Donald Trump’s 15-year-old book on public policy reveals what kind of president he’d be

notebook illustration of donald trump

Trump on the benefits of bombing North Korea, putting more people in jail, and taxing the hell out of millionaires.

“Let’s cut to the chase,” insisted Donald Trump. “Yes, I am considering a run for the presidency of the United States.”

Trump didn’t write those words three months ago. He wrote them 15 years ago.

In 2000, Trump was toying with the idea of seeking the Reform Party nomination for president. Encouraged by people like then-Minnesota governor and former professional wrestler Jesse “The Body” Ventura, Trump teased the idea in the media for a while, but abandoned the effort to Pat Buchanan, whose biggest contribution to the 2000 race was accidentally receiving the votes of a handful of elderly Jews in Florida thanks to a confusingly designed ballot.

The most interesting thing to come out of Trump’s dalliance with dreams of the Oval Office was a book entitled The America We Deserve. Written with the help of author Dave Shiflett, it’s a 304-page compendium of policy proposals for a theoretical Trump administration. With Trump’s current place atop the pile of GOP 2016 candidates, it’s worth going back and looking at exactly what he advocated for a decade and a half ago.

While the book is packed with stream-of-consciousness self-aggrandizement, self-mythologizing, and a nearly chapter-long appreciation of Oprah, it’s also the most complete record that exists of the intellectual and policy foundations of the Republican party’s current standard bearer.

It’s important to note that this book was written in 2000. There was no financial crisis, no 9/11, no second Iraq War, no Obama Administration. Not everything he wrote about is still entirely relevant, nor necessarily representative of his positions today; however, most of the major issues haven’t changes in the past 15 years. Washington is still arguing over tax cuts, China, and the solvency of Social Security.

This is what Trump thinks America should do:

Vice

Trump writes that he is completely straight-edge, and has been for his entire life.

I’ve never taken drugs of any kind, never had a glass of alcohol. Never had a cigarette, never had a cup of coffee…I’ve never had a drink in my life because of my older brother Fred Jr.’s trouble with alcohol. He was handsome, brilliant, the nicest guy in the world. But he got into alcohol and it destroyed his life.

He advocates making alcohol producers directly liable for the negative effects their products have on the lives of people who abuse them, such as alcoholics and those killed by drunk drivers.

For a country that has such an excess of regulation…it’s interesting that we often don’t regulate the right businesses. Think about whiskey. I don’t know why everyone’s suing tobacco companies—though they’re terrible—and leaving alcohol companies alone…You have terrible auto accidents because of alcohol, thousands killed. Taxing alcohol companies isn’t enough; I’d like to see them forced to take responsibility.

Education

Trump argues the biggest problem with the American educational system is its focus on students’ emotional states.

The people running our public schools, like people at the upper echelons of a lot of segments in our society, don’t want to damage a student’s self-esteem. They’re concerned about ’empowerment.’ They’re worried kids will feel bad if they get a problem wrong or flunk a spelling test. It’s better, these people think, to pat a kid on the head and praise his ‘creative spelling’ than point out that there is a traditional name of people with poor spelling skills. We call them illiterates.

He also points the finger at teachers’ unions, insisting they’re the major force blocking “school choice” programs that would give public school parents more flexibility in where their kids go to school and increase the quality of schools across the board through greater competition.

The Brotherhood of Blackboard Workers wants to keep the door closed to competition. That way they can run things as they choose, without review. And we’ve got to bring on the competition—open the school-house doors and let parents choose the best school for their children. Education reformers call this school choice, charter schools, vouchers, even opportunity scholarships. I call it competition—the American way.

Crime

Among the current crop of 2016 Republican candidates, Trump stands out as having the toughest rhetoric on crime. While many of Trump’s primary opponents like Kentucky Senator Rand Paul and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie have called for major criminal justice reforms and labeled the mass incarceration triggered by the War on Drugs a failure, Trump has consistently advocated in favor of law-and-order crime policies that effectively ignore the rights of offenders.

Unless we stand up for tough anti-crime policies, they will be replaced by policies that emphasize criminals’ rights over those of ordinary citizens…We need to establish a zero-tolerance policy toward anyone who is getting in the way of the safer America we deserve…It’s time for the real underdogs—you and me—to get up on our hind legs. We must be the perpetrators in a movement to reclaim our streets and neighborhoods, to be able to breathe freely, knowing our kids are safe.

