May you live in interesting times
-The Chinese Curse
To the surprise of many, Donald Trump emerged victorious from a long drawn-out, bitterly fought presidential campaign. I am not a fan of President (elect) Trump. He is an odious narcissist who demeans and insults his opponents while not addressing any substantive issues. The entire campaign with the equally odious Mrs. Clinton was an affront to my sensibilities and an insult to my intelligence. Nevertheless, Donald Trump is now our president and this country needs to figure out a way to make some good out of this unfortunate situation.
Luckily, as recommended in my recent book, Edifice of Trust, the Republicans have won both houses of Congress and are in a position to approve some of President (elect) Trump’s better proposals and to moderate some of his more extreme positions. Even though Republicans control both houses of Congress, the White House and will soon reassert conservative control of the Supreme Court, I still contend (as I did in the book) that we will face a period of divided government.
The Republican Party is no monolithic organization and President (elect) Trump eschews many traditional Republican values and policies. I see the party as split between three factions; Trumpian populists, traditional Republicans (sometimes called moderates) and Tea Party libertarians. There are no hard fast lines in these factions and individual legislators may wander across factional lines according to the issues involved. These factions will agree on some policies and disagree on others. Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader McConnell will have great difficulty in reliably delivering legislation acceptable to all three factions. Speaker Ryan has created a policy agenda (A Better Way – see post from October 26, 2016) that is technocratic rather than visionary but that may be a way to move forward.
The Democratic Party is also riven between traditional liberal Democrats and the progressive/socialist wing of the party. The progressive/socialist wing of the party is unlikely to cooperate with anything that the Republicans propose. Traditional Democrats, however, may be able to find some common ground with at least some of the Republican proposals. It would be in their interest to try and get some input on proposed legislation because, faced with an implacable opposition, the Republicans will enact laws (not executive orders) drafted as they wish. Likewise, traditional (moderate) Republicans may want to work with traditional Democrats to ameliorate some of the more extreme aspects of populist proposals.
The attached list is not inclusive but does give an idea of the different positions of the various party factions and how they might be able to work together.
If you read the Trump campaign website, you would find that many of the specific proposals on various policy issues are less extreme and more rational than President (elect) Trump’s stump speeches. As a businessman and (by his own estimation) ace negotiator, many key tenets of his agenda are more opening bids than ultimatums.
The supporters of his populist pronouncements will rage against any alteration of his proposals but it is essential for the future of America that these populist proposals be blunted and frustrated. Nazism and Fascism arose from populist movements. In the western hemisphere, Argentina is still wracked by the vicissitudes of decades under the sway of populist Peronism.
I have seen the results of these populist policies first hand. When I first went to work overseas, Latin America was still under the influence of the theory of import substitution, which is the essence of President (elect) Trump’s trade and employment proposals (high tariff barriers to promote domestic industry). In Mexico under the PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional) import substitution led to crony capitalism, high prices and shoddy goods. Government intervention in failing industries led to unproductive employment, poor services and uncompetitive products. The black markets (such as Tepito in Mexico City) throbbed with activity as customers sought high-quality smuggled goods. It took a Lost Decade to restore Mexico to greater prosperity. Import substitution is a proven failure and American populists need to be dissuaded from trying to implement such a plan in the US. It represents the first steps down a very wrong path.
The next four (and possibly eight) years will be full of challenges. President (elect) Trump suffers from the same “What Works” philosophy that afflicts President Obama and Mrs. Clinton. It is a philosophy that lacks any guiding principles (see my series on “What Works” on my other blog posts or, better yet, read my book Principled Policy). This is a period when we need our principles more than ever as a Pole Star that can lead us to a course for our country supported by all Americans.