The opportunity for Donald Trump to espouse a vision for a largely post-partisan right-of-center new politics is his to claim. He is not ideological to his core, which can potentially be an asset. For Trump to truly succeed at unifying (most of) the nation, he must triangulate—i.e. prioritize an action agenda that seeks to solve our most pressing problems as a nation over a partisan agenda that takes sides and leads to ongoing policy stalemate.
Here are some ideas on how Trump can change business as usual in Washington and win the admiration of most Americans regardless of political affiliation:
As a primary candidate, Trump was actually the least hawkish of the GOP field (with the possible exception of Rand Paul). Trump’s critiques of the Iraq war, for example, were heartfelt as he espoused the most realistic albeit unorthodox (for Republicans) views on foreign policy, correctly faulting our military adventurism in Iraq as creating the conditions that gave rise to ISIS. Similarly, he challenged our targeting of dictators in Syria, Libya and Iraq as creating more human suffering and instability, not less.
A more humble policy where nation building is prioritized less, and aligning NATO-level with street-level intelligence is prioritized more, would create a more resourceful and targeted way to defeat not nations but, rather, nation-less terrorist cells.
If Trump is sincere about cleansing Washington and serving the people over the powerful, there is no better place to start than tax reform. One key area is replacing the income tax with a national sales tax. Such reforms could be progressive by exempting the first $10,000 in worker earnings from payroll tax (as two-thirds of Americans pay more in payroll tax than income tax) and applying the VAT to financial transactions and capital gains (hence, not sparing the one percent who make most their income off stocks versus salary). It would also reduce waste by addressing the hundreds of billions in uncollected taxes in our current system, while drastically downsizing the scope of the IRS.
More exciting still, such tax reform would serve Trump’s stated priority of cleaning “the swamp” and cleansing democratic institutions hijacked by powerful interests and lobbyists that currently manipulate the tax code to the advantage of elites that pay for their services.
Infrastructure & Energy
Infrastructure is one area where Trump has signaled a willingness to go big, and there is no other area that spells more opportunity for our nation to remake our economy while making a middle class life a reality again for millions of “forgotten” Americans. His proposed $1 trillion would be sufficient to fund thousands of projects in queue to fix crumbling bridges and sewer systems, expand congested highways, bolster flood prevention, fix an antiquated energy grid, and so on. In light of estimates that with “every billion dollars that you spend on infrastructure, you create 18,000 to 25,000 jobs,” millions of new jobs would be created.
If President Trump complemented investment in transportation with a goal of energy independence, he should look to make wind a primary energy supplier for the East and West coast states, plains states (from Kansas to Texas following the wind corridor) and regions along the Great Lakes; similarly, solar power could be a primary energy source for our Western and Southwestern states, perhaps combined with investment in desalination technology and distribution channels to make California and Southwestern states less vulnerable to drought. These types of investments would be 21st century equivalents to Hoover Dam.
Furthermore, if Trump did like Eisenhower–who oversaw the construction of the modern highway system with the coming of the age of the automobile–and declared the coming of the age of advanced transit linking all of America by high speed rail and intra-linking communities by spokes that feed of that rail (street cars, etc.), we would surpass the high rail and transit networks of advanced European and Asian nations while opening up massive new economic opportunity for our nation (e.g. connecting the working poor to job centers).
These investments would help America largely run on its own energy sources. And it would also shift geopolitical power away from oppressive regimes that feed on oil money, and end our days spending trillions on wars fought over foreign oil. In so doing, Trump could really create an America First energy policy and foreign policy.
Unlike candidate Trump, President-elect Trump has signaled a willingness to maintain some key features of Obamacare—including allowing young adults to stay on their parents’ insurance policies, and prohibiting discrimination based on pre-existing conditions. Trump might also consider a reform proposed from John Kerry’s 2004 campaign and allow federal subsidy for catastrophic care, and lower the age for Medicare eligibility (paid for my lifting the payroll tax cap). Such action would stabilize and even lower health insurance premium costs. Additional proposals like allowing insurance company completion across state lines (hence, curbing regional monopolies) would also help to keep premiums on par with inflation. In this way, a conservative alternative to Obamacare would also be compassionate, efficient and effective.
Contrary to his campaign rhetoric, President-elect Trump has signaled that he would pursue a more refined focus on illegals that have committed crimes, versus illegals in general. Trump should go further by rewarding good behavior and – consistent with his law and order views – reward with amnesty those illegals that have paid taxes, committed no crimes and demonstrated through their actions that they are very much an asset to America. Such an approach would be well received by most Americans, and win over in particular the support of many Latinos.
America is a generous country that pretty much guarantees a pathway to success for those who take advantage of the free education that is offered them, stay out of trouble, and work hard. But government cannot cure personal and moral issues. What government can do, in targeted ways, is reward positive behavior like hard work and continuing education.
For example, Ronald Reagan conceived of the earned income tax credit as a means to reward work by supplementing modest wages. Trump can build on such policies by expanding the EIC. He can also support small businesses (like mine) that are the leading employers in our nation. Small business owners are especially good at vetting and cultivating reliable workers, and could offer such worker more hours and more income if we were to get some relief in areas like payroll tax (perhaps by waving the employer match for the first $5000 in income), which deeply cut against our bottom lines.
Stay moderate. Young liberal and conservative minded folks alike increasingly could care less if a Gay couple gets married. But they do care about issues like crushing student debt, or spending trillions on foreign wars while we cannot afford to repair our nation’s antiquated infrastructure, or adequately care for our heroic veterans. Trump can be a leading voice for criminal justice reforms (now strongly advocated by many conservatives, including the Koch Brothers), including more cost effective policies to deal with the drug epidemic, including expanding addiction and mental health treatment that costs far less than prison.
Should Trump forge a new conservatism that applies serious and cost effective solutions to the pressing issues in out time – from quelling military adventurism to building a 21st century infrastructure and energy policy that would create millions of new – he would ironically evolve from a divisive candidacy to a unifying presidency. Here’s hoping the President-elect defeats ideologically driven Washington gridlock by ruling from a radical, activist center that shuns partisanship in favor of progress.