Both Democrats and Republicans have agreed: This was the most important election of our lifetime. With the selection of Donald J. Trump as the 45th president of the United States, what can we now expect to change?
Trump has promised to restore faith in our republic among citizens who had begun to give up on it, while rolling back efforts made by the previous administration to transform the way the United States is governed.
He has been not just a presidential candidate but the leader of a movement. The voters who turned out by the tens of thousands for Trump rallies, and cheered him on like he’s a rockstar, have feelings of grievance and a longing for change.
Those not in the top income brackets have experienced almost two decades of wage stagnation, and since the 2008 crash, they have faced high rates of unemployment. They believe that the lack of jobs has to do with lax enforcement of the nation’s immigration laws. With the passage of Obamacare, the middle class has seen its health insurance premiums become more expensive while co-pays and deductibles went up and the networks of physicians shrunk.
Moreover, feelings of discontent have been longstanding. According to Gallup, since October 2005, more than 60 percent of the American people have been dissatisfied with the direction the country is heading in.
In other words, large parts of the population have been hurting, and they haven’t felt that politicians have been paying attention to their suffering. On the contrary, they feel the elites have written them off.
A Boston Globe columnist borrowed a phrase from the novelist Carson McCullers to describe these Trump voters as the “leftover people.” Hillary Clinton seemed to validate their feelings that the elite look down on them when she told a gala in New York City that one-half of Trump’s voters are a “basket of deplorables.”
If Trump can vindicate his followers’ faith in him, he will heal a widening breach in our nation, as tens of millions of citizens who have felt alienated will once again believe our system can work for them.
In order to make that system work, Trump has promised to “drain the swamp” of the corruption that infects a rotten establishment.
This charge raised the stakes in what would have in any case been a bitterly fought election. Any time a democracy begins to consider basic questions about how it should be governed, compromise becomes difficult.
Just before the 2008 election, Barack Obama stated, “We are five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States.” This election in part became a referendum on whether the changes introduced by President Obama would become cemented in the life of the nation.
Obama has sought change in the face of Republican opposition through appointments to the judiciary, the passage of Obamacare, the issuing of new regulations and executive orders, and the signing of international agreements.
Republicans have viewed Obama’s judicial appointments as taking a political approach to judging, making decisions on the basis of their preferences. Many of Obama’s executive orders and new regulations are viewed by Republicans as unconstitutional expansions of executive power and reductions in the role of Congress.
Trump’s Contract With the American Voter, announced at his speech at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on Oct. 22, would roll back much of Obama’s agenda. Trump would appoint judges who interpret the Constitution strictly, cancel Obama’s executive orders, eliminate regulations, repeal and replace Obamacare, and establish policies designed to strengthen the American nation state.
Whether Trump can succeed depends in part on whether he can exercise discipline that often eluded him on the campaign trail. He repeatedly showed he could not endure a slight and would get distracted for a week at a time by responding to one. Speaking off the cuff, he made ugly and intemperate statements about women, a disabled reporter, Hispanics, and Muslims that had his supporters scrambling to excuse him.
More than a dozen allegations of past sexual misconduct emerged during the campaign, and, unless these are disproven, they will continue to shadow Trump as he governs. In addition, Trump faces a lawsuit alleging fraud in the running of Trump University.
While Trump is someone with intuitions and deep feelings about the United States, he has not shown a grasp of the finer points of policy. What policies he finally pushes may depend to a great degree on which advisers have his ear. With Trump taking pride in his ability to make deals, one may see him work hard for bi-partisanship.
Here is what Trump says he will do differently than his predecessor.
In an ad released days before the election, Trump said, “Our movement is about replacing a failed and corrupt political establishment with a new government controlled by you, the American people.”