Arguing that much of the threat from crime was based on demographic trends, Trump predicted, inaccurately, that crime rates would spike in the 2000s.

What government and the press don’t like to say is that most serious crime experts believe rates will skyrocket in 2000 because there will be more adolescent boys around, and adolescent boys are especially dangerous.

He also asserted that the United States—which accounts for 5 percent of the world’s population and a quarter of its prisoners—isn’t jailing enough criminals.

For the most part, you have to be a longstanding criminal to qualify for jail…America doesn’t use prisons much more than any other civilized nation…The next time you hear someone saying there are too many people in prison, ask them how many thugs they’re willing to relocate to their neighborhood. The answer: none.

Trump argued strongly in favor of the death penalty for convicted murderers, charging that for those who have committed the most heinous crimes, prisons have far too many amenities.

I totally reject the idea that hanging these sorts of criminals [like the ones who dragged James Byrd Jr. to death] is uncivilized. They’ve taken an innocent life, so they should have to give theirs in return. That’s the very least they can do. They don’t deserve to be put into a prison where they can spend their time working out, reading, watching television, earning advanced degrees, filing bogus lawsuits, and ever getting married. For this type of person, prison is a social promotion…I don’t care if the victim is a CEO or a floor sweeper. A life is a life, and if you criminally take an innocent life you’d better be prepared to forfeit your own.

Linking criminality to the parenting of low-income families, Trump argued for putting more strings on governmental assistance programs.

We can start by making it clear to teenage mothers that they aren’t going to get public assistance unless they jump through some pretty small hoops. Some people suggest making them live in group homes or live under some kind of adult supervision. That makes sense.

Guns

Trump is in favor of some moderate restrictions on access to firearms.

I generally oppose gun control, but I support the ban on assault weapons and I also support a slightly longer waiting period to purchase a gun.

Foreign policy

The core of Trump’s foreign policy program is that the United States has been far too willing to make diplomatic concessions. A more bellicose foreign policy across the board, he argued, would help the United States achieve more of its international goals.

Americans look into the mirror and see big-hearted citizens of the world’s only superpower. We’ve got a lot to brag about. We protect other nations when they’re in trouble. We lead the world in foreign aid. We’re everyone’s favorite trading partner, we take in refugees and immigrants at a million or so a year, we bail out insolvent governments and prop up weak ones, we mediate intractable disputes. We have standing armies and jet fighter squadrons and fleets the world over—we do it all. A lot of the time we don’t even bother to send a bill. This generosity leads to very poor dealmaking.

An example is nuclear nonproliferation, which he largely discounts as a waste of time that runs counter to America’s strategic interests.

Even during the Cold War, our diplomats were constantly falling over themselves to make goodwill offerings at the bargaining table, as if the problem were to convince our adversaries of our pure and noble intentions. We’re flirting with the same kind of mistake now in debating the nuclear nonproliferation treaty. All the major powers may sign such a treaty, but no one will obey it. I oppose such agreements for the same reason I oppose gun controls—when weapons are banned, only the outlaws have them.

Much of the chapter about foreign policy is devoted to China, which Trump viewed as America’s chief international rival. He argued against cutting trade deals with China and charged that the country’s poor human rights record should be a warning sign for dealing with the Chinese government in any capacity, regardless of the potential economic benefits stemming for increased trans-Pacific trade.

Where I break rank with many business colleagues, and foreign-policy gurus, is in my unwillingness to shrug off the mistreatment of China’s citizens by their own government. My reason is simple: These oppressive policies make it clear that China’s current government has contempt for our way of life. It fears freedom because it knows its survival depends on oppression. It does not respect individual rights. It is still, at heart, a collectivist society. As such, it is a destabilizing force in the world, and should be viewed that way…[We should] identify China for what it is: a growing military threat abroad and an oppressive regime at home. Let’s not pretend we’re dealing with anything less.

When it comes to the unpredictable regime leading North Korea, Trump argued for taking a more aggressive stance—doing whatever necessary to prevent the country from obtaining nuclear weapons, even going as far as a preemptive military strike against North Korea’s nuclear facilities.

