Straight Talk and Trump

Jim Prevor - The Fruits of Thought

Originally printed in the January 2018 issue of Produce Business.

Jim Prevor - The Fruits of ThoughtIn the New Year‭, ‬I find myself thinking of my time on the platform at Hunts Point‭. ‬It was one of the most important experiences in my life‭. ‬Among other things‭, ‬the memories of my experiences there help me to understand the Trump phenomenon‭, ‬because he expresses things bluntly‭, ‬in an unadorned way‭, ‬exactly the way most of the guys I worked with on the loading dock and sales platform‭ ‬of the market expressed things‭. ‬

The most insightful commentary on the President and his role in our culture has been expressed by Salena Zito‭, ‬a Pittsburgh-based writer who often writes for‭ ‬The Weekly Standard‭, ‬but it was in a piece for‭ ‬The Atlantic‭, ‬written during the campaign in which she explained the divergence between the media and Trump’s supporters‭. ‬

Trump had said at a rally that 58‭ ‬percent of black youth could not get a job‭. ‬But the Bureau of Labor Statistics put the number‭ ‬at 20.6‭ ‬percent‭. ‬However‭, ‬that unemployment rate does not include young blacks who were too discouraged to even look for work or‭ ‬who had decided to do something else‭ ‬‮–‬‭ ‬go to school‭, ‬say‭, ‬but would have rather had a job‭. ‬So‭, ‬Donald Trump elected to use the‭ ‬employment-population ratio‭, ‬which reports that only 41.5‭ ‬percent of blacks in that population cohort‭ ‬‮–‬‭ ‬ages 16‭ ‬to 24‭ ‬‮–‬‭ ‬are working‭ ‬‮–‬‭ ‬so 58‭ ‬percent are not‭. ‬But that number includes people in school and is thus problematic‭.‬

As Zito explained‭: ‬“It’s a familiar split‭. ‬When he makes claims like this‭, ‬the press takes him literally but not seriously‭; ‬his supporters take him seriously but not literally‭.‬”

There are moments when he seems wild‭, ‬impulsive and unhinged‭ ‬‮—‬‭ ‬tweeting about his finger on the nuclear button and so forth‭. ‬But‭, ‬then again‭, ‬a bi-partisan conventional diplomatic approach followed for decades through many Presidents just led to North Korea gaining nuclear weapons and ICBMs‭. ‬Is he impulsive or shrewd‭? ‬

It was said that only Nixon could go to China‭ ‬‮–‬‭ ‬only he had the anti-communist credentials to make that move and avoid the political blowback that would have been directed against‭, ‬say‭, ‬a liberal Democrat who tried the same thing‭. ‬Could it be the Korean leadership always knew that Presidents Obama‭, ‬Bush or Clinton were not going to drop a nuclear bomb on them‭? ‬Perhaps President Trump likes to look impulsive‭, ‬and perhaps the thought that his behavior can’t be predicted might lead Kim Jong-un to fear for his own life‭, ‬for those close to him‭, ‬and for his regime‭. ‬Perhaps‭, ‬that fear might lead him to negotiate‭.‬

Memories of my experiences (at Hunts Point market) help me to understand the Trump phenomenon.

A lot of the revulsion that many in the media and sophisticated circles have for Trump is aesthetic‭. ‬He likes steak well done and eats it with ketchup‭. ‬Even his famous tape with Billy Bush was not about forcing himself on women‭; ‬it was about his delight at‭ ‬what women allowed him to do since he was a star‭. ‬But it was crass and ungentlemanly to speak that way‭.‬

Evidence that the media is detached from much of America is the recent spate of truly bizarre articles‭, ‬news stories and books that treat Trump voters‭ ‬‮–‬‭ ‬remember Trump carried more than 80‭ ‬percent of all‭ ‬counties in America‭ ‬‮–‬‭ ‬like some hitherto unknown aboriginal tribe‭.‬

Although there are many Trump policies that many in the industry may question‭ ‬‮—‬‭ ‬immigration and free trade‭, ‬most notably‭ ‬‮—‬‭ ‬the recent tax cut will benefit many in the industry‭. ‬If it also boosts the economy‭, ‬it will be a big win for even more people and the country as a whole‭.‬

What is more‭, ‬the tax cut is not just a rate cut‭; ‬it is a structural reform of the type that will make Trump a consequential President‭. ‬In lowering the corporate tax rate‭, ‬it will lead to competitive reaction by other countries‭. ‬China already has announced‭ ‬an exemption for foreign companies that reinvest in preferred industries‭. ‬Although comparisons can be complicated‭, ‬and many small economies have lower corporate rates‭, ‬Germany‭, ‬France‭, ‬India and Australia are all now about 50‭ ‬percent higher than the U.S‭. ‬corporate rate‭. ‬They will start to lose appeal as locations for investment‭, ‬so these countries will respond‭. ‬That changes the world‭.‬

The capping of the deductibility of state and local taxes at‭ $‬10,000‭ ‬will create tremendous pressure domestically to restrain tax increases at the state and local level‭. ‬And this restriction‭, ‬combined with a cap of‭ $‬750,000‭ ‬on the principal amount of mortgages on which interest can be deducted‭, ‬will lead to less willingness to buy more expensive homes‭ ‬‮—‬‭ ‬all part of a plan to lead to more investment in production rather than spending‭.‬

As the protesters march in Iran‭, ‬they are shouting‭, ‬“Leave Palestine alone‭, ‬do something for us‭!‬”‭ ‬Or‭ ‬“No Gaza‭, ‬No Lebanon‭. ‬I will give my life for Iran‭.‬”‭ ‬Don’t these slogans sound an awful lot like an Iranian version of‭ ‬“America First‭,‬”‭ ‬and in rejecting both major political parties‭, ‬weren’t British voters saying the same in supporting Brexit‭? ‬All of these protests express a distrust that the political elite actually cares about them‭.‬

One doesn’t have to agree with Donald Trump or support his policies‭, ‬but one should not be blinded to understanding‭. ‬In business‭, ‬one of the most important things to do is not get caught in your own feedback loop‭. ‬You will miss opportunities and misjudge situations‭.‬‭ ‬There are few places better to learn that lesson than going to work every day with the truckers‭, ‬shippers‭, ‬competitors‭, ‬workers‭ ‬and customers that make up a terminal market‭.