Trump, in his Contract with the American Voter, proposes “a constitutional amendment to impose term limits on all members of Congress.” He will enact a “hiring freeze on all federal employees to reduce federal workforce through attrition (exempting military, public safety, and public health)” and institute a “requirement that for every new federal regulation, two existing regulations must be eliminated.” He also proposes “a 5-year ban on White House and Congressional officials becoming lobbyists after they leave government service,” “a lifetime ban on White House officials lobbying on behalf of a foreign government,” and “a complete ban on foreign lobbyists raising money for American elections.”
In his campaign speeches, Trump also singled out the corruption of the press. Emails released by Wikileaks showed Clinton campaign manager John Podesta colluded with the press in its coverage of the campaign. A survey by the conservative Media Research Center of the three months following the end of the party conventions judged 91 percent of the network news coverage of Trump’s campaign to be hostile. Trump has proposed changing libel laws to make it easier to sue the press.
2. Illegal Immigration
Trump’s opposition to illegal immigration first put him on the national political map, as other politicians seemed not to realize the intensity of feeling held by the Republican Party’s base on this issue. In an April 2016 poll, Pew Research Center found that, by a two-to-one margin, Republicans support building a wall on the Mexican border.
In his Contract With the American Voter, Trump proposed the End Illegal Immigration Act. The act would fully fund the construction of a wall on the southern border with the understanding that Mexico would reimburse the United States for the cost.
It would also establish a “2-year mandatory minimum federal prison sentence for illegally re-entering the U.S. after a previous deportation, and a 5-year mandatory minimum for illegally re-entering for those with felony convictions, multiple misdemeanor convictions, or two or more prior deportations.”
Finally, the act would increase penalties for visa overstays and ensure open jobs are offered to American workers first.
3. Economic Growth
Trump campaigned on a platform of economic growth. He promises his policies will raise the GDP growth rate from the Obama years—from an average 2.1 percent, to 3.5 to 4 percent. And he promises that over 10 years, his policies will produce 25 million jobs. He intends to do this through a combination of tax, energy, regulatory, and trade policies.
Under Trump’s tax plan, every income group will receive a tax cut, with the greatest percentage reduction going to working- and middle-class taxpayers. He will reduce the number of tax brackets from seven to three, with tax rates of 12 percent, 25 percent, and 33 percent.
Trump will reduce corporate tax rates from 35 percent to 15 percent, and allow companies with money earned abroad to bring that money back to the United States at a tax rate of 10 percent. Because of the high taxes American companies face if they seek to repatriate cash, an estimated $2.4 trillion dollars is held offshore.
In his Contract With the American Voter, Trump promises to “lift the restrictions on the production of $50 trillion dollars’ worth of job-producing American energy reserves, including shale, oil, natural gas, and clean coal.”
Trump also proposes a regulatory overhaul that will “add trillions in new wealth to the economy.” Among other regulations, the Clean Power Plan, which Trump estimates will shut down most coal-powered electricity plants, will be scrapped.
Trump’s trade plan is perhaps the most controversial of his economic initiatives. Until this election cycle, there had been a broad bipartisan consensus favoring multinational trade deals like NAFTA and the not-yet-approved Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).
Trump intends to either renegotiate or withdraw from NAFTA, which he terms “disastrous,” and to withdraw from the TPP.
Trump describes himself as believing in free trade, but he intends on negotiating new trade deals with America’s trading partners. His goal is to “ensure that every single one of our trade agreements increases our GDP growth rate, reduces our trade deficit, and strengthens our manufacturing base.”
With bad actors in international trade, such as China, Trump plans on using countervailing tariffs to persuade nations to play by the rules. He also intends to declare China a currency manipulator and to bring trade cases against China at the World Trade Organization.
One of Trump’s economic advisors, Peter Navarro, professor of economics and public policy at the University of California–Irvine, explained in an interview with NPR that China illegally subsidizes its exports, steals intellectual property worth $300 billion a year, and forces companies manufacturing in China to transfer proprietary technology to companies in China.
