Saturday, January 21, 2017

First Thoughts

Well, it's real, and Donald Trump is President.  Some initial reactions to the inauguration speech and his actions during the transition.

The speech was consistent with his campaign themes.  The rhetoric was certainly not my style (this is more my style) but it was what got him here and I liked this passage early in his speech. 
For too long, a small group in our nation's capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered, but the jobs left and the factories closed. The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country. Their victories have not been your victories. Their triumphs have not been your triumphs. And while they celebrated in our nation's capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land.
An entirely fair point when seven of the twelve highest income counties in the United States are now in the Washington DC metro area.  Anyone who has visited the city or its environs recently can see the booming economy.  Last summer, traveling from downtown DC to the Nationals ballpark I was astounded to see how many new buildings were under construction.  The governing class of both parties have made a mess for the rest of us, but have done well for themselves.

He also made remarks I found too apocalyptic in their view of America and promises too grandiose for my taste (though that is a characteristic he shares with more conventional politicians; at least he didn't promise the oceans would stop rising).

The speech reinforced that there will be no magical personality transformation as President.  More importantly it makes clear Trump is a nationalist and populist, not a conservative in the traditional sense.

I'm a process and constitution guy.  I care about the way you get things done, as it is critical to the maintenance of our society and ability to live peacefully together.  That does not appear, at least rhetorically, to be a Trumpian priority.  Nor was there any mention of freedom and liberty.  The message I come away with is Trump will conservative appointments or policies to accomplish his goals (and I do think that several of his appointments have been good) only as long as they have utility to him.  We will need to keep a very close eye on this.  And, I'll add, one of the yuuge reasons this election posed a dilemma for me is that the alternative was a Progressive party engaged in an ongoing assault on speech and dissent (more on that in an upcoming post).

What's important is what comes next.  All Presidents need to make choices among their promises which in most cases, including Trump, are incompatible.  That's how we learn what is really most important to them.  In 1980, Ronald Reagan had three priorities; beating the commies, cutting taxes and balancing the budget.  In office, he realized he could not accomplish all three and chose the first two (a decision I was okay with).  Trump will have to do the same and we will learn a lot more when that happens.

What makes this even more interesting is that some of his major cabinet appointees do not share all of his views, something I find encouraging, both in terms of Trump's willingness to select them and in injecting differing views into the Administration's policy debates.

Some of the media (aka Democrats with bylines) have emphasized the "darkness" of Trump's speech. To some extent I agree, but it is also hard to take seriously this criticism from those who would have been happy to see Bernie Sanders resentful rhetoric on display yesterday.  I'd also refer you to the 2016 platform of the Democratic Party, particularly in contrast to its 1996 platform (yes, I've actually read both).  The 1996 document is optimistic, references the importance of faith, talks often of economic growth, pronounces the end of "big government" but emphasizes the need for key government programs and for targeted new initiatives.   It also mentions the importance of immigration control; in fact, it is a document that, with the exception of trade, would have provided a platform that Donald Trump could have run on.  And I would have gladly voted for the Bill Clinton of 1996 over the Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump of this year.

In contrast, the 2016 Democratic platform is gloomy document - you'd hardly know Obama had been president for eight years.  There is no mention of faith or of growing the economy, but incessant references to inequality and the need for redistribution, along with a paeans to favored identity groups with implicit threats against the non-favored groups.  It is a crabbed, miserable view of America.

Trump's position outside the conventional ideological box, also points to a possible missed opportunity in Democrats overwhelming and unrelenting hostility to his election.  What opportunity?  Trump is not a conservative ideologue. He likes big government and executive power.  He does not care about the issues that drive social conservatives.  He is a non-interventionist on foreign policy.  He pledged not to touch Medicare and Social Security.  He has supported plenty of Democrats in the past, including Bill Clinton, and, let us not forget, Trump is clearly susceptible to flattery.

I thought that in the unlikely event Trump was elected he was as likely to make coalitions on an issue by issue basis with Democrats as well as Republicans; as a Washington Post headline yesterday put it, "Donald Trump completes hostile takeover of Washington, puts both parties on notice".  In the first couple of days after the election I viewed Senate Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer's (a very smart politician) initial reaction as attempting to encourage Trump in that direction.  He quickly changed course in light of the furious reaction of most Democrats.  What I see happening is that Trump, who is very sensitive to criticism, is now more likely to make alliances on the right because of the left's implacable opposition.  We'll see how this all plays out, because large segments of the Republican Party are not on board with parts of the Trump agenda. 

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