What would I do in North Korea? Fair question. It’s easy to point out the problem, but what should be done to solve it? Am I ready to bomb this reactor? You’re damned right. …As an experienced negotiator, I can tell you that negotiation with these madmen will be fruitless once they have the ability to lob a nuclear missile into Chicago, Los Angeles, or New York. I don’t advocate thermonuclear war, but if negotiations fail, I advocate a surgical strike against these outlaws before they pose a real threat.

Attacking North Korea, he asserted, would have far-reaching benefits for America’s image across the globe.

A surgical strike would not only put out the fire in North Korea, but it would also send a message around the world that the United States is going to eliminate any serious threat to its security, and do so without apology.

Trump called for taking a similarly active role against the Castro regime in Cuba and against any sort of normalization of relations with the Communist nation.

The first time Castro leaves Cuba for any nation that we have extradition treaties with, he should be detained, arrested, and extradited to the United States for indictment and trial on charges of murder and terrorism…Fidel is a criminal. Let’s treat him like one.

Even so, the Trump doctrine reserves military intervention exclusively for situations where the United States has a clearly defined, tightly-drawn strategic interest. Goals, like stopping an ongoing genocide, he asserts, don’t clear the bar for the deployment of U.S. military power.

Humanitarian concerns, which are sometimes represented as working in our ‘national interest,’ are not good enough reasons in themselves for deployment of forces…We have no business, and certainly no right, to intervene in conflicts just because we don’t like to see innocent people being killed or dislocated.

Immigration

The central plank of Trump’s 2016 campaign has been a nativist opposition to immigration—both legal and undocumented. His stance remains largely unchanged from 2000.

Immigrant advocacy groups have no business rising up in protest, demanding special rights, services and privileges. We can’t allow ourselves to welcome outsiders out of kindness. If people enter this country by disregarding our laws, can we be confident that they will suddenly become law-abiding citizens once they arrive?…Let’s be extremely careful not to admit more people than we can absorb. It comes down to this: We must take care of our own people first.

Trade

Citing his own extensive history negotiating business deals, Trump pledged to personally take the lead on all trade negotiations.

What I would do if elected president would be to appoint myself U.S. Trade Representative; my lawyers have checked and the president has this authority…Our trading partners would have to sit across the table from Donald Trump and I guarantee you the rip-off of the United States would end.

Terrorism

Writing a year before the 9/11 attacks, Trump spends much of the book stoking fears about potential terrorists attacks. While he paints the motivations of terrorists with the same “they hate our freedom” brush that President George W. Bush would use shortly thereafter, he also pointed to blowback from America’s military adventurism abroad as a cause of anti-American sentiment.

The number of potential attackers grows every day. Our various military adventures—some of which are justified, some not—create new legions of people who would like to avenge the deaths of family members or fellow citizens. It is one cost of peacekeeping we should keep in mind.

Trump’s solution for fighting terrorists was a vast expansion of the size and scope of the intelligence community. To pay for that, Trump proposed a novel idea.

I bet if I started a national-defense lottery, with money earmarked for preventing terrorism against U.S. cities, we would take in enough money to hire and train every spy on Earth and still have enough money to spare. Imagine this for a second: The (Trump) National Security Lottery would sell tickets just like in a Powerball Lottery, but dedicate every cent to funding an anti-terrorism campaign. Talk about a good reason to buy a lottery ticket.

Taxes

Of everything he covers in the book, Trump goes into the most detail with his proposal to reform the tax system, which he asserts would spark a “35-40 percent boost in economic activity.” The core of Trump’s tax plan is a immediate transfer of wealth from the very rich to the middle class.

I would impose a one-time 14.25 percent tax on individuals and trusts with a net worth over $10 million…That would raise $5.7 trillion in new revenue, which would we use to pay off the national debt….We would save $200 billion in interest payments, which would allow us to cut taxes on middle-class working families by $100 billion a year.

He would take the rest of the money generated from the tax on the wealthy and inject it into the Social Security Trust Fund. Trump’s plan also involves having the federal government cease issuing bonds.

When we pay off the national debt, we would retire all government bonds. People would be able to invest in free enterprise instead of investing in government.

While Trump’s plan would hit the very rich hard up front, and he says he would personally lose $700 million if it were enacted, the extremely wealthy would see significant benefits later on by scrapping both the inheritance tax and the tax on capital gains, although he framed the latter as primarily aimed at helping the middle class.