5. Rule of Law
Trump announced in his Contract With the American Voter that on his first day in office he will “cancel every unconstitutional executive action, memorandum, and order issued by President Obama.” Republicans have complained about Obama’s use of executive actions to do things that no legislation has authorized, claiming authority the Constitution does not grant.
Trump also promises to nominate a replacement for Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court “who will uphold and defend the Constitution.” There has been a long-standing disagreement over what standard should be used in evaluating Supreme Court justices and federal judges. Obama has favored those who embrace the idea of a “living Constitution,” which judges modify according to their understanding of what the times demand.
Trump has taken Scalia, who aimed to understand the original intent of the drafters of the Constitution, as the standard for the judges he will appoint. His appointment of a replacement for Scalia, and other possible appointments to the court during his term (two justices, Anthony Kennedy and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, are now in their 80s) will likely ensure a conservative majority.
Trump also plans to cancel federal funding for sanctuary cities, which flout U.S. immigration law, and he plans to deport “more than 2 million criminal, illegal immigrants.”
6. Health Care
No matter who won the presidency, change had to come to Obama’s signature achievement, the Affordable Care Act, which is now in crisis. Premiums are increasing in 2017 an average of 22 percent, according to the administration. Much higher premium rate increases have been reported in individual markets. Insurance companies have been backing out, and in an estimated one-third of the country, only one insurance company will be left to offer coverage.
Trump calls for repealing and replacing Obamacare. Among the proposed reforms is the ability to purchase health insurance across state lines, which introduces competition into the health insurance market. He favors health savings accounts, which allow users to save tax-free money to be used for health expenses.
Trump has called for new measures that would support families in caring for children and the elderly, with tax deductions for such care and tax-free dependent care savings accounts. Incentives are also proposed for employers to provide on-site childcare services.
In response to the long wait times encountered by veterans seeking health care through the Veterans Health Administration, Trump proposes allowing veterans to have the choice of seeking private care, which would be funded by the federal government.
7. National Security and Foreign Policy
Trump has been a critic of U.S. involvement in the wars in the Middle East. In general, he wants the United States to avoid efforts at nation building and to only get involved in war when its own national interests are at stake.
He says he seeks “peace through strength” and has promised to rebuild the U.S. military. While there are controversies among experts about whether the U.S. military has dangerously weakened, critics point to key weaknesses. The U.S. Air Force is operating with 20 percent fewer fighter pilots than it needs. The U.S Navy has fewer ships than at any time since World War I. The U.S. Army has key training deficits that would hamper its ability to respond to a major crisis.
Trump proposes ending the sequester, the automatic spending cuts that reduce the military’s budget by $454 billion over the years 2013–2021, and expanding investment in the military.
Under Trump’s plan, the U.S. military would focus its efforts on destroying ISIS and otherwise trying to eliminate the threat of terrorism.
Trump has said he will suspend immigration from terror-prone regions where it is not possible to accurately vet prospective immigrants, such as Syria. And he will establish new screening procedures meant to ensure that immigrants support the American people and their values.
8. Law and Order, Education
Trump has run as a law and order candidate. In the Contract With the American Voter, Trump calls for a “task force on violent crime and increasing funding for programs that train and assist local police.”
Under Obama, the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department has launched dozens of investigations into possible racial bias and unconstitutional practices in local police departments.
The finding of racial bias is based upon a theory called disparate impact. If a group is arrested at a greater rate than its proportion of the population, then this disparate impact, regardless of the rate at which a group commits crimes, can be assumed to be evidence of racism. Such findings have led to negotiated settlements with the Justice Department, which critics have called the nationalization of local police departments.
Trump has said he will end the practice of such investigations.
Trump solicited African-American and Hispanic votes by pointing out the poor record of schools in the country’s inner cities. He has called for using federal money to help give parents school choice, allowing them to put their children in private, charter, magnet, or religious schools, as well as the standard public schools, or to home school.