Guest Opinion: Trump plays to America's worries
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has chosen to heed his advisors about the need to make a conventional case as to why he should ascend to the Oval Office, not just woo voters with insults aimed at Hillary Clinton, the media and anyone else who irks him.
This has led him to give two speeches — the first about the economy, the second on foreign policy — meant to show that under the bravado and bile, he has some substance.
The Aug. 8 economic speech did nothing of the sort.
It had one interesting idea — allowing parents to deduct more of the costs of child care — surrounded by empty slogans about protectionism and the infinite glory of tax cuts.
A case can be made that the vast prosperity created by international trade hasn't benefited enough Americans and that we badly need programs to help displaced workers switch to new careers. But no amount of yelling can make the case for the argument that trade has been bad for the United States.
And a far stronger case can be made for tax reform that makes our tax code much simpler and that incentivizes economic investment than for more tax cuts.
But Trump's Monday speech about foreign policy is more difficult to dismiss.
It made the case that the world had become less safe under President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, his first secretary of state, and that the U.S. government is not nearly concerned enough about the prospect that Islamic terrorism of the sort that has become agonizingly routine in Europe could come to America.
It proposed a litmus test on tolerance for gays and support for women's rights for would-be immigrants that felt like it was the product of focus-group testing designed to draw attention to uncomfortable realities about laws in some Islamic nations.
The counterarguments to Trump's speech are many and obvious.
The overwhelming majority of Muslims in the U.S. are good citizens who shouldn't be demonized with far-reaching stereotypes.
If Trump values gay rights, why does he have such a fondness for Russia, which tolerates violence against gays and flaunts its extreme distaste for homosexuality with such flourishes as a 100-year ban on gay pride parades?
His talk of forming an international anti-terror coalition both ignores that such a coalition already exists and is difficult to square with his many declarations that the U.S. should stop playing world cop and should disengage with nations that don't pay us protection money.
Nevertheless, his speech acknowledges the very real anxieties of tens of millions of Americans.
A June poll showed 50 percent of Americans — and 37 percent of Clinton supporters — backed Trump's call for a temporary ban on Muslim immigration.
If our elected leaders want to be constructive, they need to address this mass anxiety head on. Dismissing it as the product of bigotry and ignorance only helps the Trump narrative that America's political establishment looks upon a roiled world with "closed eyes" — and looks upon a vast swath of Americans with contempt.