Will Donald Trump Be A Good President?
Every president takes his (or her) own unique path to the White House, but the ascent of President-Elect Donald J. Trump has truly been unlike anything we’ve seen before. Trump has gone from rich kid to real-estate mogul, from bankrupt to “The Celebrity Apprentice,” and from leader of the birther movement to leader of the free world. And with no previous political experience, it’s fair to wonder whether the Oval Office will suit him.
So will President-Elect Donald Trump grab the bull by the “wherever” and fulfill his promise to “make America great again”? Or will we find ourselves worse off and wishing we could say, “You’re fired”? It can be difficult to put politics aside when contemplating such questions, especially so soon after such a contentious election, but our expert panel is up to the task.
In search of more insight into what we can expect from at least the next four years, we asked experts in the fields of economics, finance, public policy and more to answer one simple question: Will Donald Trump be a good president? All in all, thirteen experts say no, sixteen vote yes and five are on the fence. You can check out their responses below. And if you’d like to weigh in with a theory of your own, please share your thoughts in the Comments section at the bottom of the page.
Yes, Donald Trump Will Be A Good President
- "State elected officials like me are very excited about the opportunities ahead. That’s particularly true about prospects for cutting back the regulatory overload that has stalled our economy. The last eight years have brought mountains of red tape, keeping the private sector from creating jobs, threatening our energy independence, and leaving American entrepreneurship in a holding pattern afraid to move forward."
Lynn Fitch // Treasurer of the State of Mississippi & Chair of the State Financial Officers Foundation
- "I am optimistic about a Trump presidency. As an advocate for entrepreneurs and small businesses who has worked now through four Administrations, I have generally held an optimistic view when there is a change of leadership in the White House. It presents a new opportunity to work with new people to advance policies, new programs and solutions that will benefit entrepreneurship and small business growth."
Karen Kerrigan // President & CEO of the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council
- "In foreign policy, Trump has decades of experience in business negotiations, with his large fortune indicative of his skills therein. Reducing America’s role internationally does not, as his critics charge, equate to isolationism, nor does it mean abandoning America’s global leadership role. In fact, isolationism would run directly counter to Trump’s pledge to make America great again. By contrast with previous administrations, he would pick and choose what issues the United States becomes involved in, rather than expending its blood and treasure in draining and destabilizing conflicts whose spillover effects threaten to overwhelm Western values."
June Teufel Dreyer // Professor of Political Science at the University of Miami & Former Commissioner of the Congressionally Mandated U.S-China Economic and Security Commission
I don’t expect Donald Trump to enter the pantheon of Washington, Lincoln and Reagan, but my prediction is he will be one of our better presidents. I say this not as a Trump partisan: I supported another candidate in the primary and only decided to vote for Trump late in the game. Rather I base this conclusion on his success in business.
The campaign was by any measure unorthodox. President-elect Trump had never run for so much as a seat on the local school board yet alone a national office. His learning curve was steep and he chose to campaign on his own terms – and actually made it work. That resulted in a string of highly controversial missteps that almost derailed the campaign. But by the final three weeks, he stayed on script and allowed Hillary Clinton to self-destruct aided by the reignited F.B.I. investigation into her infamous e-mails.
Now, however, Mr. Trump returns to familiar ground. He is in charge of running a large enterprise. Yes, the size and scope of the federal government dwarfs even the Trump business empire. But, the skills necessary to run that far-flung business are easily translatable to government. We all know you can’t run government like a business (for it is not), but business principles certainly do apply.
As a Chief Executive Officer of a multi-national collection of business ventures, the president-elect has shown his ability to pick good people and delegate to them the power and resources necessary to succeed at their job. Such ability to judge talent will be enormously helpful as Mr. Trump builds his administration.
The early signs are encouraging. His selection of Indiana Governor Mike Pence as his Vice Presidential running mate brought conservatives into the campaign fold. But, more importantly, he gained a governing partner. Placing the Vice President-elect at the helm of the transition signals a major role for Governor Pence, who is both an experienced Washington hand and an accomplished Chief Executive in his own right.
President-elect Trump early tipped his hand at how he would govern by simultaneously announcing the appointment of Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus as Chief of Staff and campaign CEO Steve Bannon as a Special Assistant. That indicates the new president values the need for someone with insider experience while putting an outsider next to him to keep the populist fires that carried him into office burning brightly.
Many important positions remain to be filled, but already Mr. Trump has reached out to critics like Mitt Romney and Senator Ted Cruz, indicating he realizes he needs all parts of the Republican coalition if he is to tackle the very serious problems the nation confronts. Whether he builds a “Team of Rivals” remains to be seen, but their counsel is being sought.
From defeating ISIS to dealing with the national debt, the task ahead is daunting. The new President often said that politicians got us into the mess. The early signs give us reason to be optimistic that a businessman can put us back on the right track.
Trump and his unorganized band undertook a hostile takeover of the out of touch and sterile Republican Party. He gave that party a new vision and energy. Many of the new Republicans who joined up to support Trump feel that government screwed them with recent economic policies, pursued by both Democratic and Republican administrations. They look to Trump for a remedy. Trump will meet their expectations. The message of his recent YouTube video was about high paying jobs and rebuilding the middle class - that will require an active national government with protectionist trade policies and disguised government subsidies.
He won the 2016 election with the auto bailout states. After the election, Trump called the owner of Ohio coal company Murray Energy and told him, “I want to tell them, I’ve got their back and I will deliver.” Trump’s Republican Party will be reshaped by its new voters. Some Democrats, like legislators from West Virginia, will sign up for the Party of Trump; and Republicans who hold to the old axiom of no government is the best government will be left behind.
The media will fight Trump at every turn, as they did during the election. Trump and his minions know this. Trump enjoyed sticking his finger in their eye, pointing out that they are fading in subscribers and ratings. Many presidents have found ways around the media of their day to reach the public and deliver their message. Trump uses social media extensively to reach his public. The dumping of his press entourage to go to a family dinner is the first shot across the bow. The President-elect followed that with a YouTube video laying out his agenda, without interference or commentary from the despised establishment press. There will be much more of that.
Before Trump, the Republican Party was hollow. There was no organization. If there were any organization, other than a few eccentric and self-serving billionaires, they would have stopped Trump’s drive to the nomination. Parties cannot be rebuilt-- patronage jobs are gone. Trump will not rely on alt right fringe groups for ground support. In time, ideological groups’ demands cannot be met. There is a potent force he will build on.
Trump received a majority of the support of union households in Ohio. That was a first for a Republican presidential candidate. He also received the endorsement of the Fraternal Order of Police because blue lives do matter. President Trump will rebuild the middle class and have reliable foot soldiers for his new political movement. He will abandon the Republican Party’s war on unions and build alliances with organizations that support his agenda.
Under Trump, America will be doing less around the world, while being better equipped to advance a more narrowly defined and better prioritized set of national interests, such as the destruction of Islamic State within months, not years. UN-led globalism and ineffective multilateralism are out; what’s in are mutually beneficial bilateral relationships and, when necessary, unilateral action.
Rather than the Obama administration’s well-intentioned, idealistic, yet dangerously naïve thinking, Trump brings a worldly-wise approach to national security. He knows America must be militarily unassailable, hence his commitment to rebuilding her military.
Critically, he understands several timeless strategic lessons lost on recent presidents. Deterrence is everything; leadership can’t be overvalued; don’t pick unwinnable, unnecessary fights; have an actual strategy, not a collection of soundbites; a solution, be it military or diplomatic, requires an accurate threat assessment; don’t treat friends as enemies and enemies as friends; be secretive and unpredictable; and beware the economic cost of war.
Trump will practice the foreign policy Hippocratic Oath: first, do no harm. Unlike recent presidents, Trump won’t invade a country if first he must consult a map to find where it’s located. So, no more Iraq-type wars. Trump also will avoid taking sides in ancient religious wars, and he won’t attempt to pick winners and losers in other nations’ interminable civil wars. Obama’s Syrian suicide mission succeeded only in breathing life into Islamic State.
Trump understands who and what really threatens America. He won’t pretend that climate change is a more pressing threat to national security than radical Islamic terrorism. Under Trump, America will only fight wars she plans – and knows how – to win.
Unlike President Obama, Trump will listen to what our enemies tell us. Just because Islamic State terrorists are evil doesn’t mean they are lying when they tell us what they are going to do to us. Their track record says otherwise. The Trump administration also won’t give money and weapons to those who hate America and who spend our money attacking us, such as certain anti-Assad Syrian rebels. But, Trump will employ and adequately equip foreign “allies of circumstance”, such as the Kurds, to do what America cannot do abroad.
