President-Elect Trump: Out of Focus

On Tuesday night, November 9, 2016, Donald Trump was elected to be the forty-fifth president of the United States. Although more people voted for Hillary Clinton (she is ahead by 786,000 as of this writing*), Trump has won where it counts, in the Electoral College, which will formally vote on December 19. The next chapter did not endorse Trump, who disagreed with the views of this blog on five of the six focus issues it has been tracking in the election.

But issues mattered little and were debated less in the campaign. Trump captured the national imagination. He held the mirror and reflected back to the voters their anger and disgust with gridlock in Washington. His brand was “big league” change—not merely a change of which party would hold the White House but a rejection of business as usual and an upset of the established order in both major parties. Although his candidacy attracted the neo-fascists, xenophobes and misogynists in our midst, most people who voted for him were not “deplorable.” Most, I believe, are well-meaning, caring and honorable people.

Hillary did not lose the election because she is a woman. She didn’t lose because she is a Democrat. She lost because she is a Clinton, and no amount of silver-tongued rhetoric from Bill, Barack and Michelle would make people see her as a “change agent.” She embraced the Obama status quo and advertised her past (her experience in government and her grasp of policy details). Her campaign was out of harmony with the national mood. Voters were “sick of her damned emails.”

The Trump campaign was not about issues and details. It was a campaign about broad themes: restoring “greatness” and getting our country back. Candidate Trump would go to Washington and fix it. And who was it who had taken the country from us but entrenched politicians—the Clintons being prime examples of their kind? Candidate Trump would change things, whether or not you agreed with his positions on issues or even knew where he stood.

What does he believe? If he gets our country back, where would he take it?

TNC supports reforming immigration laws to expand the quotas for legal immigration and to clear a pathway to citizenship for the nation’s estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants. Candidate Trump proposed a “humane” deportation force and construction of a wall that would be “impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful and beautiful.” TNC predicts that the wall that Candidate Trump promised will never be built. More likely, Congress will pass an enforcement-only immigration bill—a metaphorical “wall”—that will be no more effective in “making the border secure” than the $187 billion or so that Congress has already spent on border enforcement since 1986.

Candidate Trump vowed to “completely repeal” the Affordable Care Act and to rely on competition to hold down the cost of insurance. In contrast, TNC supports the ACA and believes that it should be improved and expanded. Candidate Trump said that “everybody’s got to be covered,” but the details of what would “replace” the ACA are largely unknown. In his Contract with the American Voter, Candidate Trump promised to replace the ACA with Health Savings Accounts and the ability to purchase health insurance across state lines. The President-Elect has already signaled that he would retain elements of the ACA in his health care plan. TNC predicts that Congress will pass health care reform legislation in the first twelve months of the Trump administration. The legislation will “repeal” the ACA in some face-saving fashion for Republicans, but it will in fact attempt to modify the ACA by dropping the individual health insurance mandate and possibly block-granting funds to the states to grapple with health care for low-income families.

TNC supports the nuclear agreement reached with Iran, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany in 2015. Candidate Trump called the deal a “disaster” and “the worst deal ever negotiated,” promising to “dismantle” it. TNC predicts that the Trump administration will not unilaterally walk away from the Iran deal but will take a hardline stance that will result in deterioration of the tenuous diplomatic relationship between the two countries that Secretary Kerry spent many months to build.

TNC believes that greenhouse gas emissions should be regulated to slow climate change, a disaster in the making caused by human activity. Candidate Trump has called climate change a hoax and he has promised to “eliminate all needless and job-killing regulations.” TNC predicts that the Trump administration will ignore the problem of climate change. There will be no new regulations to limit greenhouse gas emissions, and those that were implemented during the Obama years will not be diligently enforced or will be repealed. Climate change will continue to be a world-wide problem with the United States taking no leadership to avert a growing crisis.

The federal minimum wage stands at $7.25 per hour, and TNC believes that it should be raised. Candidate Trump, in the name of protecting business competitiveness, opposed any increase in the minimum wage. TNC predicts that there will be no increase in the federal minimum wage during the first year of the Trump administration. Minimum wage increases, if any, will be left to the states. In 2018, Congress may enact a small increase (possibly to $10 per hour) in anticipation of mid-term elections.

TNC believes campaign finance reform is needed to promote transparency, context, accuracy and accountability in political advertising. Candidate Trump said that he loves the idea of campaign finance reform, and he criticized the role of political action committees in campaigns. TNC assumes that Trump is in favor of campaign finance reform and therefore agrees with this blog’s view on the issue, although it is difficult to tell what Trump’s position really is given the lack of specific proposals. TNC predicts that Congress will take no action on campaign finance reform in the first year of the Trump presidency, other than confirming a Supreme Court nominee who would concur with the majority in Citizens United that the First Amendment protects electioneering by corporations.

A divided people have given the highest government job in the United States to a man who has no experience in government and whose guiding principles are vague notions. A man whose notable skill is self-promotion has been elected to promote the welfare of all. Having run a campaign against entrenched politicians, he will now need the help of those politicians to govern.

Half the voters are appalled by the outcome of the election; the other half are jubilant. Is the nation strong enough to hold itself together when the people are so divided?

In his victory speech on November 9, President-Elect Trump said “it’s time for America to bind the wounds of division,” and he pledged to be president “for all Americans.” He asked for guidance and help from those who did not support him, promising to “work together and unify our great country.” He placed his win in perspective with uncharacteristic modesty, marking the beginning of his own transition from campaigning to governing a country that will not easily unify: “So, it’s been what they call a historic event, but to be really historic, we have to do a great job.”

And so goes on the grand national experiment of self-government.

[* UPDATE: Clinton beat Trump  by 2,865,075 votes, according to the final certified election results reported by CNN.]

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