A View from Alabama

by Philip A. Watts

Philip A. Watts

Phil Watts learned some early life lessons as a paperboy on the Southside of Birmingham, where he grew up. His education continued at Auburn University, where he earned a mechanical engineering degree and made lifelong friends in his Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity. Later he earned an MBA from Samford University and served in the U.S. Army.

Licensed as a professional engineer, he cofounded Control and Power, Inc., an industrial distribution business in 1959. He retired from that business in 2011. His interests over the years have included handball, bicycling, canoeing, snow skiing, and reading. He is a longtime member and Sunday School teacher at Southside Baptist, an all-inclusive church in Birmingham, where he still lives. He is married and has three children and two grandchildren.

Phil wrote for business purposes throughout his career, along with occasional personal pieces. He became more serious about his writing after the infamous escalator ride at Trump Tower in 2015. His essays on life and politics circulated to his circle of friends for several years. Beginning in September 2019, they began to appear as regular features on The Op-Ed Page at

His latest column


The cost of Trumpism to Americans and to the world goes far beyond the normal economic dollars and cents accounting measurements. In addition to the economic costs, there are other costs that are much more serious than a simple economic calculation.

I’m thinking of the cost of alienation between family members and between friends; the cost of broken norms in our political system; the cost to our government agencies due to Trump trashing or discounting their work; the cost to business because of Trump’s chaotic policy pronouncements and reversals; the cost that anxiety takes on our society because nothing with Trump is ever really settled; the cost to our allies because Trump can’t be trusted to support agreed on policies; the cost in a dangerous world of increasing tensions with Iran, while Russia, N. Korea, and China wage cyber war against us, with nary a whimper of complaint, or even an acknowledgement from Trump.

I used to see my Trumpite brother on at least on two occasions each year. When our older brother was alive, we three celebrated an annual “brothers” weekend. Although now we occasionally talk on the phone, I haven’t seen him in over three years. Siblings are in the unique position of shared memories that date back to early childhood. We have both passed the octogenarian mark; so, time is running out on any ability to go back to how things were in the pre-Trump era.

We are friends with a married couple, he a Trumpite and she non-political. Her sister, a never Trumper, will no longer come to visit her because of conflicts with her husband over politics. Then, there are those families who still socialize but with the Trump elephant always in the room, making everyone happy to just end the evening without a fuss. How many times must these examples be replicated in a country of 340,000,000 people? I think everyone would agree the cost of Trumpism on friends and family relationships is huge.

Our political system is broken. Any attempt by Republicans to cooperate with Democrats is viewed by Trump as a betrayal, so he retaliates with threats of having them “primaried”. As a result, dozens of Republicans have either resigned from office or declined to run again when their terms expire. The upshot is a more radicalized Republican office holder who views his or her job as supporting Trump rather than serving the country. What’s the cost of that change in attitude?

US Government agencies, like the Federal Reserve and our security agencies are under constant attack from our boy President. The Federal Reserve, led by a Trump appointee, is charged with managing monetary policy in the long-term best interests of our country. Trump is only interested in his best interests. Trump has placed our Federal Reserve alongside President Xi’s China as our enemy. In the case of our security agencies, the men and women who are charged with protecting us, he has simply ignored their warnings about ongoing efforts by Russia, China, and N. Korea to undermine our elections and further divide our people. I just hope these dedicated Americans won’t get discouraged about Trump’s lack of support for their efforts to protect us. We live in a dangerous world. When our President sides with our enemies over American agencies, how is that cost measured?

Our business community, including our farmers, must be going crazy over Trump’s tariff policies – threaten tariffs, put a hold on tariffs, impose tariffs, increase tariffs, decrease tariffs, eliminate tariffs. Now he’s ordering American companies to get out of China. Who’s paying for all this uncertainty? American businesses and farmers are paying of course; but the rest of us are paying too. That cost has been estimated to be $1000.00 per US family per year.

Trump’s policy reversals are an ongoing expense. Here are a couple of examples. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has stopped bringing bills to the Senate floor unless the White House guarantees that Trump will sign them. McConnell has been bitten before. Trump has said he would sign particular legislation but retreats after getting pushback from a powerful entity, like the NRA. After the most recent mass shootings Trump said he would support background checks for everyone. A couple of days later, after talking to Wayne Lapierre, he backed off.

The G-7 countries have learned the same lesson. President Macron of France, this year’s host, announced there would be no joint communique after the meeting, avoiding any argument over the details with Trump, and avoiding the risk of Trump criticizing the communique on the flight home after it was signed. The G-7 was designed to showcase the unity and strength of the world’s richest and most powerful democracies. Recognizing that G-7 unity with Trump present is a mirage; Macron decided that the meeting would best be just a photo op until Mr. Trump passes into political oblivion.

What’s the best guess of the cost of Mr. Trump’s frequent flip-flops?

Since the end of WWII, thousands of dedicated Americans have devoted their lives to building a peaceful democratic world order and they have been wildly successful. During that seventy-four-year era, the world has enjoyed peace and prosperity like no period in history. Germany, Japan, S. Korea, along with many other countries, are now confirmed democracies dedicated to world peace. Trump has challenged or withdrawn from agreements designed to maintain and add to those successes. His basic argument has been “America is doing more than its share and I’m going to fix that”. Trump’s shallow mind is unable to distinguish between pure self-interest and enlightened self-interest. As the world’s leading democracy we have more to gain from peace and prosperity than any other country. It is up to us to lead by example. If we show generosity other countries will be generous too. If we look at everything as a deal to win or lose everyone else will too, and where will that lead us? – to conflict and mistrust; the opposites of peace and prosperity. Are there numbers large enough to measure that cost?

Trump likes chaos and the anxiety it creates, presumably because it makes him feel powerful and thus feeds his narcissism. Everyone else, including his own staff and his party, yearn for the sense of stability and continuity, both internally and internationally, that the President of the United States normally provides.

It’s probably a good thing that we can’t put a dollar figure on the damage Trump is causing. I’m sure the number would be so high that, upon seeing it, Americans would feel as impoverished as any third-world country that Trump so often disparages.

See Phil’s past columns.