There will be no more Iran nuclear deal debacles, as Trump won’t negotiate from a position of weakness. The Iran deal appeased and enriched Tehran at great cost to Western security and Middle Eastern stability. America’s relationship with Tehran must and will be rethought. Trump knows political correctness is a luxury our national security cannot afford, which is why the Syrian refugee program will be revamped.
America’s fundamental foreign policy problem is a lack of leadership that has led to impotence. We need a “realistic warrior” as commander-in-chief, someone who will reapply the peace-through-strength deterrence model President Reagan employed so successfully. The signs are that Trump is that person.
To build the economy in order to create jobs, pay for needed upgrades of the nation’s deteriorating infrastructure, and reverse the decline in the military’s combat edge, Trump has suggested lowering the nation’s corporate tax rate, which is currently the highest in the developed world (at 35 %, with France at 33.3%, China 25%, UK and Russia 20%, Germany 15.83, Switzerland 8.6 according to OECD data). He has also proposed giving companies a one –time opportunity to pay just a ten percent tax to bring up $2.5 trillion in foreign profits overseas.
In foreign policy, Trump has decades of experience in business negotiations, with his large fortune indicative of his skills therein. Reducing America’s role internationally does not, as his critics charge, equate to isolationism, nor does it mean abandoning America’s global leadership role. In fact, isolationism would run directly counter to Trump’s pledge to make America great again. By contrast with previous administrations, he would pick and choose what issues the United States becomes involved in, rather than expending its blood and treasure in draining and destabilizing conflicts whose spillover effects threaten to overwhelm Western values.
His vow to stand up to China is long overdue. For too long, American foreign policy has been based on hope. The bipartisan consensus was that, given sufficient time and marketization, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) would evolve into a liberal democratic society. Since a prosperous China would be a peaceful China, whereas a poor China would be dissatisfied and prone to question the international system, it was incumbent on the United States to help the PRC to become prosperous. That has not happened. The Chinese leadership has used growing prosperity to tighten control over the economy and political system, while undertaking a massive military modernization program. It has asserted control over a self-demarcated 9-dash line in the South China Sea in defiance of the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s ruling that it is illegal and violates the rights of other claimants in the area.
China is also attempting to take over the Senkaku Islands, which it knows as the Diaoyu, from Japanese jurisdiction. Whether through failure of will or failure of ability, it has not reined in North Korea’s nuclear proliferation activities and may even have colluded in Iran’s. As a first step, Trump has announced that he will meet with the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader of Tibet, indicating that he does not intend to allow Beijing to dictate whom the United States may speak to.
China has also engaged in unfair trade practices that include rampant violation of intellectual property rights, illegal subsidies to its industries, dumping goods on the market at prices below the materials needed to make them, cyberespionage, and computer hacking. While the previous mantra has been that the United States must accommodate China since no solution to world problems, Trump seems to grasp that Beijing is a major part of the problem, not the solution. Contrast this with his opposition candidate’s plans to “continue the dialogue” and “deepen the conversation” with the Chinese leadership - methods that, after years of efforts, have yielded no results.
Donald Trump will be a good president.
June Teufel Dreyer is a Professor of Political Science at the University of Miami and formerly served as Commissioner of the Congressionally-Mandated U.S-China Economic and Security Commission. Her latest book is Middle Kingdom and Empire of the Rising Sun: Sino-Japanese Relations Past and Present, Oxford University Press, 2016.
And indeed, the nasty bickering and hand wringing that followed the voting—and the hysterical calls to dismantle the structures of this ancient Republic to suit the short-term ambitions of the factions that now appear to gasp power—all suggest the start of what passes for rectification campaigns in the U.S. From the day after that first Tuesday in November, the authority of both political parties shattered. The intelligentsia stood marked as substantially out of touch (both of the left and the right and within ivory tower, think tanks and among the chattering classes who inhabit news and social media), and the fault lines of social, ethnic, religious, economic, and sub-national divisions became much clearer.
It is only within that quite specific context, and at this stage in the development of our federal Republic, that we can intelligently and rigorously approach the question—“will Donald Trump be a Good president?” I would answer yes. To understand this answer it is necessary first to understand what I mean by “good president”, and then to see how Mr. Trump has the potential to fall within the parameters of that definition.
A good president is a person who is incapable of developing a viable personality cult around himself. The most dangerous presidents in this Republic are those whose personality far exceeded the constraints of their office. An individual who serves the office better serves the Republic than one for whom the office serves him (eventually her). A good president starkly serves as a mirror of ourselves—with all of our faults—and as a base for self-improvement. A good president is one that forces the nation to confront its own weaknesses and failures, and to rigorously confront the realities and limits of our ideologies, aspirations, methods and consequences.
A good president serves as a constant reminder that the nation is not dependent on the office of the president the way subject peoples are taught to believe in their dependence on their leaders. A good president reminds us constantly by the parade of his faults, ambitions, vanity, and service of personal agendas, both the value of fractured power within the federal government and the value of power sharing among the federal and state governments. In all these senses, Mr. Trump will be a good president.
I also met Eric Trump that day and exchanged emails with him. On the day of Trump's announcement of his running, I emailed Eric to say "I'm in - Trump for President!" And, I have spent every waking day since trying to get his father elected President of the United States.
As a nine-year elected office holder in Loudoun County, who has worked on myriad development proposals, I have learned that developers have to work with people of all political stripes and backgrounds, and focus on the issue they want - getting their projects approved for construction.
But I am also a former long time New York area resident and have seen the good Trump and his company have done for the city and other areas where they have invested. I was a regular viewer of "The Apprentice", and actually attended a Trump University seminar and have two of his books.
So, in Trump, I saw someone who could work across the aisle to break the logjam in Washington by focusing on the key issues and not divisive social issues that have doomed so many GOP candidates. I saw in him the ability to broaden the Republican Party's appeal beyond those issues and to not let the media, liberals and Hollywood define us, which is what they have done successfully to defeat us. I saw someone who may be able to put issues on the table that are not being discussed, having done some research on his background.
As the campaign ensued, I became profoundly moved by Trump’s railing against bad trade deals and support for helping blue collar and urban "forgotten" Americans. I looked into NAFTA and discovered how it killed 680,000 U.S. manufacturing jobs and spurred illegal immigration from Mexico due to its deleterious impact on rural farmers. I was unaware that China joining the WTO in 2000 led to the loss of 3 million manufacturing jobs. His emphasis on reinvigorating our manufacturing and energy exploration industries resonated with me greatly, as well as his backing of infrastructure spending.
I was never disappointed in him - despite some of his controversial statements. He pinched a nerve in this nation with population groups that have been ignored or sidelined by our national government and the special interests.
Despite constant badgering by conservative and liberal friends to abandon him, I never succumbed to that pressure. I attended at least four of his live events and rallies, one in Harrisburg, PA, two hours from my home. I watched about 30 of them on OneAmericaNews. I attended the National Convention as an alternate delegate and did what I could to derail efforts to deny him the nomination. I also worked feverishly to elect other pro-Trump delegates from my congressional district in Virginia. By the end of the campaign, I probably knocked 2,000 households for Trump and engaged about 100 people to volunteer for him across Virginia. My legs are still aching.
I view him as a strong and energetic leader who can withstand the onslaught from the liberal media and those who would focus more on words than actions. This, along with his ability to work with politicians on both sides of the aisle and get them to take action, is why I think he will be a great president.
- Obstruct American wealth creators and domestic energy development.
- Export American businesses, jobs, and intellectual property.
- Import foreign workers to supplant American workers, and oil from OPEC when we have our own.
Americans rejected this global progressive giveaway on November 8th. President-elect Donald Trump’s greatagain.gov policy prescriptions read like a Christmas wish list to those who want a better future for themselves and their children:
- Tax reforms that stop punishing work, savings and investments, and which make the tax code simpler, fairer and pro-economic growth for individuals, families and businesses.
- Regulatory reforms that erase arbitrary progressive executive orders and bureaucratic regulations that rob Americans of individual freedom and suppress business activity or encourage businesses to move overseas.
- Trade reforms that are fair to American businesses and workers, and that create an economic environment that encourages businesses to stay in the U.S.
- Financial service reforms to pull America out of progressives’ “new normal”, with its growth rate stuck at 2 percent and 94.6 million Americans out of the labor force.
- Energy reforms that unleash America’s natural resources and allow her to become energy independent.
- Immigration reforms that put America’s interests first and that choose more wisely who is allowed to come into our national “home” and under what conditions they may stay.
- Healthcare reforms that permanently end the progressives’ disastrous Affordable Care Act experiment that proved to be neither affordable nor a means to quality health care for most Americans.
