Trump Takes Charge
The inauguration of a president is a high point in America’s civic life. It accomplishes the peaceful transmission of power, which will be symbolized by President Barack Obama and President-elect Donald Trump traveling together from the White House to the west front of the Capitol.
The inauguration ceremony has traditionally been a moment of unity for a country that may have gone through a hotly contested national election.
In the glow of the inauguration festivities, the nation pulls together and experiences hope that the new president will bring success to the country.
This year, for a variety of reasons, there has been less reconciliation between the parties than has been traditional.
Nonetheless, in recognition that Trump is now the chief executive for all Americans, Epoch Times has pulled together advice for the new president on how he may succeed.
Those giving this advice are not necessarily Trump’s partisans—some strongly opposed his election—but they have in common the willingness to suggest how Trump can do his best for the United States.
The president heads his party, directs the government, and acts as head of state.
According to Stephen F. Knott, professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College and the author of books on the presidencies of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, the role of head of state gives Trump an important opportunity, if he can change how he presents himself.
“As head of state, the president is the personification of the nation,” Knott said, and in this nonpartisan role, the president can unite the nation.
“Americans want to look up to the president,” Knott said.
But for Americans to feel this way about their head of state, Knott said, the president needs to act with “dignity and restraint,” which Trump has so far not shown.
The problem is that Trump is in “permanent campaign mode.” His approach to politics, Knott said, resembles that of Sen. Joe McCarthy’s tough right-hand man, Roy Cohn, or George H.W. Bush’s chief political operative, Lee Atwater: “You always punch back as quickly as you can.”
If Trump can tone down the political warfare and act with more gravity, his poll numbers—which, according to a recent Gallup poll, are at historic lows for a president-elect—will start to creep up, Knott believes.
Spontaneity and Deliberation
Part of the problem Trump faces is that “he is a very spontaneous person,” noted Harvey C. Mansfield, professor of government at Harvard University.
That spontaneity enables Trump to improvise and adapt. It also causes him to sometimes be intemperate in how he expresses himself.
“He needs to be a little more deliberate about his spontaneity,” Mansfield said. “He needs to be more reasonable.”
The great instrument for Trump’s spontaneity has been his Twitter account.
“This is something new and I think it has been successful” at communicating to people directly, Mansfield said, “but he has to be careful that he doesn’t overuse it.”
Overuse threatens to tire the American people, and it also has the potential to distract Trump from keeping his eye on the ball. Instead of focusing on his top priorities, Trump may find himself quarreling with actor Alec Baldwin, or someone else who has annoyed him.
The use of Twitter is appealing, though, because it allows Trump to communicate directly with the American people, going over the heads of the press.
According to Ronald J. Rychlak, professor of law at the University of Mississippi School of Law, Trump needs to use Twitter to bypass the press since “the media have become polarized and have become political actors in themselves.”
But, Rychlak said, “I don’t know if you can manage a country that way.”
In Trump’s use of Twitter, Mansfield said, one sees a tendency toward “government by reaction.”
“Leaders lead,” Mansfield said, “not by spontaneously reacting, but by showing they know where they are going.” To do that, Trump needs to communicate to the public the principles he stands for, showing that he knows where he wants to take the country, said Mansfield.
In order to succeed at governing, Trump needs to recognize the limits of what he can accomplish, according to David Schultz, professor of political science at Hamline University.
Trump has a long and ambitious agenda that includes repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act; reforming the tax code, the Department of Veteran Affairs, and immigration, education, and regulatory policies; strengthening the military; and negotiating new trade deals, among other items.
Although Trump has a Republican Congress, he doesn’t have much political capital to spend, Schultz said. He lost the popular vote, and his Electoral College win was relatively narrow.
Schultz said that Trump needs “to figure out [which] two or three things are most important to his administration and push on those.”
Also, as a political outsider, Trump needs to learn the ways of power in Washington.
He needs to listen, Schultz said, to those who have experience in Washington, in particular career civil servants who can help his administration be effective.
