Diary

Big Picture Optimism in the Age of Trump

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump smiles while speaking at a rally at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, Thursday, Jan. 28, 2016. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

At least in California, there is a deliberate lack of understanding of the state of American politics. Everything is about Trump because that is what gets the Democratic base and the mainstream media riled up. It is easier for the Democrats to be outraged by everything Trump than to find ideas which bridge the divides within their party – never mind looking for areas where the two parties can agree. Many Republicans find themselves defending their team leader despite their dislike for the person, and disagreements on specific policies. Aside from the “witch hunt” on Russia and the impasse on Obamacare, there are some clear themes which lie outside of the media’s vision.

1. Trump is riding a wave, but he is not the wave. The wave had an early manifestation in the insurgent campaign of Ross Perot in 1992 which attracted the same middle class white audience with the same America First theme on trade, the same hope that a successful businessman could fix the problems of political Washington, the same emphasis on themes rather than details. After a two decade ebb, the wave has washed across the states as conservatives have claimed some two thirds of the governorship’s and state legislatures. It has washed across Washington with Republican control of the House and the Senate. Trump was smart and lucky enough to capture the mood in 2016 after eight years of President Obama – but very few Senators, Congressmen, or governors think that he created the Republican/conservative ascendancy or that he he has helped them much politically. Most were on the wave long before Trump.

2. The debate within the Republican Party is healthy. One thread of conservatism prioritizes financial responsibility, seeing debates on healthcare, the tax code, and the budget through the lens of a $20 trillion national debt – and greatly limiting the maneuver room for those who are fearful of voter reaction as they roll back decades of creeping socialism. In comparison, the policy ideas of the Democrats are non-existent or irrelevant, in part because they are still litigating the last election, in part because there are real limits on how far an overarching strategy of ethnic and gender division can carry the party, and in part because they hold no levers of power.

3. Elections matter, and Trump is largely delivering on expectations. What Barack Obama chose to do by an expanded use of executive orders without legislative approval is being undone. Exit from the Paris Climate Change agreement; reversal of Cuba policy; repeal of a broad range of EPA regulations; expansion of energy exploration and transportation; control of immigration; downsizing of regions declared to be National Monuments. Military commanders in the Middle East are being empowered to make tactical decisions. A conservative Supreme Court is being cemented for decades; an unusually large number of reliable conservatives are being appointed to the lower courts.

4. Omnibus bills are very difficult to pass, particularly when both parties are committed to non-cooperation. Repeal/Replace of Obamacare and broad tax reform are issues for the Republican Congress, not for the Executive. Businessman Trump is not concerned with the details, and does not have enough clout with recalcitrant legislators to sway key votes. On the other hand, Trump has signed more legislation than other recent presidents at a similar point in office – including some that matter, like Veterans Affairs Department accountability, broadband privacy, drug testing for unemployment compensation, and federal land use procedures. Perhaps Governor Rick Scott of Florida is onto something when he a advocates breaking large subjects into bite-size bits.

5. Presidents always inherit problems. Some of those which Trump inherited were specific – the North Korean nuclear program; the collapsing carcass of Obamacare; a non-competitive corporate tax code; ISIS; the war in Syria. But some were also broader – an America where the portion of the population unable to find good middle class working jobs is near record highs; declining stature in the world with a President Obama who did not believe in “American exceptionalism”; and toxic politics where the losing party seeks to overturn a legitimate election. The specific problems will be handled by this administration; the broader ones will require a national consensus.

The good news, evidenced by elections over the past 10 years, is that the American public gets the big picture. Controlling the Presidency, the House, the Senate, and most of the state governments offers a generational opportunity, with success as much dependent upon Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell as upon Donald Trump. And that’s the way that the Founding Fathers designed the system.

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www.RightinSanFrancisco.com – 6/30/2017