Trump Stays in His Comfort Zone: Infrastructure as a Business

Improved infrastructure has always been a crucial and minimally controversial policy platform of Donald Trump’s bid for the presidency. Though his proposed policy has been overshadowed by the xenophobic and sexist statements that marked his campaign, Trump has always had a vested interest in improving the country’s infrastructure for two reasons. One: it allows for the nationalist rhetoric that marked his campaign to finally manifest itself in a plan that will mobilize American workers and the economy. Two: the plan will increase privatization in the infrastructure world, which is a victory for the Republicans and anyone skeptical of the government, as Trump supporters tend to be.

What is the scope of this infrastructure plan? Trump has pledged to invest upwards of one trillion dollars into infrastructure, which is a sum far greater than any past president has ever accomplished.

Who could be upset with that promise? Infrastructure is, for the most part, an issue upon which even the most partisan politicians can agree. More capital invested into infrastructure is, arguably, a good thing. Better roads, tunnels and bridges would shorten commutes and prove well worth their value in the long run. Improved infrastructure, such as new water pipelines, could have prevented the contamination tragedies that beset Flint, MI and other towns near fracking zones. For Trump supporters, infrastructure plans uphold the nationalist rhetoric of “Making America Great Again” by boosting the growth and development of the American empire. For Trump opponents, the plan also avoids any of the previous ethical dilemmas of controversial travel bans or health care reform. What could go wrong?

Trump’s infrastructure proposal, unlike many of his campaign promises, also has historical relevance. In the World War II period, American infrastructure served as the model for the rest of the world and European cities in particular crippled by the lightning war. The possibility of a one trillion dollar infrastructure plan is enticing and also reminiscent of the nationalism that fuelled the postwar  expansion of American culture. So, when Trump proclaimed during his inauguration: “we’re going to rebuild our infrastructure, which will become, by the way, second to none!” he relied upon a historical framework, namely, the post-WWII nationalism that accompanied the rapid development of American infrastructure and culture.

Infrastructure improvements would live up to Trump’s promise to “Make America Great Again!” Once again, Trump’s generalized platitude interferes with clear thinking, namely, what infrastructure is going to be made great again? When we as a society idly converse about infrastructure, we forget several crucial elements and biases–that is, one man’s idea of infrastructure is always different from another’s. With this in mind, President Trump may advance infrastructure projects that benefit the few and neglect other projects that affect far more Americans. To clarify, President Trump’s understanding of infrastructure extends beyond roads, bridges and tunnels. It also includes institutions such as hospitals, housing and schools. In other words: real estate.

This does not come as a surprise, as it seems the seventy-year-old former real estate tycoon is simply following the  maxim: “do what you know.” Trump’s long-term relationship with real estate implies how his infrastructure operation will be carried out. Trump is extending the privilege of infrastructure development to other businessmen such as himself because, if this infrastructure plan gets underway, much of the funding will be done by private companies.

So what does this imply? Should an infrastructure plan proposed by the federal government be carried out by the government itself? Or would companies that are geographically located near areas that require development perform more efficiently than the government? Either way, the operation will be profitable. Private companies won’t invest millions to billions of dollars in infrastructure out of pure generosity. They will want to own that infrastructure–and they will pay for it with alleged massive future tax credits–82% of the down payments. What this means is that corporations will become owners of America’s interconnections; the nexus of roads, tunnels, hospitals and other municipal projects will be increasingly privatized. Whether or not this plan coincides with one’s position on privatization, it will certainly limit the oversight of the federal government. The plan, which could possibly slow the growth of the federal government budget for years to come, would represent a  victory for Republicans.

Readers may also be asking: how will Trump fund this plan? There are currently $167 billion in private infrastructure investments, far short of the one trillion dollar plan Trump proposed. Though private companies would own a majority of the infrastructure under Trump’s plan, the federal government will still want a piece of the pie and will have to use its own funds. But how will the government amass those funds? The reader’s first reaction is hopefully defensive because of the obvious answer: it will come from taxpayers.

Authors of the plan argue that taxpayers won’t be affected by it because its cost will be offset by the new revenue generated from the improved infrastructure. However, this claim only accounts for the revenue generated in the long run; in the short run, the plan will have to be funded by taxes if it is to be as grand as President Trump has proposed. This is concerning news considering Trump’s tax plans have been vague to say the least, and the administration likely won’t be courting many of the private companies looking to invest in infrastructure; rather, the same American populace that voted him into office will pay the bill.

Another concern: how will people in regions with failing infrastructure respond to the plan? Are their neighborhoods prioritized in the rebuilding process? Will saving Flint, for example, yield more of a net gain for contractors than building a bridge toll on a major highway? What about other contaminated towns sequestered in a fracking zone?

While we can all agree that infrastructure is an important project for the country, we must recognize the optimism and fantasy inherent in a one trillion dollar financing.  If infrastructure was always that easy to fund and fix, the government would have done it already. However, lofty infrastructure plans have always proved fickle and difficult to enact especially without national approval. Perhaps this is how former President Barack Obama also failed to enact his infrastructure plan despite its being an opportunity for job creation in the wake of the 2008 economic recession. Let us hope that if Trump does get this project off the ground, it won’t be because another recession or a third World War catalyzed the action. •