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Joseph Sabino Mistick

Joseph Sabino Mistick: The promise of politics

| Saturday, May 19, 2018, 2:33 p.m.
Elaine Chao, United States Secretary of Transportation, left, speaks at the Infrastructure Week DC Kickoff Event at The Presidential Suite at Union Station on Monday, May 14, 2018, in Washington.
Elaine Chao, United States Secretary of Transportation, left, speaks at the Infrastructure Week DC Kickoff Event at The Presidential Suite at Union Station on Monday, May 14, 2018, in Washington.

Promises made, promises broken. Now that Republicans and Democrats have settled their family feuds and chosen their candidates for the November general election, the upcoming campaigns will be all about promises.

There is the big promise, the one that most of us still believe, the sweeping one about the land of opportunity and the American Dream. Alexis de Tocqueville, in “Democracy in America,” explained the American Dream as “the charm of anticipated success.”

But, there are other promises, too, the ones about the paths to the American Dream, the real stuff of American elections. Like it or not, many of the upcoming midterm elections will be about the promises made by Donald Trump, for better or worse.

This is where Democrats are sure to pounce.

In his 2015 book, “Crippled America,” Trump argued that we must invest in rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure. He cited a Senate Budget Committee estimate that this could create 13 million jobs. These would be jobs for Americans who want nothing more than a fair day's pay for a fair day's work.

While campaigning in 2016, Trump said, “When I see the crumbling roads and bridges, or the dilapidated airports or the factories moving overseas to Mexico, or to other countries for that matter, I know these problems can all be fixed, but not by Hillary Clinton. Only by me.”

Trump has been right on infrastructure all along. But, so far, it has been a broken promise.

Last week was Infrastructure Week, a chance for everyone with a stake in rebuilding America to draw attention to our problems. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh made the case for infrastructure investment.

They cited a 2014 International Monetary Fund study that shows a $3 return for every dollar that a country spends on infrastructure. They linked this to an American Society of Civil Engineers' call for $2 trillion “to repair, renovate or replace water lines, public schools, bridges and mass transit systems.”

Better yet, this is not a partisan issue. The AFL-CIO and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have teamed up for years to ask for federal investment in our crumbling infrastructure.

This should be a no-brainer for Trump, a chance to stand by those who stood by him. Instead, as Trumka and Walsh write, he has proposed cutting the federal “contribution to infrastructure projects from 80 percent to 20 percent, quadrupling the burden on cash-strapped cities and states.” That means that nothing can happen.

There are other broken promises sure to become campaign issues.

Trump promised to create a health care system “better than any other country anywhere in the world.” After failing to deliver, he said, “Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.”

And he promised to “drain the swamp,” but simply restocked it with swamp creatures of his own choosing.

These are all openings for Democrats. And, they may have been irresistible political pitfalls for Trump.

As Edmund Burke described it, “Hypocrisy can afford to be magnificent in its promises, for never intending to go beyond promises, it costs nothing.”

Joseph Sabino Mistick is a Pittsburgh lawyer (

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