But since the question was posed, I’ll predict that Donald Trump will be a successful President and, given the challenges we face, has the potential to be a historic figure.
Even before Mr. Trump takes office, things are looking up. The stock market, anticipating less regulation and reduced taxes, has soared since Election Day. Small business owners have the confidence to hire workers and invest in growth. Two months ago, Ford and Carrier were headed for the exits, taking thousands of jobs with them. Today, they’ve fallen in love with America all over again.
Trump’s cabinet picks inspire confidence. Betsy DeVos, his choice for Education Secretary, will replace Common Core’s curriculum of fuzzy math and revisionist history with standards of excellence. Jeff Sessions will make an outstanding Attorney General and reform a Justice Department that has been hopelessly politicized. Mike Pompeo can return the CIA to the task of collecting human intelligence that informs wise policy decisions.
Trump will attempt to reform the Veterans Administration so vets can choose their doctor and receive timely treatment. He will rebuild the military and give our troops rules of engagement that allow them to win.
Americans who liked their doctor will have the chance to keep their doctor. Entrepreneurs will be praised rather than belittled with the refrain of “you didn’t build that.”
But there are greater challenges. One is to preserve the Republic. The nation is polarized and our politics are poisoned. Evidence is found from urban unrest to the stage of Hamilton. Liberals in the media, academic and entertainment industries mock and condemn the country we love. Trump welcomes the confrontation and eagerly defends the country for which Obama constantly apologized.
Trump does not seek to contain this homegrown anti-Americanism; he vows to defeat it. His proposals to secure the border, enforce the rule of law, encourage respect for our flag, and celebrate our history are all necessary steps.
The other great challenge is to help our allies embrace the reality of providing for their own defense. Trump will restructure America’s role in the world and speak frankly with our allies in Europe. He will challenge China’s economic manipulations and talk with Russia about our mutual interests.
These are bold, but necessary changes. To assess Trump’s success requires us to discard the metrics by which such questions are typically answered.
Donald Trump aspires to more than managing the government or signing bills into law. He’s asking Americans to once again dream big and achieve remarkable things. To “Make America Great Again” we must abandon the “leading from behind” mindset and the misguided belief that America is no better than any other nation.
State elected officials like me are very excited about the opportunities ahead. That’s particularly true about prospects for cutting back the regulatory overload that has stalled our economy. The last eight years have brought mountains of red tape, keeping the private sector from creating jobs, threatening our energy independence, and leaving American entrepreneurship in a holding pattern afraid to move forward.
According to a report by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Federal Register, the daily record of federal rules and regulations has only topped 80,000 pages in four years – 2010, 2011, 2015, and this year, 2016 – all of them during the last eight years. The National Association of Manufacturers puts regulatory costs at over $2 trillion a year and the National Small Business Association estimates that small businesses face a disproportionately higher regulatory cost of $10,585 per employee annually. Red tape is keeping a lot of money from making its way back to family budgets.
The State Financial Officers Foundation (SFOF) has been closely monitoring many of these regulations and have been particularly concerned by federal overreach at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), and other financial agencies. To us, President Trump brings the promise of relief. As an experienced businessman who has lived life outside the Capital Beltway, he understands what American entrepreneurship needs to innovate and thrive.
During his campaign, Donald Trump ran under the slogan, “Make America Great Again.” State financial officers like me are ready to do our part to turn those words into action. We’re looking forward to what the future holds for the American people because Donald Trump is going to be a very good president.
Give Me Business Pragmatism Rather Than Political Treachery
After three weeks of impressive appointments and presidential demeanor on the part of the President-Elect, I suspect many former Trump critics are getting ready to concede that just maybe he might work out. By considering even former rivals like Romney for high-level appointments, Trump is doing no less than Abraham Lincoln did in appointing Edwin Stanton and Salmon Chase to his first cabinet in 1861.
I, however, emphatically predicted a Trump win to be followed by a successful Trump presidency back in March of this year in my popular podcast.With some trepidation, I recognize that in sounding like such an Ayatollah Youso, I am escalating obnoxiousness to hitherto unattained heights. Nonetheless, I hope you’ll excuse me because it is seldom that with one boast one can proclaim both one’s prescience and one’s boldness.
Here are the three reasons why eight months ago I proclaimed that Trump will be seen as perhaps the best president of the past 30 years. The first was that Trump is the sort of man whose track record is far more indicative than his words. Ironically, I noted that the same was true of nearly all the career politicians in Washington. It was just that with professional politicians, sordid sycophancy was camouflaged by banal rhetoric. With Trump it was the reverse. Fifty years of business pragmatism were belied by squalid pronouncements. Take the man seriously, not his speeches. Now ordinarily we prefer men whose words and deeds match. But that train left the political station with Franklin Roosevelt.
I felt that if we must choose between a candidate whose elevated speech camouflages his rapacity, ruthlessness and avarice and one whose speech is sophomoric but whose conduct over the years has been basically competent, well, for me the choice is clear.
The second reason for my optimism is that the core of Trump’s success is that he understands what delivering value means. There is an authenticity in business utterly absent from politics. Many people buy or lease space in his residential and commercial properties at premium prices not because of his ego but only because the buildings are well designed and well managed. Intellectuals deride the “Trump brand” but they are often the same people who won’t use generic drugs and who buy BMWs or Mercedes automobiles. Yes, there is value in a brand. We call it reputation. If Trump is as zealous about his brand as I think he is, he will go to great lengths to make this final act of his career his biggest success ever.
Finally, I felt it remarkable that with all the resources devoted to ‘digging up the dirt’ that the nation’s media had marshalled (Amazon’s Jeff Bezos assigned a huge team of reporters at his Washington Post to do nothing but find the dirt on Trump), the best they could come up was basically trivial. Yes, there was a bankruptcy here and some juvenile concupiscence there but how many 70 year-old politicians could withstand that sort of scrutiny?
Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches that the first question we will all be asked when we eventually stand in judgment before the heavenly throne is, “Did you conduct your financial affairs in good faith?” The flowery phrases and the preening of politics are all very well but with half a century of business activity behind him in one of the world’s toughest real estate markets there should have been a long line of detractors. The press didn’t find them. If he handles the affairs of state as well as that, we’ll all have reason to be very satisfied.
First, I believe that Trump is a pragmatist. He has been for decades a shrewd and successful businessman. He has interacted with developers, lenders, government officials, contractors and unions in numerous business ventures. Not all these relationships ran smoothly, and not all of Trump’s businesses were successful—some failed spectacularly. But surviving and thriving in a highly competitive business environment needs a fine understanding of the “art of the possible,” and Trump has proved himself an adept practitioner.
I believe Trump, despite his more extreme pronouncements on the campaign trail, will be more pragmatic in office. Some of that pragmatism is already evident: soon after the election, he repudiated the promise of deporting all 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country, and narrowed it down to only criminal aliens, a policy position not much different from President Obama’s. He has also stepped back from his promise of repealing the Affordable Care Act on Day One, instead declaring that some of its most popular positions, such as coverage for pre-existing conditions, might be retained. He has also made conciliatory statements on marriage equality.
Second, Trump may simply be unable to act on some of his most outlandish pronouncements, due to constitutional checks and balances and the exigencies of international relations. Courts, even a conservative Supreme Court, may think twice about backtracking on reproductive rights, given the forty-year precedent of Roe v. Wade. Dismantling Obamacare without putting forward a credible alternative will provoke a backlash and legal challenges from the millions who have signed up for health insurance. Walking away from the Trans Pacific Partnership may please some domestic constituencies, but it runs the risk of playing right into the hands of China, which is busy setting up alternative free trade alliances that exclude the U.S. Similarly, no U.S. government can walk away from the Iran nuclear deal, without unravelling the carefully constructed international consensus on maintaining sanctions on that country.
Third, there is much in Trump’s policy proposals that may be welcomed across the political spectrum. There is no question that American infrastructure is in urgent need of repair and reconstruction. Democrats too are likely to back proposals to renew the nation’s highways, ports and urban transportation systems. Many researchers, including myself, have advocated investments in broadband infrastructures and advanced telecommunications, in the nation’s unserved and underserved areas. Similarly, it is undeniable that large swaths of the country are in distress due to economic malaise, joblessness and social breakdown due to substance abuse and family dysfunction. Trump’s promises to urgently focus attention on these problems should attract bipartisan support.
