Robert A. Levine 12-7-16
Donald Trump was elected American president on a surge of populism, promising to bring manufacturing jobs back, deport immigrants, build a wall at the nation’s southern border (which Mexico would pay for), and generally make things better for America’s workers and middle class. He also promised to drain the swamp of Washington insiders and lobbyists, and change the culture in Washington.
Whew! That’s a lot on the Trump plate and his early actions and appointments certainly don’t jibe with his campaign rhetoric. First of all, he backed away on his pledge to deport all illegal immigrants, saying he would send back the 2-3 million with criminal records before addressing the rest. However, there are not 2-3 million undocumented immigrants who are criminals. The number may be under a million with many having minor transgressions and non-violent offenses. Perhaps Trump is more aware that America needs the undocumented immigrants to support areas of its economy, including agriculture, hospitality, landscaping, and construction. So most undocumented immigrants are probably not going anywhere. As for the wall, it has now morphed into a fence.
And even though Carrier has agreed to keep almost a thousand jobs in Indiana after haranguing from Trump, more than a thousand are moving to Mexico. And the new factory there will be operational despite Trump’s pleas and threats. Can the president really tell individual businesses how to operate without the benefit of specific laws? Many more manufacturing jobs from Indiana and other rust belt states are on the way to Mexico in spite of what Trump has pledged. It’s just a lot cheaper to operate down there. As far as tariffs on products of companies that leave the U.S, and on Chinese goods, the Republican Congress, which favors free trade, is likely to shoot that idea down.
Unfortunately, Trump’s transition team has been riddled with lobbyists and Washington insiders, so the existing culture does not seem likely to be transformed. As far as his appointees go, they don’t exactly fit with a populist pantheon and draining the Washington swamp. Billionaires and Wall Street insiders have been filling most of top positions in the Trump cabinet and advisory team, except for an occasional outsider.
The new head of the EPA is a skeptic regarding climate change who questions global warming alarmism and is against policies that would ration energy, believing they would hurt the economy. He opposes the Paris Accord on global warming and has said that a little warming is nothing to worry about. Admitting that he is not a climate scientist, he has previously lobbied against EPA officials who favored reducing US dependence on coal for energy. Is this who we want leading the EPA and protecting us against pollutants as well as climate change. (It is rumored that Trump’s daughter Ivanka may act as a climate czar and push for policies that will reduce global warming, but there has been no confirmation of her role yet.)
As far as controlling Wall Street which Trump demonized during his campaign, he already has two Goldman Sachs ex-partners on his team, and is negotiating with a third for possible head of OMB. The Education, Commerce, and Treasury cabinet positions are all filled by billionaires, none of whom have any government experience. Can we expect policies from them that will favor the middle class and working men, with tax reform at the head of the docket? Where are the populists that were expected?
Republican Congressman Mike Pompeo will be head of the CIA and GOP Senator Jeff Sessions will be appointed Attorney General by Trump, with both needing Senate confirmation which should not be a problem. Both are long-standing Washington insiders who had positions in the swamp. In addition, Representative Tom Price, a Georgia orthopedist who is anti-Obamacare and anti-Medicare, was appointed chief of HHS, another swamp-dweller. (Will Trump’s promise not to touch Medicare or Social Security be kept?) Elaine Chao, who had a cabinet position in the Bush administration and is the wife of Mitch McConnell, was made Transportation Secretary. All denizens of the Washington swamp.
So where is Trump headed with his early actions and appointments? Nobody knows, probably including Trump himself. He’s a guy who shoots from the hip and uses his intuition for the most part to tell him what to do. It worked during his campaign and maybe it will work during his presidency. For the good of the country, we certainly hope so. But I wouldn’t bet my last dollar on it. Debate, dialogue, discussion, and study are more likely to produce answers that are best for America, and these are not Trump’s strong suits.