on energy policy. Ms. Clinton calls for more regulation and increased direct investment by government. She advocates a world in which the United States leads the world in renewable energy.
Mr. Trump wants less involvement by government in picking winners and losers and less regulation. He cites the failures of Solyndra, Abound Solar, Ecotality and others to demonstrate the weakness of crony capitalism, which would surely thrive under a Clinton Administration. He mocks a policy that calls for greenhouse gas reduction while inhibiting fracking, which, through its resultant increase in natural gas production, has led to the greatest decrease in greenhouse gas emissions in the industrialized world. Here, as with other issues, there are logical arguments on both sides of the issue. The point is, the policy differences are stark and there are clear choices. Your choice, in general, will be driven by whether you think more or less government involvement is required and whether this will lead to increased welfare for the country. There are nuances, of course, but the basic choice is clear.
Here again, the differences are stark. Ms. Clinton calls for a more globalist strategy Mr. Trump advocates for a more nationalist viewpoint. Both arguments are logical; branding one strategy or the other as crazy and un-American smacks of the same hysteria, which greeted Ronald Reagan as a “bedtime for Bonzo moron” on foreign policy.
Ms. Clinton’s outreach to Muslim countries and enhanced refugee operations for Syrian immigrants, combined with a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, has a sound basis in logic as does Mr. Trump’s call for a moratorium on refugees from Syria and other terrorist hotspots, as well as his call for strong enforcement of borders. The effort to demonize one or the others position as hateful, un-American or stupid is not helpful. There is a clear difference with different consequences and strategies. You can make a strong argument for EITHER over the other. The key point is that there is a clear choice.
In general, there is plenty to dislike about both parties’ nominee and their moral character. Whether we like it or not, we will have a President whose moral character is not what we wish our children to emulate. Maybe that in itself is a good lesson. Maybe we need to recalibrate our measures of success. That is an essay for another day. There may be some on either side of this debate who believe their candidate’s character to be exemplary. I humbly suggest that they have drunk too much koolaid and should be ignored. One of these two imperfect beings will be our next President.
Fortunately, they are both smart. They have both been successful. Surprise, they are both flawed. I see the infirmities and conceit of both candidates and recognize the framers’ drive to limit power as pure genius. I am not so naïve as to think we do not need a strong government or regulations. No meaningful candidate is proposing that. The question is direction. There is a clear choice to be made. The infirmities of the candidates have clarified my choice. I for one will vote to limit rather than expand the reach and power of government. I will vote for Donald Trump.
Sandy Pensler is a Michigan businessman, chemical engineer, manufacturer, attorney, and former economics teacher at Yale University.