But despite these positives, Trump needs to immediately take some steps if his presidency is to succeed. First, very early in his presidency, he has to demonstrate his commitment to be “the President for all Americans,” as he claimed in his election-night speech. He has to forcefully repudiate hate crimes and acts of intimidation against minorities and immigrants, declare support for constitutional rights for all Americans and reach out to women, African Americans and Muslims who are understandably apprehensive about what a Trump presidency holds for them.
Second, he has to restrain very quickly his tendency to make off-the-cuff statements and attack critics. A candidate for office has the luxury of making unpremeditated statements, but the leader of the free world does not. If Donald Trump is able to curb his worst tendencies and deliver on some of his election promises of reinvigorating the economy, curbing corruption and bringing back jobs, he would be a successful president. At least, one hopes.
I am optimistic about a Trump presidency. As an advocate for entrepreneurs and small businesses who has worked now through four Administrations, I have generally held an optimistic view when there is a change of leadership in the White House. It presents a new opportunity to work with new people to advance policies, new programs and solutions that will benefit entrepreneurship and small business growth.
With President-Elect Donald J. Trump, he will enter the White House with an agenda that small businesses and entrepreneurs generally favor – fundamental tax reform that includes simplification and lowering rates; regulatory relief and changes that will lift burdens and make the complex system more transparent, flexible and reasonable; and fixing the escalating costs and dwindling choices that have accompanied Obamacare. A focus on addressing barriers to capital access and healthy capital formation are also on his agenda (along with other plans) that will improve the business environment and give business owners and entrepreneurs more certainty and confidence to take risks – whether that be in making new investments in their firms, or starting new enterprises. This is the type of activity our economy desperately needs to move to full growth, quality job creation, and greater innovation.
There is no doubt President-Elect Trump will likely use new strategies and approaches that will be unconventional in the political arena. But is this a bad thing? I, for one, believe Washington needs disruptive thinking and innovative strategies for getting things done. Like fixing a tax code that has not been reformed for more than 30 years, modernizing the way trade deals are done to accelerate the process and make it more transparent, and using the bully pulpit – whether through social media (don’t expect the Tweeting to stop), or perhaps more conventional means - to communicate directly with the public, or to nudge folks along in order to get things done.
Many in Washington, or those consumed by status-quo thinking, are threatened by what they view as “irregular” or out-of-bounds for a president-elect. Some simply dislike Trump so they will whine no matter what. I want my presidents to succeed, therefore, I believe that if Trump is supported by Congress (his top agenda items align with the GOP leadership’s plans), but held accountable when needed, and if things move quickly during his first 100 days to advance key priorities to help small businesses grow and entrepreneurship to flourish again, he will succeed. I, like President Obama said of President-Elect Trump the day after the election, am “rooting for his success in uniting and leading the country.”
Other than George Washington, the debates continue to rage over every subsequent man holding the office of U.S. president as to whether or not they were good at the job. And quite frankly, you can probably find a book or article here and there critical of even Washington. So, the question – will Donald Trump be a good president? – is not simple.
As chief economist with a small business organization, I take what President-elect Donald Trump put forth on the campaign trail, and assess what they would mean for small businesses and the economy. In general, the Trump agenda, if implemented, would be a net-positive for small businesses and economic growth.
Let’s consider three central policy areas – taxes, regulations and trade.
It’s widely recognized that the U.S. economy needs tax relief and reform. As offered during the campaign, the Trump plan would collapse seven personal income tax brackets ranging from 10% to 39.6% into three brackets of 12%, 25% and 33%; the effective top individual capital gains tax rate would fall from 23.8% to 20%; the death tax would be repealed; and the top corporate tax rate would decline from 35% to 15%, while also eliminating the corporate alternative minimum tax. In addition, expensing of capital expenditures would be allowed. This is an excellent starting point, and if something along these lines becomes law, it would help to incentivize investment and entrepreneurship, and thereby be plusses for economic and job growth.
Similarly on regulation, the Trump campaign agenda largely points in a very different direction from what entrepreneurs and businesses have experienced under President Obama’s hyper-regulation regime. For example, small businesses, workers and the overall economy clearly would benefit from rolling back Dodd-Frank to free up banks to lend based on sound economics; repealing and replacing ObamaCare and its onerous costs and disincentives for hiring; lifting burdensome regulations and restrictions on domestic energy producers, including by approving pipeline construction and opening up oil, natural gas and coal leasing in federal areas; and implementing a policy of repealing two federal regulations for every new regulation.
Make no mistake, misguided tax and regulatory policies in recent years have served as key impediments to strong, sustainable economic growth.
But on trade, the Trump agenda of pulling out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, looking to re-work or end NAFTA, and threatening tariffs against China, Mexico and other nations would be a negative for consumers, who would face higher prices, and in terms of reduced opportunities for the small businesses that overwhelmingly populate international trade, with 98% of exporters and 97% of importers having less than 500 workers.
Of course, much more will factor in to determining if Mr. Trump turns out to be a good president or not. But on these three core areas of economic policy, at this point, we’re looking at two – not three – cheers for a President Trump.
What might that something be? The importance of genuine humility? No. A recognition of one’s own weaknesses and limitations? No. An understanding that money isn’t everything or even the most important thing? No again.
Yes, Donald Trump has his weaknesses and limitations, whether or not he is willing to own up to them. There are many reasons to wonder whether or not he is a good man. That wonderment aside, he can still be a great president, if he seizes the historical moment. And in order to do that, he must have a sense of history that has so far escaped him.
The progressive moment is over. It has been with us for over a century now, but it is finished. Does Trump, a one-time, no make that long time, liberal Democrat, grasp this? It’s imperative that he do so.
Barack Obama may have styled himself as the next wave of progressivism. He achieved something a good deal less than that. As his presidency grinds to a close, it’s increasingly apparent that he represents the end of something, rather than the beginning.
Donald Trump can help make that clear by fulfilling a number of his campaign promises. He can work with Congress to preside over the repeal of Obamacare; he can work to secure border security; he can appoint Constitution-minded judges; he can scrap onerous regulations; he can champion charter schools; he can revitalize the Republican party in our inner cities. And all of that for starters.
But all of that is not enough. What’s left? A full-bore attack on political correctness. Here, candidate Trump gave us plenty of hints of what should come. Those hints led a Trump follower to tell a reporter during the campaign that, “he (Trump) says what we’re thinking.”
To be sure, Trump went overboard more than now and again. But his excesses were nothing compared to the excesses of political correctness itself. Just as there proved to be no limiting principle to progressivism itself, so there is no limiting principle to political correctness. Witness the current bathroom wars.
What potential for delicious irony! Who better to attack political correctness than the embodiment of political incorrectness? Who better to make the case against this noxious weed than a one-time, oops, long time liberal Democrat? Who better to make the plain-spoken case against progressivism than someone unschooled in both conservative thought and action?
If Donald Trump wasn’t a solid conservative when he began his improbable quest for the presidency, his experiences during the campaign have in all likelihood turned him into one. Here’s hoping that that is the case, because if it is, he has a chance to be not just a good president, but a great one.
No, Donald Trump Will Be A Bad President
- "Donald Trump is destined to go down as the most incompetent and corrupt president in modern history and perhaps of all time. He was the first major party candidate in American history to have had no experience in either government or the military and it shows. Many have asserted his incredibly thin resume is an asset since it will allow him to 'drain the swamp' in Washington. To the extent Trump changes things, however, it will make things worse."
Dennis Jett // Professor of International Affairs at Pennsylvania State University & Former Ambassador to Mozambique and Peru
- "There is not a single economist of any repute that is helping the President-elect formulate economic policy. This is akin to having a businessman design a bridge without the help on a single engineer."
Laurence J. Kotlikoff // William Fairfield Warren Distinguished Professor at Boston University
- "President-Elect Trump already is the most divisive American leader in modern U.S. history, and the least qualified. There still is time for him to demonstrate pragmatic flexibility, but the learning curve he faces is a very steep one and thus far, he has not shown any interest in working to address it. Nor do any of his advisers, appointments, and nominations thus far – perhaps with the sole exception of Governor Nikki Hayley, his nomination for Ambassador to the United Nations – seem to be voices of moderation. America and Americans face a difficult, potentially dangerous four years."
Alistair Edgar // Executive Director of the Academic Council on the UN System & Associate Professor of Political Science at the Balsillie School of International Affairs at Wilfrid Laurier University
- "If [Trump's] policies are implemented successfully (which I doubt), they will create discord and division at best, and economic and social upheavals at worst. ... Trump and his supporters seem confident that he will use his business acumen to conquer a large, unwieldy government apparatus. But being a businessman doesn’t prepare you to run the executive branch, whether you’re a micro-manager like Jimmy Carter or a hands-off executive like George W. Bush."
