Arizona Senator John McCain: The American Legislator

October 20, 2017

The Essential Arizona Senator John McCain: The American Legislator

by David Brooks

The moral fabric of society is invisible but essential. Some use their public position to dissolve it so they can have an open space for their selfishness. McCain is one of the strongest reweavers we have, and one of our best and most stubborn teachers.–David Brooks

It turns out that John McCain’s most important service to American democracy was not rendered in a P.O.W. camp in Vietnam. It’s being rendered right now in the U.S. Senate.

In the first place, McCain seems to be the only member of Congress who insists on holding hearings and working toward compromise before passing major legislation. This would seem to be the very elemental prerequisite of good government — like a doctor seeking a diagnosis before performing surgery — but McCain appears to be the only member, or at least the only Republican, willing to risk unpopularity to insist upon a basic respect for our sacred institutions.

Second, McCain is one of very few Republicans willing to stand up for the American story. Human beings can be rallied around one of three things: religion, tribe or ideals.

Donald Trump and the campus multiculturalists want to organize people by ethnic tribe, which has always been the menacing temptation throughout our history. But McCain seeks to preserve our traditional rallying point — our ideals. My colleague Bret Stephens has already quoted from McCain’s speech on Monday at the National Constitution Center. I’d encourage you to read the whole thing because this should be the rallying cry around which the nation rediscovers its soul.

Third and most important, McCain still believes that paideia is essential for democracy. Paideia is the process by which we educate one another for citizenship. Paideia is based on the idea that a healthy democracy requires a certain sort of honorable citizen — that if we’re not willing to tell one another the truth, devote our lives to common purposes or defer to a shared moral order, then we’ll succumb to the shallowness of a purely commercial civilization, we’ll be torn asunder by the centrifugal forces of extreme individualism, we’ll rip one another to shreds in the naked struggle for power.

As the brilliant Spanish philosopher Javier Gomá Lanzón reminds us, most moral education happens by power of example. We publish the book of our lives every day through our actions, and through our conduct we teach one another what is worthy of admiration and what is worthy of disdain.

Public figures are the primary teachers in this mutual education. Our leaders have outsize influence in either weaving the moral order by their good example or ripping it to shreds by their bad example.

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McCain’s career has had its low moments, as all of ours do — a banking scandal, Sarah Palin — but he exemplifies a practical standard of excellence to an extraordinary degree: enduring in Vietnam, seeking compromise legislation on everything from immigration reform to campaign spending, condemning torture after 9/11.

Moreover, I don’t think there’s another politician now living who devotes so much of his speeches to little biographies of his own exemplars, people like James Stockdale, Bud Day, Morris Udall and Master Sgt. Roy Benavidez. He has turned his own heroes into educational resources for his country, and used them to evangelize our national ideals.

These sorts of testimonies help weave a shared moral order, which is necessary to unite, guide and motivate a diverse country.

That is an essential bulwark in the age of Trump. That is what needs rebuilding. Books will someday be written on how Trump, this wounded and twisted man, became morally acceptable to tens of millions of Americans. But it must have something to do with the way over the past decades we have divorced private and public morality, as if private narcissism would have no effect on public conduct.

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It must have something to do with the great tide of moral libertarianism from Herbert Marcuse on down. This tide taught that progress meant emancipating the individual from shared moral orders. It taught transgression was always delightful and that morality was individual and optional.

The acceptability of Trump must also have something to do with millions of religious voters being willing to abandon the practical wisdom of their faiths — that what exists inside a person is more important than what is external, that no bad tree yields good fruit, that you should never trade spiritual humility for worldly ferocity because in humility there is strength and in pride there is self-destruction.

We’ve reached a point in which the tasks of paideia have been abandoned and neglected. “One could say,” Gomá writes in his book “Public Exemplarity,” “that we are looking for the ideal of a virtuous republic composed of citizens relieved of the burden of citizenship.”

It’s not working out. Gomá continues, “In a time of freedom such as ours marked by subjectivism and vulgarity, a tolerance not tempered by virtue will lead inevitably toward barbarism.”