My proposal would also allow us to entirely repeal the 55 percent federal inheritance tax, which hurts farmers, small businessmen, and women most…We have a tax system that punishes the middle class for wanting to join the investment class. First we pay taxes when we earn money. Then we pay again when the money is invested and we make capital gain.

Social Security

When it comes to Social Security, Trump is particularly scathing, calling it a “a huge Ponzi scheme” that’s soon to fall apart. His fix: privatization.

The solution to the Great Social Security Crisis couldn’t be more obvious: Allow every American to dedicate some portion of their payroll taxes to a personal Social Security account that they would own and invest in stocks and bonds. Federal guidelines could make sure that your money is diversified, that it is invested in sound mutual funds or bond funds, and not in emu ranches.

Heathcare

“I’m a conservative on most issues but a liberal on this one,” Trump insists. “We should not hear so many stories of families ruined by health-care expenses.” 

That assessment is largely accurate. While Trump pushes the unfettered free market as a solution for most problems, he was open to more government-intermediated solutions when it comes to healthcare—including giving serious consideration to a Canadian-style single-payer model.

However, his first goal in reforming American healthcare is to decouple it from employment.

We need a change in the tax code that would give groups and individuals tax breaks for health insurance that are equivalent to those that corporations now receive. This would allow ordinary citizens to buy coverage that compliments their company policy and gives them more of what they need. It would also give them the option to jettison the company policy altogether and just buy their own insurance.

He would combine that with giving families refundable tax credits to cover the cost of insurance plans based on their household income. He also proposed something that looks a lot like the government-run exchanges that sit at the heart of the Affordable Care Act.

Some analysts are pushing the idea of health marts, which would treat private-sector employees much like public-sector people. Health marts would create a group of approved plans for employees or independents to select from. This would give them control over their health care decisions.

Campaign finance

Trump asserted the dissatisfaction most Americans feel with their political system stems from how campaigns are financed, leading politics to become too beholden to the interests of their largest and most active donors. However, he doesn’t like proposals that would directly limit donations or create a public financing system for campaigns.

Political contributors don’t corrupt the system by giving too much. They corrupt the system by being able to act in secret…The way to fix American politics is not to limit donations but to make sure that those donations and the donor are on the public record…Financing campaigns purely through public funding—that is with tax money. This is wrong for a couple of reasons. As the Founders pointed out, there is one word to describe the act of forcing citizens to support a person or cause they reject: tyranny.

Instead, he advocated for banning soft money donations—a relic of the pre-Citizens United era that allowed donors to give an unlimited amount of money to campaigns, which would then be funneled to individual candidates—as well as eliminating all donation limits and expanding disclosure requirements.

I believe that Americans should know immediately who is giving what to whom. If we have full participation, we should also have full and fast disclosure…You can learn a lot more about a politician from knowing who put the money in his pocket than you can learn from what he or she might happen to chirp from a podium…We should pass legislation that would require campaigns to electronically post donors and donations at the close of each business day.

Disclosure only functions as an effective check on lawmakers if the public is consistently aware of the donation information those disclosures contain. On that front, Trump has a particularly entertaining suggestion.

What I would add…would be a running line at the bottom of the [TV news] screen listing the day’s, or perhaps the week’s, donations—like the stock ticker that runs at the bottom of financial network telecasts…Imagine, for example, Al Gore delivering a wimpy speech on movie violence as the ticker pointed out the big lump of Hollywood gold that had dropped in his pocket that afternoon.

When it comes to his own personal fundraising, Trump made a number of pledges, including entirely self-financing his campaign.

If I ran for the nomination I would refuse federal matching funds. If I were nominated I would accept federal funds. I would refuse to grovel for campaign cash from any special interest. I would spend from my own funds whatever it took to win.

His own seriousness as a candidate

Trump seemed to have a pretty good idea of how his candidacy would be treated by the media.

Let’s face it, if I run it will be a boon to the political cartoonists and late-night talk-show hosts. But I can take it.

Illustration by Max Fleishman

Layer 8
Donald Trump drags Mark Zuckerberg into immigration fight
This is one area Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders seem to agree
From Our VICE Partners

Pure, uncut internet. Straight to your inbox.