Sunita Parikh // Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at Washington University in St. Louis
His supposedly successful business career is pointed to by his apologists as evidence that he will apply such talents to making the government run more efficiently. Even if one believes the Trump enterprise is something more than one giant con job and Ponzi scheme, this is a ridiculous argument. Running a government is not like being in charge of an inherited real estate empire. Other countries are either allies or adversaries, not customers to be charged whatever the market will bear. And governing is not deal making. Even at this early stage, Trump has repeatedly shown he fails to understand the concept of conflict of interest and is already using the office he is about to assume to fatten his fortune.
Other indicators of the unfolding Trump disaster are his appointments, process and policy proposals. The old cliché that personnel is policy - means that who a president appoints determines what policies will be implemented and how well. The two people that will be closest to Trump in the White House are a neo-Nazi, as his chief political strategist, and an obsequious sock puppet as his chief of staff. He has also named as his national security advisor a man who suffers from a severe case of Islamo-paranoia and who was fired from his last government position for his abusive management style and disorganization. That is exactly the opposite of what is needed for a position that is supposed to make the bureaucratic trains run on time.
Process is also policy, as how a president gets his information and makes decisions are also crucial. It seems Trump mainly gets and gives out information via Twitter and television. He has no interest in or capacity for considering the complexity of the decisions he will be required to make.
As to his policy proposals, he appears to be most interested in gutting government and returning to the 19th century approach where civil servants were treated like bellhops and patronage payoffs. He also wants to drastically cut taxes on the rich, while giving chump change to the middle class and the finger to the working poor. And his proposal for infrastructure projects is just a gimmick for selling off public assets for private gain and creating tax loopholes to make it even more profitable.
Finally, he wants to muzzle the media so he can conduct his government in the dark and fool the voters again. The real question is not whether Trump will fail, but whether America will survive.
We already live in a post-democratic oligarchy, where the multi-billionaires buy the politicians and laws that promote maximizing their wealth, rejecting the kinds of taxes that could promote the infrastructure, and duping the population into believing that ever-increasing inequality is all in their interest. Populist nihilism, in support of Trump, is not so much a populist movement as it is the despair of working people beaten into willing passivity by the American post-democratic military-industrial-academic-entertainment-sport-food complex, as I sardonically called it in my book The Great Brain Suck. But the calloused passivity is not limited to them; brain suck is endemic in America at all levels, including the top. A networked, enscreened populace does not necessarily make a vitalized society and public life.
The Ultimate Revolution, as Aldous Huxley called it, involves getting people “to love their servitude”. The ultimate revolution has been successful: people have come to love their servitude no matter what ruinous destiny it will bring them to. In this case, our post-democratic oligarchy is working beautifully because Trump, one of its most blatant gilded avatars is doing the required task of dividing of the populace, conning those suffering losses of wages and jobs and identity that he is their billionaire Caesar savior who will save them from the demonized others. And it doesn’t matter that he is not a representative conservative republican and does not demonstrate common human decency.
The decline of the American republic involves more than economy. It is also evident in the disabling of basic democratic virtues such as civility, tolerance, and the capacity for self-criticism, absent most patently in President Trump. What, my fellow citizens, could possibly go wrong?
Trump promises to cut environment, health and safety, and financial regulation. Those moves will increase the likelihood of another financial collapse and will allow businesses that sell shoddy products, unsafe food, and scam customers to flourish. Trump already has selected an Education Secretary who wants to divert Federal education spending to charter schools. Her success in that effort in Michigan resulted in falling test scores and scandals as for-profit firms opened schools that enriched their owners while offering little more than babysitting to their students. We can expect similar results at the national level, except in states and communities that repel such attacks on their public schools.
Most likely, Trump will never act on his campaign boasts to break exiting trade agreements or impose tariffs that would lead to a global trade war. His supporters in the dying communities of Appalachia and the Middle West will have to settle for enjoying Trump’s provocative rhetoric. Already we see a rise in the number of hate crimes and vulgar words directed at women and minorities. We can expect much more of that, especially when the economy doesn’t improve for most of Trump’s supporters. America will become a coarser and uglier country.
Similarly, Trump is unlikely to start a war. However, the mere fact that America elected such a man president has permanently undermined our nation’s moral standing in the world. Governments throughout the world will move to rearrange their economies and foreign relations, so that they can lessen their dependence on the U.S. as much as possible.
Finally, Trump has selected a global warming denier to head his transition team at the Environmental Protection Agency, confirming his commitment to energy production, and to the owners of energy firms that are the most generous financial backers of Republican Party candidates. If the U.S. withdraws from the Paris Agreement, or even just fails to meet its treaty obligations, CO2 levels will rise past the point at which irreversible catastrophic rises in sea level and mass extinctions will occur. That would be the most significant consequence of this election, and one that will affect the descendants of those who voted for Trump, as well as people in the rest of the world who don’t get to vote in American elections even as they suffer the consequences of uninformed and callous American voters.
With that caveat in mind, there have been a few indications of the President-elect’s thinking about foreign policy. First, his statements during the campaign suggest that he is likely to exert pressure on America’s transatlantic and transpacific allies to bear a greater share of the burden for their own defense. He has demanded that the European members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) meet the specified minimum spending on defense of 2% of gross domestic product (GDP). Only five of the 28 members of the alliance are currently meeting that requirement. In what may seem as a totally unrelated issue, he has also expressed a desire to dramatically increase domestic spending on the country’s decaying infrastructure (ports, bridges, railways, highways, urban mass transit, etc.), comparing it to the state-of-the-art transportation systems of the European allies.
The connection between these two issues is evident: The European members of NATO have spent lavishly on domestic programs while keeping their defense spending far below both U.S. defense spending as well as below the minimum 2% of GDP to which they solemnly promised to meet. Their assumption has always been that in the face of a direct threat to European security (most likely from Russia), Washington will spend the money and supply the military equipment and manpower that would deter the Kremlin from, say, intervening in the three NATO member states of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia.
Second, Mr. Trump has spoken about exerting similar pressure on America’s allies in Asia, specifically Japan and South Korea, both of which have U.S. military forces on their territory. During the campaign, Trump implied that if America’s transpacific allies do not bear their rightful share of the burden of their defense, the U.S. would consider revoking its pledge to intervene militarily to defend them. He also suggested that, if the American nuclear umbrella that has protected those two countries since the early years of the Cold War were folded up, they should be allowed to develop a nuclear capability of their own (to deter North Korea and China). As with the case of America’s NATO allies, the Asian allies have enjoyed great economic prosperity while keeping their defense spending to a minimum.
Since his victory in the election, Donald Trump has “walked back” many of his campaign pronouncements—on waterboarding, on the Affordable Care Act, on the total ban on Muslim immigration, on the prosecution of his opponent, among others. It is entirely possible that, once in the Oval Office, his inchoate plans to compel America’s transatlantic and transpacific allies to contribute more to their defense or risk losing the American pledge of extended deterrence will also fall by the wayside. Or he may stick to his guns, in which case he will upend America’s global security commitments that have been in place since the 1950s.
Our country is entirely broke. Our true government debt totals $206 trillion when you put all the liabilities, such as the obligations to pay current retirees and Baby Boomers their Social Security and Medicare benefits, on the books. Trump's tax reform will make this fiscal red hole even larger. If President-elect Trump is true to his word and starts ripping up our trade agreements, he will badly damage our ability to export goods that we are good at making and import goods that we are bad at making.
There is not a single economist of any repute that is helping the President-elect formulate economic policy. This is akin to having a businessman design a bridge without the help on a single engineer. My deep concern about the direction of economic policy has prompted me to write a book called "You’re Hired! A Trump Playbook for Fixing America's Economy." (The book is free for download and dissemination at kotlikoff.net). I'm hoping that somehow, someway Trump's economic advisors will read this book and set a different course for economic policy. As for national security, President-elect Trump has, it appears, no plans to halt North Korean missile and nuclear weapons testing, which represent our nation's top national security threats. Nor should we be surprised if Trump sits back and watches the Russians take over all of the Ukraine. I'm also dismayed that the President-elect is, it seems, going to dramatically lower ethical standards when it comes to separating his role as president of the United States from that as president of his business.
Finally, there is the President-elect's ongoing attempts to intimidate the media, his ongoing substitution of lies for fact, his ongoing threat of deportation of illegal immigrants, his ongoing threat to a woman's right to choose, his ongoing disrespect for the majority of voters who did, in fact, vote against him, and his ongoing insipid, angry tweets. This and everything else the President elect has done and said to date suggests an awful and awfully dangerous presidency.
