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Tuesday September 19th 2017

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What We Know About Trump So Far

By LAURA WATERMAN WITTSTOCK

American media and the press developed a habit of looking at the first 100 days of a new president’s administration. It is a curious habit because most presidents, whether they serve one or two terms, have one or possibly two great successes, the exceptions being Washington, Lincoln, and Franklin D. Roosevelt and arguably one or two others. This rarity of greatness is partly attributable to a slow and inconsistent growth of the country’s development of policies and laws.

The administrative head of the country is expected to be a level-headed person having good diplomatic skills and an ability to keep the country out of hot wars while steering a steady course of economic growth and keeping the courts and Congress in check. Since Franklin Roosevelt, the country has come to expect more in services from its federal government, a new line from which there has been no retreat. Conservatives want less, liberals want more, but there has been no overall retreat from Social Security, the construction and maintenance of interstate highways, and now a creep toward national health care with the inclusion of Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act.

There has always been a social arc, bending the country more toward guarantees of education, health, and welfare along with a governmental tug toward “freedoms” that limit controls on individual lives. A big one of these is private gun ownership. The Second Amendment was once understood to be a Constitutional right of states to have militias for common protection, but it has been reinterpreted to mean an individual’s right to “bear arms.” The result has been an uncommonly large number of Americans who are shot or murdered every year.

The checks and balances among the administrative activities of presidents with the legislative actions of the Congress and the judicial decisions of the courts have produced some unusual circumstances and outcomes in the current era where hot wars mingle with cold war remnants and the courts have determined that corporations are individuals in this country. This last determination has skewed the national election process, cloaking it in a fogginess of mass election spending where of all things that should be transparent, the process of choosing our next president became awash in secret cash outlays.

Like a pendulum out of sync, our national election process has lurched toward greater and greater spending while giving the public less satisfaction with the results. National political conventions no longer select candidates. Moneyed candidates select themselves as nominees and use the primary system to win votes and delegates so that the national conventions of the two major political parties become merely endorsement exercises and not a nomination process. And it has not been since the 1960s. Because caucuses and primaries have become the way either party selects the candidates, national conventions have become lavish stages for videos, music, spectacle, and fiery speeches. Trump himself took the convention stage through a fog of theater smoke.

All of this, plus the distribution of electoral college votes, led to president Trump, a real-estate developer with no diplomatic or even administrative experience. (See the Alley December, 2016 and February, 2017).

Trump came to the presidency with an unusual agenda of change that emphasized laws to be rescinded, and the walling up of America in both a literal and economic sense. The Washington Post Fact Checker counted 280 Trump promises and 60 specific promises in what Trump called a “Contract with the American Voter.”

What president Barack Obama left as a legacy was a country that had been gaining in job growth throughout a long, slow economic recovery period. Jobs grew by 235,000 in February while the unemployment rate was 4.7 percent, unlike the picture painted by Trump that joblessness was rampant. To be sure, there are deep pockets of unemployment in some areas of the country where mining and manufacture have slowed due to changes in manufacturing methods, foreign markets, or sourcing.

Trump came to office promising to put as much as a 10% tariff on imports, to punish American businesses who locate outside of the U.S., limit immigration, return all illegal aliens, limit Muslim travel or immigration to the U.S., and put up a wall along the entire southern U.S. border. All of this is wrapped with Trump’s “America First” slogan, an echo of a 1940 “America First Committee,” that sought to stay out of WWII and placate Germany.

It was sobering to see that only one of Trump’s transition team members is an economist because the president’s “America First” thinking will surely increase unemployment and fail to bring employment relief to the areas of the country where Trump promised more jobs. An economist or two could tell him that his recovery thinking is flawed.

Trump’s desired cuts include:

thirty-one per cent at the Environmental Protection Agency;

twenty-nine per cent at the State Department;

twenty-one per cent at the Agriculture Department and Labor Department;

sixteen per cent at the Commerce Department;

fourteen per cent at the Energy Department; and

thirteen per cent at the Transportation Department and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Cooler heads will prevail, even on the conservative side of the aisle in Congress as the budget process starts, independently of the president’s wish list. Yet there is likely a fight ahead as conservatives attempt to shrink government while trying to pass new health care legislation and greater increases in defense spending.

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