Barbarism and vulgarity we have in profusion. Through his daily utterances, Trump is influencing the nation in powerful ways, but none would call it paideia. Few would say he is spreading a contagion that we’d like our children to catch.

The moral fabric of society is invisible but essential. Some use their public position to dissolve it so they can have an open space for their selfishness. McCain is one of the strongest reweavers we have, and one of our best and most stubborn teachers.

Deja Voodoo–Trump’s Tax Reform

October 20, 2017

Deja Voodoo–Trump’s Tax Reform

by Joseph E. Stiglitz*

A Trump administration staffed by plutocrats – most of whom gained their wealth from rent-seeking activities, rather than from productive entrepreneurship – could be expected to reward themselves. But the Republicans’ proposed tax reform is a bigger gift to corporations and the ultra-rich than most had anticipated.

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NEW YORK – Having failed to “repeal and replace” the 2010 Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), US President Donald Trump’s administration and the Republican congressional majority have now moved on to tax reform. Eight months after assuming office, the administration has been able to offer only an outline of what it has in mind. But what we know is enough to feel a deep sense of alarm.

Tax policy should reflect a country’s values and address its problems. And today, the United States – and much of the world – confronts four central problems: widening income inequality, growing job insecurity, climate change, and anemic productivity growth. America faces, in addition, the need to rebuild its decaying infrastructure and strengthen its underperforming primary and secondary education system.

But what Trump and the Republicans are offering in response to these challenges is a tax plan that provides the overwhelming share of benefits not to the middle class – a large proportion of which may actually pay more taxes – but to America’s millionaires and billionaires. If inequality was a problem before, enacting the Republicans’ proposed tax reform will make it much worse.

Corporations and businesses will be among the big beneficiaries, a bias justified on the grounds that this will stimulate the economy. But Republicans, of all people, should understand that incentives matter: it would be far better to reduce taxes for those companies that invest in America and create jobs, and increase taxes for those that don’t.


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After all, it is not as if America’s large corporations were starved for cash; they are sitting on a couple of trillion dollars. And the lack of investment is not because profits, either before or after tax, are too low; after-tax corporate profits as a share of GDP have almost tripled in the last 30 years.

Indeed, with incremental investment largely financed by debt, and interest payments being tax-deductible, the corporate tax lowers the cost of capital and the returns to investment commensurately. Thus, neither theory nor evidence suggests that the Republicans’ proposed corporate tax giveaway will increase investment or employment.

The Republicans also dream of a territorial tax system, whereby American corporations are taxed only on the income they generate in the US. But this would only reduce revenue and further encourage American companies to shift production to low-tax jurisdictions. A race to the bottom on corporate taxation can be prevented only by imposing a minimum rate on any corporation that engages in business in the US.

America’s states and municipalities are responsible for education and large parts of the country’s health and welfare system. And state income taxes are the best way to introduce a modicum of progressivity at the subnational level: states without an income tax typically rely on regressive sales taxes, which impose a heavy burden on the poor and working people. It is thus perhaps no surprise that the Trump administration, staffed by plutocrats who are indifferent to inequality, should want to eliminate the deductibility of state income taxes from federal taxation, encouraging states to shift toward sales taxes.

Addressing the panoply of other problems confronting the US will require more federal revenues, not less. Increases in standards of living, for example, are the result of technological innovation, which in turn depends on basic research. But federal government support of research as a percentage of GDP is now at a level comparable to what it was 60 years ago.

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While Trump the candidate criticized the growth of US national debt, he now proposes tax cuts that would add trillions to the debt in just the next ten years – not the “only” $1.5 trillion that Republicans claim would be added, thanks to some growth miracle that leads to more tax revenues. Yet the key lesson of Ronald Reagan’s “voodoo” supply-side economics has not changed: tax cuts like these do not lead to faster growth, but only to lower revenues.

This is especially so now, when the unemployment rate is just over 4%. Any significant increase to aggregate demand would be met by a corresponding increase in interest rates. The “economic mix” of the economy would thus shift away from investment; and growth, already anemic, would slow.

