Saturday, April 29, 2017

Trump’s Rare Opportunity

After 100 days in office, the policy directions of the President of the United States remain as vague and unpredictable as they were during his campaign. This is, of course, no surprise to Mr. Trump’s opponents, who have always been painfully aware of his lack of readiness for that office. Mr. Trump’s supporters seem largely unfazed by the shifting enigma they elected, the idea of verifying assumptions against observable facts being foreign to them.

The only major campaign promise in which the President has remained steadfast is his desire for a border wall, although he is no more likely now than he was a year ago ever to get it. In so many other ways he has confusingly dithered. NAFTA will now be “renegotiated” rather than cancelled, NATO is suddenly relevant again, military action in the Middle East is once again feasible, and Putin might not be the ally Trump imagined. The President’s attempts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act failed spectacularly, and the entire health insurance fracas is now the fault and responsibility of the GOP. He has announced a planned reduction in the top corporate tax rate from 35% to 15%, but this is meaningless rhetoric without the details, since very few corporations pay anything near the nominal 35% rate now. Strategic thinkers on the Right and the Left, both domestically and internationally, can do little more than wonder what the future might bring.

There is a very small glimmer of hope, or at least some kinds of change upon which one might place a positive spin: Donald Trump appears to have learned a few things. Trump the campaigner was so delusional he actually claimed he’d be able to run his business empire and the U.S. government at the same time. He seems to have believed that the President governed by fiat, and that ideological commitment could substitute for governmental experience and knowledge of public policy. If his recent rhetoric can be trusted, though, it seems to be dawning on him that policy issues are often complex, that running the country is hard work, that the government is comprised of three separate branches, two of which are outside of his control, and that the internally conflicted Republican Party can’t or just won’t always deliver the votes he wants.

The President has an opportunity, here, if he has sufficient insight and strength of character, to be of great service to America. The best thing Donald Trump could do right now would be to confess to America what he didn’t know and what he now seems to be learning. He could confess that knowledge and experience matter, and that electing officials without them is a recipe for failure. He could confess that there are complex reasons for international treaties and trade pacts, and that changes need to be deliberated carefully by people with the expertise to understand their impacts. He could acknowledge that the manufacturing jobs he says “left” America have actually ceased to exist worldwide, and that government has a role to play in reskilling American workers. He could acknowledge that mere assertions cannot substitute for science and observable facts.

Such a confession by so influential a person might be one of the few ways to inject a critical dose of reality and practicality into the worldview of Trump voters. This is vital, because having an inexperienced know-nothing in the White House is really only the second biggest problem confronting America today. Our biggest problem is that a quarter of the American electorate were happy to give the presidency to that inexperienced know-nothing. Whether he resigns, is impeached, loses a bid for reelection or is President for eight years, the Trump presidency will end. But the ideological dysfunction that gave him the White House will still be a significant aspect of our culture. Trump is one of the few people who actually has an opportunity to change that.

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