Mr. Trump is an antithesis to personal and political integrity, a quality defined as an ability to hold oneself to consistent high moral and ethical principles, and, in case of political integrity, political positions. The rhetoric and actions of Donald Trump have been indicative of serious moral lapses, as his demeaning statements about war veterans, the disabled, prisoners of war, and public bravado about committing adultery and tax evasion demonstrate. Mr. Trump’s racial, ethnic, and gender slurs has undermined civility, tolerance, inclusion and other values that the United States was founded on and has thrived for more than 200 years.
Politically, Mr. Trump’s positions have been nearly impossible to discern. He has been extraordinarily vague and populist in his plans for reforms, and has flip-flopped repeatedly on the key policy issues. A case for immediate alarm is the blurred boundary between Trump’s public office and his business empire that will jeopardize the integrity of the office of American President.
Donald Trump’s knowledge of American and international politics is abysmal, while his experiences in politics and diplomacy are nil. He is a clever demagogue and a master of 140-character tweet communication who has risen to popularity on fact twisting, fear mongering, and emotional appeals. The massive scam of Trump University speaks volumes of Mr. Trump’s position on the quality education. Importantly, Mr. Trump is disinterested in seeking a competent advice or learning about the wider world. This will severely compromise his ability to make informed foreign policy decisions that are central to the role of an American president. The supporters of Donald Trump may retort that learning and thinking are the president advisers’ job. It will be, however, impossible to advise the next American president, whose favorite strategy has been his council’s reshuffle and who has been keen on having the final word.
This brings me to the next point: politics is the art of compromise rooted in skilled communication. In his long and fairly successful business career, Donald Trump has engaged in little compromise. Instead, he has intimidated, sued, or threatened to sue and fire everyone who dared to disagree or criticize him. It could work in the business world, but is consequential for democratic politics. Calling for jailing a political opponent, insinuating an armed attack on the presidential candidate, threatening to go after the victims of sexual harassment, or proposing to revoke a citizenship for burning an American flag are alarming signs of an individual with dictatorial inclinations.
One essential role of a president is to manage the various elements of his party’s coalition. Trump is not a typical Republican. Other outsider presidents, such as Jimmy Carter, had many more formal connections to their party. Traditionally, by the time a politician makes it to the White House, he has made numerous pledges to party insiders, party activists, interest groups, and of course voters. All of these groups expect a new president to try and make good on the promises he has made. Trump has many fewer of these commitments. And, some of the promises that were made voters will find only tepid support among traditional party activists and insiders. In other words, he enters office with different priorities compared with other elected Republicans. He may have to expend more energy than other presidents in dealing with divisions within his own party, which is not a recipe for success.
Of course presidents more than other politicians have to reach across the aisle as well. In other words, presidents are tasked with attempting to unify the country. In an era of polarized parties and heightened partisanship in the public, his two most immediate predecessors found this very difficult to achieve. Both gave serious effort to do so but were unsuccessful. Trump seems especially ill suited given his tendency to engage in incendiary and divisive language. For example, while he won a modest majority in the Electoral College, he lost the national vote. Instead of recognizing this reality, he has engaged in a series of bizarre and worrisome Twitter posts about having won an Electoral College landslide. In fact, his performance is the third lowest for a winner in the last ten elections. Further, he claimed he actually did win the popular vote, citing bogus claims of voter fraud. This behavior indicates an unwillingness to recognize the reality that he enters office with much less support than presidents usually have.
One last point related to these recent Twitter posts. They seem to be indicative of a personality that might have a tough time dealing with the pressures of the office. The presidency requires someone with a steady hand and a thick skin — all evidence to date indicates these are not traits Trump possesses. It remains to be seen how he will deal with the constant scrutiny that comes with serving as president.
None of this in any guarantees an unsuccessful presidency. Trump’s path to the White House is so unique that predicting how he’ll behave in office is a challenge. If he is unable to unify the country, or at least his party, the road ahead looks rocky.
On the domestic front, we can expect Mr. Trump’s presidency to be divisive. Indeed, he did not invent the American web of racial tensions; race has been a theme throughout American history. However, Mr. Trump’s toxic campaign enabled radical voices that have otherwise been suppressed. Representing only a small fraction of his voters, white supremacies and anti-Semitic groups claimed Trump’s victory as their own. The frightening surge in hate crime across the U.S. and the KKK parades may just be the harbingers of what is to come. Trump’s condemnations of these groups failed to change their sentiments or to curb their aspirations. Thus, with extremists on the rise and millions of non-white Americans feeling fearful, we can expect tensions not to subside easily. On the contrary, we can predict it will spiral with protests and counter protests, leaving a mark on Trump’s term.
On the foreign front, we can expect a decline in American credibility and global distrust towards the administration. To date, Mr. Trump’s foreign policy agenda is unclear. It is likely that existing international structures and commitments, which require constant maintenance, will be hampered. Moreover, Trumps’ quick to shoot attitude, or “temper” as gleaned from the elections, will push international relations and markets into a volatile state. In a global system that builds on clear communication and the ability to predict other actors’ intentions, indecisiveness and unexpectedness are unwelcome. While, there are other world leaders flashing colorful personalities, such as presidents Duterte, or Mugabe, however the U.S. is not the Philippines or Zimbabwe and its effect on the world is much more pronounced.
How should a partner country interpret Mr. Trump’s enigmatic calls for abolishing treaties and the vagueness of “good deals”? This goes beyond other governments, and has the potential to influence private companies and individuals. For example, how should entrepreneurs assess potential opportunities that may have risen from the U.S. and Cuba’s rapprochement when the elected president threatens to terminate the U.S. opening to Cuba? Or not.
At the moment, we know little about the forming Trump administration and its agendas. However, we know that dealing with racial tensions released in the campaign are not high in its priorities. We also know that Trump’s short temper and tendency for bombastic statements are not going away anytime soon. Those two are bad signs for those who hope for good presidency. A divided nation and distrust from world leaders and market are not a good starting point.
I do not believe a Trump presidency will be considered successful beyond the circle of his core supporters, and even they will grow weary of inevitable compromises their champion will make in the face of reality. It is unlikely that his unpopularity will grow to the point where he is in danger of impeachment, let alone conviction, but his favorability ratings overall will be low. Mr. Trump very much wants to be regarded as a good president, however, and this will affect the decisions he makes. Whatever his negatives, Donald Trump is an intelligent man with shrewd survival instincts that will cause him to adjust some of his more extreme positions – as is already becoming evident. The malleability of his opinions make their evolution more likely when reality intrudes upon them.
Above and beyond the problems any new President would face, a Trump administration will be weakened by the knowledge, judgment, temperament, and possibly even emotional stability of the President. The result will be a series of unforced errors with consequences that are difficult to predict.
Others are better able to discuss issues of healthcare, taxation, the economy, etc., but in the areas I know best – foreign and defense policy – the omens for his success are not auspicious. The President Elect’s positions so far reflect visceral reactions to problems about which he is at once ill-informed and strongly opinionated. The instincts that served him so well in his electoral campaign will not be easily abandoned after his inauguration without serious convincing by trusted advisors.
In that connection, it is a good sign that retired Marine General James Mattis apparently disabused him of his extreme position on torture. Leaving aside the important question of whether a retired Flag Officer should run the Defense Department, the officers being considered for cabinet positions as these words are written – General Mattis and General David Petraeus – are serious players and their nomination would deserve careful and positive consideration. Even better would be Admiral James Stavridis, but given that he was considered for Vice President in a possible Clinton administration, that choice is likely off the table.
Mr. Trump does not seem to value consistency and predictability, and may even regard it as an impediment to negotiations. This is a problem for maintaining and even improving the U.S. position in the world. Mr. Trump spoke with or met with many foreign leaders after his election, and reportedly did so without advice from the State Department. Given the myriad of complex issues facing the U.S., an inclination of a new President to “wing it” on important international issues is disquieting. Nations look after their own interests, and hints about changing U.S. positions on alliance commitments such as NATO, our position in the Middle East, and nuclear weapons proliferation have already caused other nations to recalculate their interests in a new world order that may no longer be guaranteed by the United States. This does not predict success for the Trump presidency.
But I am much more concerned about a part of the presidency where, so to speak, the personal is policy—the conduct of foreign policy, where both Republican and Democratic presidents have acted with a relatively free hand, often eschewing the advice of the nation’s diplomatic and military professionals and not showing much respect for the constitutional and political role that Congress can and probably should play.
With Donald Trump, this is a problem. While he may well have done deals across the globe, he hasn’t demonstrated all that much interest in mastering the nuances of the biggest, most complicated leadership position than anyone can have. If he knew his limitations and could sustain a genuine humility about the responsibility he had been given, he might quit boasting that he’s a quick study and actually be a quick study. But I fear that isn’t in Donald Trump’s character, and am certain that, at age 70, his character isn’t going to change.