An alternative framework would increase revenues and boost growth. It would include real corporate-tax reform, eliminating the tricks that allow some of the world’s largest companies to pay miniscule taxes, in some cases far less than 5% of their profits, giving them an unfair advantage over small local businesses. It would establish a minimum tax and eliminate the special treatment of capital gains and dividends, compelling the very rich to pay at least the same percentage of their income in taxes as other citizens. And it would introduce a carbon tax, to help accelerate the transition to a green economy.

Tax policy can also be used to shape the economy. In addition to offering benefits to those who invest, carry out research, and create jobs, higher taxes on land and real-estate speculation would redirect capital toward productivity-enhancing spending – the key to long-term improvement in living standards.

An administration of plutocrats – most of whom gained their wealth from rent-seeking activities, rather than from productive entrepreneurship – could be expected to reward themselves. But the Republicans’ proposed tax reform is a bigger gift to corporations and the ultra-rich than most had anticipated. It avoids necessary reforms and would leave the country with a mountain of debt; the consequences – low investment, stalled productivity growth, and yawning inequality – would take decades to undo.

Trump assumed office promising to “drain the swamp” in Washington, DC. Instead, the swamp has grown wider and deeper. With the Republicans’ proposed tax reform, it threatens to engulf the US economy.

*Joseph E. Stiglitz, recipient of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 2001 and the John Bates Clark Medal in 1979, is University Professor at Columbia University, Co-Chair of the High-Level Expert Group on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress at the OECD, and Chief Economist of the Roosevelt Institute. A former senior vice president and chief economist of the World Bank and chair of the US president’s Council of Economic Advisers under Bill Clinton, in 2000 he founded the Initiative for Policy Dialogue, a think tank on international development based at Columbia University.His most recent book is The Euro: How a Common Currency Threatens the Future of Europe.


McCain-The Hedgehog–Honor First for America

October 19, 2017

It isn’t hard to guess who John McCain had in mind when, in a speech on Monday at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia — the finest speech of his storied political career — he denounced the “half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems.”

It’s easy to guess, too, the names of the Senate and House Republicans Stephen Bannon had in mind when, at a Values Voter Summit in Washington over the weekend, he declared “a season of war against the G.O.P. establishment.”

McCain and Bannon are the antipodes of the Republican Party. The institutionalist versus the insurgent. The internationalist versus the America Firster. The maverick versus the ideologue.

Above all, the hedgehog versus the honey badger.

The hedgehog, said the Greek poet Archilochus, knows one big thing. McCain knows honor. He refused early release from prison camp in Hanoi to save his honor. He reproved Republican voters for calling Barack Obama an Arab in 2008 to save his party’s honor. He championed the surge in Iraq when it was least popular, to save the country’s honor.

He paid for all of it and will be remembered as a giant among dwarves because of it.

Right now, McCain, his allies and their ideas appear to be a waning force in the Republican Party. They are RINOs, cucks, and “globalists.” Many of them, like Tennessee’s Bob Corker, will retire rather than face bruising primary challenges from the ever-farther right. On Monday McCain called America “the land of the immigrant’s dream,” and said: “We live in a land made of ideals, not blood and soil.” To a large and growing segment of the G.O.P., which thinks magnanimity is for losers, these statements amount to a form of treason.

The honey badger, by contrast, will do anything to get what it wants. It is wily, nasty and has as much use for honor as a pornographer has for dress. In the 2016 presidential campaign, according to biographer Joshua Green, Bannon treated white supremacists as useful fellow travelers and urged Donald Trump to persist in what seemed to many to be his use of anti-Jewish tropes. Later he waged a smear campaign against H.R. McMaster on the grounds that the national security adviser was anti-Israel.

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Donald Trump and his pet Honey Badger (Steve Bannon)

For the honey badger, it’s whatever works: anti-Semite one day; Israel’s make-believe champion the next. Bannon is the most revolting operator in American political life since Roy Cohn. He is also the most consequential one.

