With Inauguration Day only weeks away, Americans of all political persuasions await the incoming Trump administration with great anticipation.
Voters awoke on Nov. 9 — the morning after Election Day — to discover that Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton won the popular vote but lost the presidency because her Republican rival, Donald Trump, captured the majority of votes in the Electoral College, especially in such “Rust Belt” states as Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. They asked themselves how Trump, whose campaign rhetoric alienated women, Muslims, minorities and others, could have won the election.
While TV pundits and political scientists may debate this question for years, one thing is clear: the majority of Americans who voted for Trump felt the United States was moving in the wrong direction, and many white voters felt the economy was leaving them behind. Trump was able to tap into this sentiment, blaming globalization and bad trade agreements for their predicament, and promising he would “make America great again.”
Now that he has been elected, Trump faces a series of challenges that, if not met, might limit him to a one-term presidency.
In the Middle East, the president-elect must decide what to do about Syria and Iraq, where U.S. troops are engaged in fighting ISIS.
In the case of Israel, some initial moves by the Trump administration may serve the interests of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his Likud Party, but not the interests of the Jewish state as a whole. Trump will be expected to fulfill his campaign pledge to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
He also hinted it would be OK for Israel to ask for more than the $3.8 billion per year approved in the new U.S.-Israel military aid agreement, something currently prohibited by the agreement. The Trump victory has emboldened right-wing Israelis such as Jewish Home Party leader Naftali Bennett to assert that the U.S. would no longer call for a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and would no longer oppose Israel’s building of settlements on the West Bank.
If Bennett’s assertion proves correct, Israel will be on the path — given the birthrate of Palestinians living on the West Bank as well as Arab citizens of Israel — to an apartheid-like situation where a minority of Jews would rule a majority of Arabs. That’s something many Israelis and American Jews strongly oppose. On the other hand, Trump said he will make the “deal of the century” between Israel and the Palestinians, using his son-in-law Jared Kushner as a mediator. Such a deal would require some sort of a two-state solution.
As in so many other areas, Trump and his advisers have made contradictory statements, so only the future will show what the administration’s actual policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is.
If Trump has a large number of foreign policy problems, his domestic challenges are no less daunting. Challenge No. 1 is to create well-paying jobs for workers, especially in Rust Belt states, who have become unemployed either because of globalization or the technological progress that has replaced factory workers with robots.
Raising tariffs against China and Mexico is a self-defeating solution. Not only will it cause these countries to impose high tariffs on U.S. products, it would raise prices for American consumers, leading to a spike in the inflation rate, already under pressure because of Trump’s plan to cut taxes by up to $7 trillion.
A better strategy would be to convene a conference of American business people who have moved their factories overseas and ask them what kinds of incentives would be needed to relocate their factories back to the U.S. Most likely, one of the things they would ask for is a highly skilled labor force so they could produce high-value products that would earn good prices on domestic and world markets. Such a workforce is now lacking in many of the industrially depressed regions of the U.S. where a high school education is no longer sufficient to getting a well-paying job.
Working with the leaders of industry, and with local community colleges, Trump could set up a system to train workers for quality jobs, something that would provide workers not only with acceptable incomes but also with the dignity that comes from having meaningful jobs.
Another domestic challenge is what to do about the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). Trump has threatened to abolish it as soon as he takes office. But that’s easier said than done since Obamacare now provides insurance for more than 20 million previously uninsured Americans, enables children to stay on their parents’ insurance until age 26, and helps people with pre-existing conditions to get insurance.
It’s true that premiums for Obamacare have been rising sharply, but that’s because an insufficient number of young and healthy Americans have joined the program, preferring instead to pay a fine that is less than the insurance premium they would have paid.
One solution is to set up a single-payer system on the pattern of Medicaid, something the Obama administration should have done in 2009. While such a program would be a blow to the insurance companies, Trump — who boasted about not being indebted to any special interests — should give a single-payer system serious consideration.
One of the more difficult campaign promises Trump will have trouble fulfilling is the deportation of illegal immigrants, of which there are an estimated 11 million living in the U.S. Since the vast majority are living peacefully — and paying taxes — Trump could finesse the problem by deporting only the illegal immigrants who commit serious crimes, while giving the others a path to citizenship. While this might not prove popular with Trump’s base, the president-elect could help solve that problem by seriously cracking down on employers who give jobs to illegal immigrants, while at the same time stepping up border security. Building a wall on the Mexican border is not the solution; walls can be tunneled under. Better border security is the answer.
Another challenge for Trump is following through on his pledge to stop immigrants coming from Muslim countries to the U.S. until they are properly vetted. Since it already requires more than a year of vetting to bring immigrants from war-torn countries of the Middle East to the U.S., it is questionable how much more Trump could do, other than to say that after a period of six months to a year he has strengthened the vetting process and that immigration could now continue.
Trump promised to improve the lot of African-Americans living in impoverished inner cities, giving no details on how he would accomplish this. One thing he might consider is convening a conference of mayors in cities with major poverty problems. He could get their ideas and, perhaps by offering special federal tax incentives, get factories to relocate in inner cities. Job training would be critical, but at least in some of these new factories a German-style apprentice system could be established under which young workers would get on-the-job experience while improving their skills by taking courses in city high schools or community colleges.
In his acceptance speech, Trump promised to be the president of all Americans. Many Americans, however, remain deeply suspicious of Trump, which is compounded by several of his right-wing appointments to high positions. One way to handle this would be for the new president to give a major speech denouncing racism and bigotry (his comments on the topic to “60 Minutes” and The New York Times were insufficient). Such a speech would not only reassure American Jews (less than 25 percent of whom voted for Trump) — as well as African-Americans. Latinos and Muslim Americans — but also would have several benefits for America. First, it would reassure minorities troubled by the racist comments and actions of some of Trump’s supporters. Second, it would send a major signal to such bigots — a signal not sent during the campaign — that racist behavior and speech will not be tolerated by the administration.
Whether the Trump administration can meet all of these challenges is a very open question and may determine whether he can be re-elected in 2020.
Dr. Robert O. Freedman is Peggy Meyerhoff Pearlstone Professor of Political Science Emeritus at Baltimore Hebrew University and is currently visiting professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University. He is the author or editor of 23 books, most recently “Israel and the United States: Six Decade of Relations” (Westview Press).
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