2016 Election

Tax Cuts and Wars Are Not Enough, Mr. President

- January 10th, 2018
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In 2017, the president had a handful of successes that should make all Trump supporters proud. He managed to engage in the greatest rollback of the regulatory state in recent memory, as well as to enact a decent tax cut that likely has goosed and will continue to improve the growth of the country’s GDP. Since taking office, unemployment has reached historic lows (especially for minorities); consumer confidence is up, and the stock market continues to soar.

President Trump has managed also to destroy the Islamic State’s physical caliphate in the Middle East; he has stood up to Russia in Syria and in Ukraine (how’s that, for a purported Russian stooge?); held firm against North Korea; and reaffirmed our alliance with both Israel and the Sunni Arab states, in order better to contain Iran. All of these are great successes for the president.

Yet, the president’s first year also left much to be desired for Trump’s most loyal supporters.

On the key themes of immigration and trade, the president’s record has been mixed. Yes, illegal immigration has precipitously declined since the president took office. But, the absence of any real movement on the border wall a year into the administration (or the lack of proper funding even for the wall) is troubling. And while Trump has pulled the United States out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)—a major victory and a movement away from globalist assumptions about trade—the president is shying away from greater protectionist measures that will protect American workers and critical industries.

Thus far, Trump has been a very effective conventional Republican president: we’ve gotten good again at winning in war and we’ve mercilessly slashed taxes (as well as regulations). But, the Trump agenda that I voted for transcended the dominant Republican ideology of the last several decades that was primarily concerned with winning wars and cutting taxes. Trump did not win by convincing Americans he would be better at these things than Hillary Clinton would have been. He also didn’t win by promising to make sure the country’s top wage earners got to keep more of their money (though they are).

Trump won in 2016 because he recognized, as did Ronald Reagan, that “there was no such thing as a left or a right” in America, but rather there was only an “up or down.” It was Trump’s appeal to the interests and well-being of ordinary American citizens, not his technocratic policy prescriptions that won him office.

Take the recent tax cut bill (which was needed to goose GDP in the short-term). When campaigning, the president described a tax plan that would give us comprehensive tax reform, not merely a tax cut. Would not raising some taxes on the upper one-percent (those making $5 million a year or more) to help shore up our ailing entitlement programs, or better yet, to help pay down our out-of-control debt been a good idea? Why was raising the marginal tax rate on those “one-percenters” from 39 percent marginal tax rates to 44 percent not something considered? Instead, we got a massive tax cut for everyone (good in the near-term) that actually added to the debt. Not everything in the Republican tax bill was bad and it did help in the near-term, but Trump’s election was not just about the here-and-now; it was about the future.

Unfortunately, in terms of real reform, the president has mostly come up short. That doesn’t mean that the president won’t do these things, or that he is entirely to blame for these things not happening (the Republican Congress continues to march out of step with the stated Trump agenda). What is most concerning is that the president seems intent on deferring to a Congress that is populated mostly by “Never Trump” Republicans and Democrats. While we can applaud the president’s desire to respect the constitutional separation of powers and leaving the legislating to the legislative branch, the fact remains that many (if not all) of the elected leaders in Congress favor amnesty and oppose the basic components of the Trump agenda. It is a mistake to leave the legislative details to these elected leaders, especially considering how poorly the Obamacare repeal went.

Speaking at an historic, televised meeting between himself and Congressional leaders, Trump said that he was going to “pass whatever” bill Congress came up with on immigration. Yet, there is nothing in Congress’ recent history indicating that they will craft a bill that seriously enforces immigration law; ensures a permanent decline of all forms of migration to the United States; or builds a “big, beautiful wall,” as per Trump’s campaign promises. Instead, if left to their own devices, Congress will not only push a bill that legalizes the “dreamers,” but also undercuts the core of Trump’s immigration plan. This is but one example of how the Trump legislative agenda has effectively stalled on the issues that we Trump supporters voted for (and that most Beltway types abhor).

All in all, the president’s first year has been good—far better than his critics are inclined to give him credit. As an early (and vocal) supporter of the president’s, I am mostly happy with the (limited) progress that he’s made. I continue to be concerned, however, that the president’s full reform agenda will never pass at this rate. He simply has to be more assertive with Congress (beyond public displays, such as the one yesterday). The president has to hit the ground running in 2018, and keep the entrenched elite off-balance, by pushing for policies that appeal to the average voters of both political parties. He needs to build his coalition among the people and put the pressure on those elements within Washington who continue to resist him. Protectionism and immigration need to be seriously addressed.

Trump needs to return to the core themes that made him president. Tax cuts and more wars are simply insufficient for America today.

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