In his speech, Bannon asked of the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell: “Who’s going to be Brutus to your Julius Caesar”? Caesar was stabbed 23 times on the floor of the Roman Senate on the 15th of March, 44 B.C. John Wilkes Booth also invoked Brutus from the stage of Ford’s Theatre after he had assassinated Lincoln, the father of the Republican Party. This is what now passes for acceptable speech among the G.O.P.’s “values voters.”

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Bannon thinks he can get away with this because he already has. He did so to spectacular effect last year with Donald Trump, and again last month in Alabama with Judge Roy Moore. He will run this play as often as he can, whether his candidates win or lose. The goal isn’t to win elections but to purge the party and remake it in Bannon’s image. He wasn’t kidding when he told historian Ronald Radosh in 2013 that he’s a “Leninist.”

It also helps Bannon that the Roll-Over Republicans who might oppose him lack the political courage to do so. Winston Churchill said of the neutral countries in World War II, “each one hopes that if he feeds the crocodile enough, the crocodile will eat him last.” Think of Paul Ryan as the moral equivalent of Norway.

What might stop Bannon? Nobody should expect G.O.P. invertebrates to ever gain a spine. But Judge Moore is in a dead heat with Doug Jones, his Democratic opponent, in what should be the easiest Republican cakewalk of the season. Even the stupid party might remember its Senate nominations of Delaware’s Christine “I’m not a witch” O’Donnell and Missouri’s Todd “legitimate rape” Akin.

But parties need more than just the spur of defeat to give voters a sense of moral belonging and political purpose, and in his speech Monday McCain did that:

“We live in a land made of ideals, not blood and soil. We are the custodians of those ideals at home, and their champion abroad. We have done great good in the world. That leadership has had its costs, but we have become incomparably powerful and wealthy as we did. We have a moral obligation to continue in our just cause, and we would bring more than shame on ourselves if we don’t. We will not thrive in a world where our leadership and ideals are absent. We wouldn’t deserve to.”

This is the finest expression of the American cause uttered by any major political figure in a generation. It could yet serve as a rallying point for a Republican Party that can save itself from dishonor, win its share of elections, and stand up to the honey badgers who mean to pillage it.


Stress-Testing American Democracy: Nine Months of President Trump

October 19, 2017

Despite his promise to “Make America Great Again,” Trump has delivered practically nothing except chaos, bombast, and division. As long as he occupies the Presidency, an office for which he is blatantly unsuited, he will continue to chip away at the country’s foundations. Right now, only his Cabinet colleagues and the Republicans on Capitol Hill have the power to bring this great ordeal to an end. There is little sign of them summoning the necessary will and courage to act.

Stress-Testing American Democracy: Nine Months of President Trump

On Friday, Donald Trump will have been in the Oval Office for nine months. In some ways, it feels like it’s been longer. (Can you remember life before Trump tweets?) And it’s become harder to step back from the daily madness and consider what Trump’s record means for the U.S. and its future. But maintaining that perspective is necessary if we’re to keep track of what matters amid the feuds, spats, meltdowns, and turmoil that are the Trump Administration.

There are two sides to the story. If we consider Trump’s Presidency a stress test for American democracy, the system has responded pretty well, hemming him in, challenging him, and frustrating some of his more illiberal designs. But there are worrying signs, too. Every day Trump remains in office, he further polarizes the country and diminishes its international standing. And, as he contemplates the looming reality of being written off as a Presidential failure, there is no knowing where his demons will lead him.

With the notable exception of the Republican Party, most of the institutions of state and civil society have responded forcefully to Trump. The federal courts knocked down his first two anti-Muslim travel bans. The Justice Department appointed a special counsel after Trump fired James Comey, the director of the F.B.I. Intelligence officials have leaked damaging information about Trump’s associates and their dealings with Russian officials. The military command, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, successfully leaned on the President to support Article 5 of the NATO treaty. Even inside the Trump White House—which Senator Bob Corker has deemed an “adult day care center”—staffers “spend a significant part of their time devising ways to rein in and control the impetuous president,” as the Washington Post reported on Monday. Stories like this emerge virtually every day. The U.S. media, which Trump labelled an “enemy of the people” shortly after he took office, has never been so energized. Outside Washington, meanwhile, there is a large popular resistance movement that the President single-handedly spurred into being. In addition to riling up traditional supporters of the Democratic Party, he has drawn into activism a lot of people who previously didn’t think of themselves as very political. Even in a democracy beholden to large interest groups, determined public engagement can still have a big effect—for an example, look at the Republican Party’s failure to repeal Obamacare.

