Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Benchmarks to Assess the New President

According to the rules of US elections, Donald Trump won the Presidency and Republicans control the Senate and House of Representatives. I respect that.

This does not mean, however, that Trump and his party have any sort of mandate. Not only did Trump lose the popular vote by about 2.8 million votes (48.2%-46.2%), but he won three large states (Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin) that would have swung the election to Hillary Clinton with a combined total of only 77,000 votes. And while this year there was a narrow overall majority of votes for House Republican candidates this year, in recent years there has been a majority of votes for Democratic candidates despite a hefty majority of seats filled by Republicans, owing to gerrymandering. There were also more popular votes for Democratic Senate candidates this year, although it was somewhat anomalous due to the California Senate race being a run-off between two Democratic candidates.

There is no question that this election was tilted to Mr. Trump by the growing number of mostly white working class people who have been left behind by both economic and social changes in our society. His election was also aided by an unknown amount from Russian hacking, fake news, and the questionable decision by the FBI to raise its investigation of the email issue in the last weeks of the campaign. This was a candidate who set new records for fact-checkers disputing his statements and had a large following of people who believed those falsehoods.

As such, the outcome of this election is anything but a mandate for Donald Trump. Yes, he did obtain more electoral votes than Hillary Clinton, but his victory was extremely narrow, and he and other Republicans need to be careful of overreach. This is especially true since it is not clear that Mr. Trump really stands for the kind of people and their views that he is installing in his political leadership. (It is often not clear what he stands for at all, since his governing philosophy is not very detailed or consistent.)

But the new Republican majority may find it harder to improve upon the economic situation than what they have been handed. The US economy certainly still has a number of problems, especially income inequality and technology that is changing the nature of work, especially manual work. By most measures, however, the US economy is actually doing well. We finish the year, and President Obama’s second term, with strong economic growth (Gross Domestic Product [GDP] up at a 3.5% annual rate last quarter and being positive most of his second term), low unemployment (currently 4.6%, nearly full employment), low inflation, and a booming stock market (Dow Jones Industrial Average closing in on 20,000). Gas prices are low and the proportion of people lacking health insurance is lower than it has been in decades.

I believe an important task is to hold President Trump accountable. We will want to see how he adheres to his conflicting campaign pledges and the results of those policies when they are implemented. This includes promises to massively slash taxes, increase defense and infrastructure spending, make no cuts to Medicare or Social Security, build a border wall and deport 11 million people, renegotiate trade deals and implement tariffs if necessary, and come up with "something better" as the Affordable Care Act is repealed. While I disagree with many of these actions, it will be important to see whether Mr. Trump carries them out, and if he does, what is their impact.

Even though a good deal of what Mr. Trump says bothers many of us, I believe it will be more important to look at his actions. I hope he will especially be held accountable by those who are not conservative ideologues, such as workers who have been displaced from coal-mining and manufacturing jobs and those who don’t believe that their new health insurance they have received through the Affordable Care Act will be taken away. I also hope the impact of his policies on the environment, including climate change, will be objectively measured. And, of course, an objective assessment of a foreign policy administered via Twitter.

While I believe Mr. Trump should be judged more for his actions and their outcomes, I don't think he should be let off the hook for his words either. This includes all the vitriol he spread through the years of President Obama, from stoking the fires of the birther movement to making false statements on the economy. Despite attempts to "unify" the electorate after a divisive election, we cannot forget Mr. Trump's insults and lies about individual people and of groups, from women to Muslims to Mexicans. I still shake my head in amazement when people are asked to not take everything Trump said during the campaign literally, that it is legitimate to enter some sort of "post-truth" era., or that a good proportion of his

In the end, a President is not responsible for everything that happens on his or her watch. But for a narcissistic individual who takes credit for things that go right, even when that credit is not deserved, we should also hold him or her to objective measures of performance as well. While Mr. Trump has mastered the neutering of the press through social media and other means, I hope that responsible journalism will rise to the task and objectively report the impact of the words and policies that emanate from his Presidency and his political party.

1 comment:

  1. I would like to see a clear, line by line accounting of his campaign promises, threats, statements of retraction, pursuit, or actions. I kept thinking through the campaign that if we moved his shocking statements and positions out of sentence form embedded in commentary and into a table, it could be even more powerful to document - the wall, deporting, punishing companies sending jobs to other countries, throwing out Affordable Care Act, personal threats to Hillary ("lock her up"), statements of bigotry, inciting his followers to violence, siding with Russia over multiple US intelligence agencies about Russia's meddling in our election process, physical violations against women, denial of climate change, instances of conflict of interest, etc., documented dates/times and maybe linked video, audio, or text (including Tweets). There is power to be had in clear examples and numbers, and agree with you wholeheartedly - we must hold him accountable.