So we will get a chief diplomat and commander in chief who is not particularly well-informed, vain, prickly, and prone to speak and act without fully considering the impact of his words and deeds on our allies and adversaries. What will happen when Vladimir Putin or the leadership in Beijing test him, as they surely will? Will an impulsive tweet cause a diplomatic or, worse still, military crisis? Will the crisis be “resolved” by a deal meant to get us through the moment without a serious consideration of long-term American strategic interests? Will Donald Trump listen to his generals any more than George W. Bush or Barack Obama did?
The White House often is an echo chamber, with presidents only hearing what they want to hear and advisors only saying what they think the president wants them to say. Giving the number of outrageous things Donald Trump got away with saying on the campaign trail—I called it “trumping the shark”—I really fear that his impulses will be magnified at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, rather than reined in.
I’ll lose sleep about them here in Atlanta. I can’t imagine the sleepless nights in London, Paris, Berlin, Tokyo, Kiev, Vilnius, and Jerusalem.
Second, since he based so much of his electoral campaign on appeals to racism, xenophobia, and a massive misrepresentation of reality, he now must face the problem of having to back away from extremism or else push American politics further and deeper into division. Most of his staff and cabinet selections suggest that he is doubling-down on that narrow and divisive base. At the same time, when the reality of governing at home and being the ‘leader of the free world’ abroad becomes his administration’s daily responsibility, he will find reality has a way of intruding and refusing to conform to any simple or simplistic views on what can or should be done.
The previous Republican President, George Bush, either deliberately ignored or simply failed to grasp the value of listening to dissenting advice, and sank his country into a disastrous, enormously costly, and unnecessary war in Iraq based on false and fake arguments advanced by advisers pursuing their own self-interested agendas. That war and its aftermath created the vacuum into which ISIS and other extremist groups stepped. Handing over economic policy to the advocates of the ‘free market’ (which is never free, and instead means the rich and powerful doing whatever is needed to make themselves richer), similarly led to a domestic financial meltdown which became one of global proportions, from which it took trillions of dollars and a new Administration to recover, while ‘ordinary Americans’ lost houses and livelihoods.
Trump’s statements on China, Syria, Russia, NATO, and North Korea all suggest a profound failure to grasp the complex reality of American interests, capabilities, and limitations. And early indications of his advisors’ views on education, health care, and economic policy suggest that even Trump voters soon will face a reality check as they lose access to health care, loss of workers’ rights, and a shift of resources away from investing in public schools.
President-Elect Trump already is the most divisive American leader in modern US history, and the least qualified. There still is time for him to demonstrate pragmatic flexibility, but the learning curve he faces is a very steep one and thus far, he has not shown any interest in working to address it. Nor do any of his advisers, appointments, and nominations thus far – perhaps with the sole exception of Governor Nikki Hayley, his nomination for Ambassador to the United Nations – seem to be voices of moderation. America and Americans face a difficult, potentially dangerous four years.
On immigration, Trump has promised that he will deport millions of immigrants. Even if Congress were willing to provide the funds to carry out such a policy (which is debatable), the US simply doesn’t have the legal and physical resources to do it. Non-citizens are entitled to due process, which means most removal proceedings must take place before a judge; only a fraction of removals fall under the “expedited” (non-judicial) category. Immigration courts already face an enormous backlog of cases, so the idea that deportation hearings can be speedily carried out runs counter to the facts. In addition, many of the criminal immigrants Trump has promised to detail cannot, by law, be deported before their sentences have been served. Finally, deportation will require the cooperation of local law enforcement officials and political leaders, and several key officials in major cities have stated that they will not assist the federal government, as much for practical as ideological reasons.
On trade, Trump has repeatedly taken positions that will isolate the United States in the world economy. Contrary to his public statements, most jobs cannot be brought back or revived. Coal is not coming back. Steel is not coming back. Moreover, even if companies restored manufacturing plants to their original locations, the wages and benefits they would have to pay American workers would increase the cost of those products for American consumers. Exports won’t offset the reduced demand, because high tariffs for other countries’ goods would most likely result in retaliatory tariffs for US products overseas. If the recent Carrier plant decision is any indication, we will be overpaying substantially to retain a tiny number of jobs. We would be far better served by investing in retraining and support programs for the workers who are bearing the greatest burdens of de-industrialization.
Trump’s proposed ban on Muslim immigration and his references to a Muslim registry may be legally possible, but there is little evidence they will be effective. The NSEERS program, which created a registry of immigrant men from Muslim nations (and North Korea) after 9/11, was abandoned because it had proved unsuccessful. Now that the US faces more and more threats from homegrown insurgents, it seems more likely that a registry would exacerbate tensions among legal immigrants and citizens, and increase the threat of attacks on US soil, rather than reducing our threat levels.
If these policies are implemented successfully (which I doubt), they will create discord and division at best, and economic and social upheavals at worst. If the Trump administration runs into problems, the energy lost in trying to make them work will take time and effort away of the other important domestic and foreign policy initiatives. Trump and his supporters seem confident that he will use his business acumen to conquer a large, unwieldy government apparatus. But being a businessman doesn’t prepare you to run the executive branch, whether you’re a micro-manager like Jimmy Carter or a hands-off executive like George W. Bush. In a scholarly, non-partisan evaluation of US presidents from Theodore Roosevelt through Bush 43, Carter, the highest ranked businessman in the group, was in the middle of the pack, and Bush was dead last.
Moreover, it is a dangerous illusion and gross misconception to believe that his lack of political experience will help the average (white) Joe. His tax policy proposals, if enacted and which feature tax cuts for the wealthy will only serve the interests of the rich and harm the middle and lower classes. His boisterous claims that he will bring back jobs in the fossil fuel industry and working man service economy are not only unrealistic, but inconsistent with the responsible transition the country is already making to clean energy and a world that must adopt to the harsh realities of climate change. His threats to undo bad trade deals and to alter or eliminate NATO cooperation and the Iran Nuclear Agreement will destabilize global security and hasten the proliferation of nuclear weapons, a truly frightening prospect given Trump’s inexplicable affinity to align himself with Russia and Putin amidst a counter-vailing promise to put U.S. boots on the ground in dealing with terrorists and ISIL, a move that will only escalate Mideast tensions to uncontrollable heights. His appointments to the Supreme Court and lower federal courts will return the country back to a revolting past of racism, inequality, and intolerance for at least a generation. His false promises to downsize the federal government are pure folly and military and domestic spending will greatly increase, especially if he delivers on the ill-conceived but thankfully unrealistic anti-immigration policy of building a wall.
The most dangerous element of a Trump presidency, though, is that he is nothing more than a charlatan and a demagogue—but one who, like Hitler, seized power and is likely to abuse it on a variety of levels. The only saving grace for the country is if he is impeached, a prospect that will only mount and intensify as a reality once the country learns over time of what a mistake it made in electing a self-centered, egotistical, incompetent and, ultimately, unstable and dangerous president.
On the Fence
- "The election of Donald J. Trump as President of the United States is a moment of great peril and of great opportunity. The great problem is that it is hard to know which. ... Clean our own house, President Trump, and the jobs will come. Block the gains from free trade and everyone at home and abroad will end up worse. Your call."
Richard A. Epstein // Laurence A. Tisch Professor of Law at New York University Law School & James Parker Hall Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of Law at the University of Chicago Law School
- "Since his victory in the election, Donald Trump has 'walked back' many of his campaign pronouncements—on waterboarding, on the Affordable Care Act, on the total ban on Muslim immigration, on the prosecution of his opponent, among others. It is entirely possible that, once in the Oval Office, his inchoate plans to compel America’s transatlantic and transpacific allies to contribute more to their defense or risk losing the American pledge of extended deterrence will also fall by the wayside. Or he may stick to his guns, in which case he will upend America’s global security commitments that have been in place since the 1950s."
William R. Keylor // Director of the International History Institute at Boston University
Donald Trump has an opportunity to be an extremely effective president, who could help jumpstart the nation’s economy with pro-growth fiscal and regulatory policies. But to do so, he’ll have to commit himself to working cooperatively with the Republican-controlled Congress. His tone thus far has been encouraging – and even some of his biggest detractors in Congress have struck a similar chord – but this harmony could quickly hit a sour note after his term in office begins.