That is the plus side of the ledger. If the question, on Inauguration Day, was whether American democracy would prove to be bigger than a President Trump, the answer, so far, is largely in the affirmative. However, it is no time to relax. Unless Trump resigns or is removed from office, he will have at least thirty-nine more months in power. (And a lot longer if he gets reëlected.) The key question is how much damage he will have done by the time he is gone.

Although his legislative agenda has so far proved a bust, he’s making progress (by his lights) in other ways. Last week, the White House took several steps to sabotage the Obamacare insurance exchanges. This week, Trump’s modified and open-ended travel ban will go into effect. Neil Gorsuch, whom Trump nominated to the Supreme Court, has restored a conservative majority to the Court. And his appointees at agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Communications Commission, and the National Labor Relations Board are busy—largely away from the public view—rolling back regulations that addressed climate change, market competition, the new economy, and workers’ rights. Over time, these administrative changes will have a huge impact.

On the foreign-policy front, Trump’s advisers apparently persuaded him not to scrap the Obama Administration’s nuclear deal with Iran and settle, instead, for publicly disavowing it and tossing the issue to Congress. Given Trump’s prior rhetoric, that was a mildly encouraging development, but his isolationism and belligerence are alive and well. Under his leadership, the U.S. has pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Paris climate-change agreement, and UNESCO. NAFTA could be next. In the place of Pax Americana, we have what Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, calls “The Withdrawal Doctrine.”

And the national-security establishment hasn’t yet faced the ultimate test. A couple of weeks ago, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, virtually admitted that Trump was trying to persuade the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, that he is mad enough to launch a nuclear strike. In the internal logic of brinkmanship, it can perhaps make sense to sow doubt in your opponent’s head about whether you are fully rational. But what if Trump really is demented enough to order a preëmptive attack on Pyongyang? Would the three generals who serve as top Administration officials—Mattis; John Kelly, the White House chief of staff; and H. R. McMaster, the national-security adviser—be able to stop him?

It’s also terrifying to consider what Trump might do in response to an ISIS-inspired terrorist attack on U.S. soil. In such a case, the country would be forced to mourn the victims while dealing with a President who in 2015 talked about forcing Muslims to carry special identity cards, raiding mosques without search warrants, and instituting mass surveillance in Muslim communities. He has also called for a return to torturing terrorism suspects.

Even if we are lucky enough to escape a deadly war or a terrorist atrocity, the cumulative impact of having Trump in the White House for another thirty-nine months, or possibly even longer, is hard to fathom. Since the first day of his Presidential campaign, he has been busy agitating against many of the norms associated with U.S. democracy. “It is frankly disgusting the press is able to write whatever it wants to write,” he told an interviewer last week. A day later, he talked about pulling emergency responders out of stricken Puerto Rico, whose inhabitants have been American citizens for a century.

To be sure, many of Trump’s utterances don’t come to much in policy terms. But that doesn’t excuse them, or mitigate the psychological onslaught he is unleashing on the American polity. The United States is a huge, heterogeneous country with deep social, racial, and economic fissures. To maintain unity, it has constructed an elaborate narrative (some of it based on myth) that everyone subscribes to the same basic values, and that everyone gets accorded equal treatment and respect.

Practically every day, Trump undermines this narrative, spewing forth a never-ending torrent of divisiveness and venom. When he isn’t targeting those he views as his political enemies—NBC News, CNN, the Times—he often lashes out at members of minority groups, such as black N.F.L. players or the mayor of San Juan. The racists and hatemongers see what he is doing, and they are encouraged. People who have witnessed other democracies fray and other divided countries come apart are looking on in dismay.

