(Bloomberg View) – Donald Trump says it all the time: “We don’t win anymore.” If you got all your economic news from the presumed Republican nominee, you’d think U.S. businesses hadn’t added any new jobs or accomplished anything worthwhile since sometime in the Johnson administration. Americans nowadays, he keeps suggesting, are total losers.
While Trump’s rhetoric denigrates the achievements of U.S. companies and their millions of employees, his specific proposals are worse. They reveal a vision of the good economy as static, unimaginative and controlled from the White House. President Trump’s America is, despite the rhetoric, an economy with no place for winners.
Start with the candidate’s pettiest proposal: his not-so-veiled threat to unleash antitrust regulators against Amazon to punish CEO Jeff Bezos, who owns The Washington Post, for the newspaper’s negative coverage of his campaign. To serve his personal agenda, Trump would rewrite U.S. antitrust doctrine. Forget protecting consumers from cartels; he would instead protect businesses from competition. And he would side with foreign governments against an American winner.
Like Google and Facebook, Amazon is under attack by European antitrust regulators. If Trump were really the economic nationalist he plays on TV, he would be defending these U.S. stars.
But in his picture of the economy, these companies simply don’t count, perhaps because they weren’t around during his 1980s business heyday. Trump is neither pro-market nor pro-business, the usual Republican choices. He’s just pro-Trump.
He’s also oblivious to most U.S. success stories. On just about any list of excellence — the most admired companies, the most valuable brands, the world’s supply-chain leaders — U.S. enterprises dominate. Nike has even surpassed long-time champion Louis Vuitton as the world’s most valuable apparel brand, a triumph for American culture as well as a U.S. business.
The chemists coming up with new products at 3M or Procter & Gamble are no more important to Trump than the FedEx and UPS drivers delivering packages, the longshoremen offloading cargo at the ports of Long Beach and Charleston, the animators creating new films for Pixar, or the buyers finding bargains for T.J. Maxx. Whether you work for a U.S. company or a foreign company with U.S. operations, if you’re a successful player in a global supply chain, you simply don’t exist to him.
This is a candidate who promised to bring big steel back to Pittsburgh without considering why it disappeared. In Trump’s version of the economy, the only threat to established industries comes from diabolical foreigners and stupid U.S. trade negotiators.
(Never mind that Chinese steelmakers already face nearly 500 percent punitive tariffs for corrosion-resistant products, with more tariffs for other types of steel potentially on the way.) He can’t imagine disruption that comes from changing demand or better ideas.
In Trump’s America, there were no mini-mills reinventing American steel, and taking market share from the old stalwarts, by recycling scrap into lower-cost, increasingly valuable products. In Trump’s America, there were no auto companies lightening their cars by reducing the amount of steel they contain — no Ford betting big on aluminum trucks, certainly nobody thinking about carbon fiber.