Donald Trump’s presidential campaign was based on the notion that he could “Make America Great Again.” But beyond the rhetoric — sometimes lurching into demagoguery — the newly elected president comes to office, as one commentator suggests, “the least policy-savvy president in history.”
To succeed, Trump must adopt innovative policies that transcend traditional right-left divides. He needs to find ways to help his heavily white, working-class base while expanding his appeal to minorities, millennials and educated people who are now largely horrified by his ascendency.
In the short run, his biggest problem may lie with his own Republican Party establishment, which, rather than “drain the swamp,” would simply like to create one of its own. The looming presence of corporate lobbyists, swarming around the administration like hungry flies, is not encouraging at all, nor are GOP congressional plans to re-establish “earmarks.”
The key lies not in empowering a different set of K Street parasites, but rather in reversing income stagnation. If he cannot, his triumph may prove to be no more consequential than an absurdist, Latin American-style telenovela.
A flatter, fairer tax
The basic instinct among many Republicans tends toward reducing taxes on their richest donors and making life easier for the ultrarich, including some on Trump’s economic team. Trump’s imperative should, instead, be to make the tax system fairer for the middle and working classes. One way would be to make a graduated flat tax that would mean that the rich, who make most of their money from investments, pay the same rate for capital gains as the rest of us do for income.
Democrats will, no doubt, still charge Trump with being “unfair,” but, as Ronald Reagan proved 20 years ago, Americans support incentives for work if they don’t unfairly tilt conditions to the ultrarich. Main Street business owners, the most hostile constituency to the Obama administration’s policies, pay taxes based on their income and can’t manipulate the system like Apple, Google, Wall Streeters or, for that matter, real estate developers like Trump himself.
A middle ground for immigration
Opposition to illegal immigration helped drive the Trump campaign early on, but, outside of the GOP base, there is little support for a mass roundup of the undocumented. The vast majority of Americans, over 70 percent, also oppose “open borders.” After all, even President Obama evicted 2 million people during his two terms in office.
Trump also can begin reordering our immigration policies toward skilled workers who are interested in becoming citizens. At the same time, Trump could score points by undermining the H1-B visa program, which allows Silicon Valley firms, along with corporations like Disney and Southern California Edison, to lay off American workers and replace them with temporary indentured servants.
Joel Kotkin is executive editor of NewGeography.com. He is the Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University and executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. His newest book, The Human City: Urbanism for the rest of us, will be published in April by Agate. He is also author of The New Class Conflict, The City: A Global History, and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. He lives in Orange County, CA.