Despite his promise to “Make America Great Again,” Trump has delivered practically nothing except chaos, bombast, and division. As long as he occupies the Presidency, an office for which he is blatantly unsuited, he will continue to chip away at the country’s foundations. Right now, only his Cabinet colleagues and the Republicans on Capitol Hill have the power to bring this great ordeal to an end. There is little sign of them summoning the necessary will and courage to act.

China is winning the future. Here’s how.

October 15, 2017

China is winning the future. Here’s how.

by Dr. Fareed

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This week, the front page of the New York Times described the Trump administration’s repeal of the Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration’s attempt to slash carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants. “The war on coal is over,” declared Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt. Right under that article was an article from halfway around the world detailing China’s massive new investment in electric vehicles, part of Beijing’s determination to dominate the era of clean-energy technology. It is a tale of two strategies.

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The Trump administration has decided to move into a new century: the 19th century. Coal has been in decline for at least seven decades. In 1950, it accounted for half of all U.S. electricity generation. It is now down to a third. Additionally, massive automation of mining has meant that the jobs in the industry are disappearing, down from 176,000 in 1985 to 50,000 in 2017. Machines and software are replacing coal miners just as surely as in other industries. Demand for coal is weak because of alternatives, chiefly natural gas. In the past couple of years, many of the top American coal companies have been forced to declare bankruptcy, including the largest, Peabody Energy.

Despite President Trump’s policy shift, these trends are unlikely to change. Reuters found that, of 32 utilities in the 26 states that filed lawsuits over the Clean Power Plan, “the bulk of them have no plans to alter their multi-billion dollar, years-long shift away from coal.” The reason utilities are shedding coal is economics — the price of natural gas has plummeted in recent years, and its share of U.S. electricity generation has nearly tripled since 1990. In addition, costs are falling dramatically for wind and solar energy.

And, of course, coal is the dirtiest form of energy in use. Coal-fired power plants are one of the nation’s leading sources of carbon-dioxide emissions, and most scientists agree those emissions lead to global warming. They also cause terrible air pollution, with all its attendant health problems and costs.

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China will plough 2.5tn yuan (£292bn) into renewable power generation by 2020, the country’s energy agency has said, as the world’s largest energy market continues to shift away from dirty coal power towards cleaner fuels.–The Guardian

That’s one of the reasons China, which suffers more than a million deaths a year because of poor air quality, is making huge investments in clean energy. The country has become one of the world’s leading producers of wind turbines and solar panels, with government subsidies enabling its companies to become cost-efficient and global in their aspirations. In 2015, China was home to the world’s top wind-turbine maker and the top two solar-panel manufacturers. According to a recent report from the United Nations, China invested $78.3 billion in renewable energy last year — almost twice as much as the United States.

Now Beijing is making a push into electric cars, hoping to dominate what it believes will be the transport industry of the future. Already China has taken a large lead in electric cars. In 2016, more than twice as many were sold in China as in the United States, an astonishing catch-up for a country that had almost no such technologies 10 years ago. China’s leaders have let it be known that by 2025 they want 20 percent of all new cars sold in China to be powered by alternative fuels. All of this has already translated into jobs, “big league” as President Trump might say: 3.6 million people are already working in the renewable-energy sector in China, compared with 777,000 in the United States.

China is still heavily reliant on coal, which it has in plentiful supply, and it has tried to find steady sources of other fossil fuels. It went on a shopping spree over the past two decades, making deals for natural resources and energy around the world, often paying at the peak of the commodities bubble in the mid-2000s. But over time, it recognized that this mercantilism was a bad strategy, tying Beijing up with expensive projects in unstable countries in Africa. Instead, it watched and learned from the United States as technological revolutions dramatically increased the supply and lowered the cost of natural gas and solar energy. China has now decided to put a much larger emphasis on this route to energy security, one that also ensures it will be the world’s leading producer of clean energy.

Trump has often talked about how China is “killing us ” and that he’s tired of hearing about China’s huge growth numbers. He should notice that Beijing is getting its growth by focusing on the future, the next areas of growth in economics and technology. The United States under Trump will be engaged in a futile and quixotic quest to revive the industries of the past. Who do you think will win?