Don't worry about the other races being too easy. It sounds like you have lots of growing room with your current difficulty. You should try a game at sucidal just to see how insanely fast the races move out. The game is very hard to beat on the highest difficulty and the AI *will* kick your butt if you're not managing every resource to the nth degree.
Approval should only be an issue in the early game. Once you have a few morale resources, you should be able to run taxes at 79% except when cranking up approval to 100% for short periods to quickly build population. You can also lower taxes just prior to an election then raise them back up after you win. On the Civ Manager government page, it tells you how many weeks till the next election. One oddity with the morale ability, it has a cap. AFAIK, it's the only abilty that is capped in the game. The cap was added later. Before the cap, it was possible to get your morale ability high enough to run taxes at 79% and still get 100% approval on most of your planets.
The neutral morale bonus really helps early game, but yea, if you don't research ethics early, that advantage is much less of a help.
I agree trade is weak economically. It's best used for diplomatic purposes. Lining routes with economy bases with trade modules installed helps, but it's still not worth the number of constructors it takes.
Tourism income can be a big help, especially when "should we fully open the tourism market" passes at a UP meeting. There's also a random event that doubles tourism income, that helps a lot too.
Yea, properly managing the tax slider is key.
There's a noticable difference in the AI with tech trading on and off. They're stronger with it enabled. It also makes the game more interesting.
The MCC is a game winner. Yea, that alone justifies going evil.
Running one farm with more economy buildings versus two farms and several entertainment buildings is like 6 of one, half dozen of the other. Higher populations make more money, but so do more economy buildings. However, higher overall population helps score so on higher quality planets, run two farms and a few entertainment buildings.
You can do a lot with the sliders. Knowing how to use them properly makes more difference than anything else. It takes a few games, but you pick it up.
I put all my points in economy and morale first as well. Creativity is a good one. You can win a tech here and there for free. It can make a huge difference when you score one that's going to take a number of turns to research.
I always use Federalist, again, economy rules.
Yea, this game is lots of fun, been playing off and on since Dread Lords was first released and I've played both expansions quite a bit as well.