While Rychlak agrees Trump needs to listen to those willing to carry out his agenda, he believes that Trump has to be careful not to listen too much to his critics.
“He needs to realize that much of what he hears in the press is being said by people who don’t have his interests at heart,” Rychlak said.
In the face of unprecedented hostility, Trump needs to stay strong, Rychlak said, and “not roll over and capitulate to every complaint.”
Political Will and China
In facing bad actors in the international system, Trump needs to impose costs on them, said Gordon G. Chang, author of “The Coming Collapse of China” and “Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes on the World.”
“It looks like Trump is going to execute a fundamental change in American policy toward China,” Chang said. While the United States has since 1979 been guided mainly by a policy of engaging China and seeking to encourage the country to move toward democracy through trade and diplomatic exchanges, Chang expects Trump to begin holding China accountable for its misbehavior.
“This is an issue of political will,” Chang said, noting how much more powerful the United States is than China. “In the past, China had a lot of political will, and we had little.”
China has been “acting in ways that are very dangerous,” and by intimidating China, the United States will be defending its own interests as well as those of its allies, the international community in general, and, in the long term, the Chinese people.
Yiyang Xia, senior director of research and policy at the Human Rights Law Foundation, said Trump needs to change how human rights have been treated in U.S.–China relations.
“In 1994, then-President Clinton de-linked ‘most-favored-nation status’ from human rights,” Xia said. “He was convinced that the Chinese would take more steps to improve human rights if the issue was separated from the threat of trade sanctions.”
Since then, the human rights situation in China has gotten worse. At the same time, Xia said, China’s huge slave labor force, made up of detainees in official and unofficial forms of incarceration, has given it an unfair advantage in trade.
In Xia’s view, the real threat from the Chinese regime is that “it is changing the West’s values by setting rules for our politicians, scholars, media, and entertainment.”
Xia said Trump needs to challenge the Chinese regime on human rights and be willing to link human rights to trade and other issues, as well as defend the West’s principles and institutions against encroachment.
Russia and North Korea
While Trump has been skeptical about the Chinese regime, he has been hopeful of fostering better relations with Russia.
Chang believes that once Trump has practical experience with Russia, it will shape and change his views. The problem is that, according to Chang, Vladimir Putin does not want—and cannot stand—good relations with the United States. For internal political reasons, Putin needs an enemy.
“I think we are going to find that relations with Russia are going to be as difficult for the Trump administration as they were for the Obama administration and the Bush administration before that,” Chang said. “Both Obama and Bush tried to have cooperative ties with Moscow. It didn’t work then, and I don’t think it will work now either.”
North Korea is developing the capacity to launch a nuclear weapon that can hit the United States. Chang would like to see Trump impose tougher sanctions on North Korea and to sanction China for helping the rogue state develop its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.
Affordable Care Act
Perhaps the knottiest problem in domestic policy facing the Trump administration involves how to replace the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare.
There are two kinds of difficulties: the technical problem of deciding what plan will replace Obamacare, and the political problem of getting bipartisan agreement. Because of the threat of filibuster, the replacement for Obamacare will need support from at least eight Democratic senators to join with the Republican majority.
Avik Roy, president of the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity and author of “The Apothecary,” a blog published by Forbes, believes the technical problem is easily solved and can be done in a way that satisfies Trump’s priorities.
Roy said Trump is often perceived as not knowing what he is doing because he doesn’t speak like a policy wonk. His management style is to articulate the top-line objectives for an issue and then leave it to the staff and the policy wonks to figure out how to achieve his goals.
Trump has three top-line objectives for health insurance: repeal and replace Obamacare, provide universal insurance, and reduce costs.
Universal insurance covers everyone, including the difficult cases: those with pre-existing conditions, the poor, and the elderly.
Roy suggested doing this by having the government provide a subsidy in the form of a tax credit if the premium cost for health care goes above a set percentage of someone’s income. For example, if someone made $30,000 a year, and if the government subsidized any premium cost above 10 percent of one’s income, tax credits would kick in if the premium was more than $3,000.