The first major legislative agenda item will likely be repeal of Obamacare. While Republicans are unified in wanting to get rid of the law, the path forward is anything but clear. Will they attempt to scrap the law immediately and tackle a replacement plan later? If so, how do they handle the millions of Americans currently relying on it? Or will they opt to simultaneously repeal and replace Obamacare? If they go this route, can they build consensus behind a free market alternative? Several members of Congress have introduced replacement bills, but none have garnered broad support among limited government advocates. As we begin to get answers to these critical and highly contentious questions, we’ll also get an early sense of the success or failure of the Trump administration.
Maintaining a cooperative and constructive relationship with Speaker Ryan, Majority Leader McConnell, and the GOP majority during the Obamacare debate could pave the way for a productive presidency on other big-ticket items like comprehensive tax reform, a financial services overhaul, and a substantial regulatory rollback. These lofty goals are attainable, but probably can only be achieved with a White House- Capitol Hill partnership, in which Trump drives the big-picture narrative while leaving the policy details and legislative strategy to Ryan, McConnell and their allies. Already, the House Republicans have built the bare-bones structure for some of these reforms with their “A Better Way” blueprints. While these plans require additional refinement and executive input, Trump should look to them as the launching points for reform.
If he opts for a more confrontational approach to Congress, Trump will largely be confined to policy changes enabled by unilateral executive action. This lane has been widened considerably by the past actions of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and could include some of Trump’s campaign priorities. But many of those items, like building a wall on the southern border, imposing tariffs on imported goods, and clamping down on illegal immigration would lead to little (or in some cases, negative) economic growth. There are a few initiatives the President could take on his own that would likely win wide applause; such as an effort to rescind unnecessary regulations and managerial reforms to cut bureaucratic overhead in the executive branch. Still, the best opportunities for large-scale economic expansion will require the President to work with Congress.
At the end of the day, Trump will have to make an important decision: does he want to spar with the current Congressional leadership structure or does he want to be an effective, results-driven President? These goals are almost certainly mutually exclusive. If he chooses the former, he might satisfy some amongst his base constituency, but would likely divide the Republican electorate in the process. If he chooses the latter, he could rack up major legislative victories and possibly even “Make America Great Again” in the process.
We need the champion of domestic liberalization, not the protectionist czar.
The election of Donald J. Trump as President of the United States is a moment of great peril and of great opportunity. The great problem is that it is hard to know which. Trump campaigned on a fierce protectionist platform that operated on the assumption that the jobs that did not go to Mexico or Asia would remain just where they were. That assumption betrays a complete misunderstanding of the logic behind free trade. If the economic climate is poor in a given state or community, those jobs will either dry up or move somewhere else inside the United States. Nothing stays constant.
Anyone who just looks at job movements inside the United States will know that there are enormous winners and losers in the battle for business and jobs back home. Those states that have high taxation, strong unions and suffocating land use regulation will lose business and jobs to those states that offer a more welcome hand. That point was stressed by South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley in her insightful speech at the Federalist Society meeting in Washington DC, who laid out the blueprint for success. Lower taxes and a hospitable work environment cut the state’s unemployment rate in half and brought foreign companies to open plants in the state’s struggling small towns. Protectionism had nothing to do with South Carolina’s success.
The best way to keep jobs at home is to make the businesses that hire them welcome. That means lower taxes, a stronger work force and a responsive government. The state that tries this approach will not only be able to keep its businesses, but will be able to draw into its borders foreign companies that are looking for an attractive place to do business, close to the large American markets in which they hope to sell their goods. Lower the barriers and they will come.
The alternative protectionist strategy hopes to keep jobs at home by preventing the imports of goods from abroad. What a disaster! Some of those goods are cheap and reliable inputs for goods that American firms hope to sell abroad. Others are low-priced consumer goods that increase the purchasing power of American consumers. Place the trade barriers and we can be sure that Mexico and our various trading partners in Asia will retaliate by erecting barriers of their own. The last thing that this country needs is a trade war with its major trading partners that will weaken us domestically and create endless problems for our foreign relations.
Clean our own house, President Trump, and the jobs will come. Block the gains from free trade and everyone at home and abroad will end up worse. Your call.
Then, there’s the whole matter of Trump’s lack of experience in government. Even great business success doesn’t automatically translate to political success. The presidency is not meant to be a training ground.
There’s also the issue of whether Trump has a well-developed political philosophy. Even though conservatives have embraced him, he moved from party to party and it’s not clear that his sentiments are with them. More, he has often not seemed well informed even about long-standing political issues like abortion.
It’s good that Trump seems rhetorically ready to confront the left and the ingrained Washington establishment, but such an approach by itself wears thin after awhile. Confrontation has to be coupled with education to help people see why your principles and approach are better. It’s doubtful that Trump is equipped to do this, or even understands the need for it. Moreover, confrontation requires prudence. That’s certainly not a Trump strong point, as his compulsive tweets about such things as how to respond to flag-burners illustrate.
Actually, there’s a big question about how far Trump is willing to go in following through with the anti-Washington rhetoric that helped bring him victory. One easily reads into his appointment of Elaine Chao to his cabinet as an attempt to build a partnership with her husband, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. No one is more of a Washington insider than McConnell. Even Trump’s fervent supporters may fall away if they see that his rhetoric and actions sharply diverge.
On the other hand, there are some early signs that Trump may overcome some of his liabilities and open the door to accomplishments. Most of his top appointees so far have substantial government experience, which could help fill that gap. His seeming to persuade Ford and Carrier to not ship jobs overseas may foreshadow success in addressing the economic problems that were a main reason he was elected.
It is questionable whether Trump will truly change Washington. Even the much better prepared and more principled Reagan couldn’t do that.
To be sure, these differences are nurtured by a fractured media landscape that provides an echo chamber for every disparate, even extreme, viewpoint. But the social divide cannot be reduced to media consumption patterns or the size and diversity of people’s social media circles. Rather, it is a product of massive income inequality and growing levels of racial segregation in our communities, schools and workplaces. During the last eight years, millions of new jobs have been created and incomes have begun to rise, but the share of income going to the top 1% - the target of left-wing economic populism - is higher now than it was before the crisis of 2008.
Data from the Government Accountability Office shows that, since the year 2000, the number of children attending schools where most of their classmates are poor and either black or hispanic has more than doubled. Roughly two-third of black students attend hyper-segregated schools. If Americans see the world in radically different ways it is because they live radically different lives, cloistered along lines of income and race.
How will a President Trump confront this challenge? On the one hand, his racially-charged, xenophobic rhetoric clearly suggests that a Trump presidency will only widen existing social divisions by playing one group against another. On the other hand, his populist economic message - creating jobs through massive infrastructure spending and protecting Social Security and Medicare from threats emanating from his own party - point to a scenario where a Trump presidency could narrow social divisions by addressing problems of economic insecurity that cut across lines of race and nationality.
Yet, as the Trump transition gets underway it is becoming increasingly clear that, by the end of his first term, we are more likely to find that in both policy and rhetoric a President Trump will have widened, rather than mended, our social divisions. His initial picks to head up the Department of Education and the EPA show that, despite his war with the Republican establishment during the campaign, he is quickly falling into line with the Republican policy mainstream. Calling for both massive spending increases on infrastructure and massive tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations, president Trump is likely to sacrifice the former for the latter. His broad-based economic populism will evaporate, leaving President Trump with one remaining tool to maintain popular support: fueling the flames of the culture war and pitting working class whites against racial minorities and immigrants.
The divergence between economists and politicians seems to arise in making the leap from individuals to nations. For example, many of us have our shirts laundered at professional cleaners rather than wash and iron them ourselves. We, as individuals, seem to understand that not using the best specialists for goods and services trying to protect ourselves from a trade deficit can only lower our standard of living. Somehow, we can’t seem to visualize that insight concerning nations. The founding fathers did to our significant benefit.
Since 1929, nine of the fourteen U. S. recessions began in the year following the presidential election. At this time, Trump’s approach seems to be more of a going back to the notion of mercantilism, which in 1776 was discouraged by Adam Smith, the first economist, as too much federal and state favoritism of some firms to the detriment of other businesses and the general public through regulations, taxes, subsidies and licenses. He seems to think that the U. S. is like one big business. Trade deals between Canada and Mexico mean that the U.S. always sells more to them than they do to us.
In 18th century France, six volumes of stifling regulations on the textiles trade led to the execution of 16,000 businessmen who could not comply. Likely policies will not get this bad, but if you want current good examples of two countries that have ruined their economies by this method they would be Brazil and Argentina. Most economists consider that protectionism whether the kind Mr. Trump has promised or the versions Argentina has tried is deeply damaging to the economy, especially productivity, employment, higher prices, and a lower quality of goods and services.
Image: LPETTET / iStock.
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