The insurance companies could set the premiums on the basis of the risk involved, so that those with pre-existing conditions might have higher premiums, due to their medical history. But the government subsidy would offset the higher costs for those individuals.
This method would cover those with difficult cases that incur high health insurance costs, but without driving up insurance premiums for everyone else.
Compared to Obamacare, this method would reduce costs. Obamacare provides coverage for pre-existing conditions by raising everyone’s premium, Roy said. This use of tax credits would bring premiums back down.
Roy supports the congressional plan to defund Obamacare now and defer passing a replacement for two to three years.
“It will take some time to work out a bipartisan deal on health reform,” Roy said, “but if the repeal drags out, it may not happen.”
Roy would like to see Trump stick to his goal of universal coverage but change his position that he won’t alter Medicare. Roy points out that without reform, the program is going to go broke. The program doesn’t need to be reformed for those on Medicare today, but rather for younger people who will need it tomorrow.
The economy is the issue that usually figures most prominently in judging whether a president has been successful.
Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, former chief economist for outgoing Vice President Joe Biden, and author, most recently, of “The Reconnection Agenda: Reuniting Growth and Prosperity,” said Trump needs to “actually help the people who got him to where he is.”
Trump won the presidency due to heavy support from white working-class voters, particularly in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, who delivered the winning electoral votes.
In Bernstein’s view, during the campaign, Trump made promises to these voters that he will have difficulty keeping. “Bringing jobs back to coal country, it’s not going to happen,” Bernstein said.
Bernstein doesn’t see Trump’s policies as helping people to “deal with the economic insecurity they face from being on the wrong side of globalization and inequality.”
Instead, Bernstein sees policies that are going “in the opposite direction.” The tax cuts that come with repealing the ACA will “return billions of dollars to the richest households.” Trump’s proposed income tax cuts do the same, being heavily tilted to the wealthy, according to Bernstein.
To help the working class out, Bernstein would like to see Trump institute plans, working with specific employers, in which job training is geared toward the economic sectors that are expanding in a particular region.
For example, an infrastructure plan would rebuild roads, bridges, schools, water systems, and other important structures, providing good jobs for years. Bernstein, however, sees the proposed Trump infrastructure plan, which involves giving large tax credits to investors, as “coddling the wealthy with tax cuts and tax credits.”
Bernstein would also like to see the minimum wage raised to $12 an hour, since many of the working poor are adults and only have access to jobs in the lower wage sector of the job market.
The higher minimum wage would work with expanded earned-income tax credits to boost individuals into the lower ranks of the middle class.
Finally, Bernstein would like to see an end to Republican hostility toward unions. The weakening of unions has meant that “when we do end up with a certain amount of growth, it is less likely to reach people in the middle class.”
Larry Kudlow, who has advised Trump on economic policy, previously served as associate director of economics and planning in the Office of Management and Budget during Ronald Reagan’s first term and is now a host of a weekly syndicated radio show and a contributor on CNBC. He recently published an article on the CNBC website urging Trump to move faster with tax policies that lower rates for individuals and businesses.
In Kudlow’s view, action is needed now because the economy is weakening again, with fixed business investment falling, productivity flat, and GDP growth at a meager 1.7 percent.
If Trump’s business friendly tax reforms—”low marginal corporate rates for large and small companies, easy repatriation, and immediate expensing for new investment”—are adopted early in this legislative session, then Kudlow predicts GDP growth will start moving toward 3 to 4 percent. If the tax reforms do not kick in until 2018, then this increased economic activity will be postponed until then.
While Bernstein would like to see a change in direction in several Trump economic policies, he supports Trump’s push to lower the trade deficit. In an article in the Washington Post, Bernstein proposed a bipartisan task force, to be headed by Warren Buffet, that would explore ways to reduce the U.S. trade imbalance without disrupting the flow of trade.
This approach would, Bernstein writes, “send a useful signal after such a divisive campaign” as this commission would bring together disparate groups that share a common goal.