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Will Trump’s Populist Policies Actually Make America Great?

For better or for worse, Trump won the Republican nomination and then the general election. It’s clear that his “Make America Great Again” slogan resonated with the electorate, particularly in Rust Belt areas that helped elect Obama twice. The problem for the president-elect is that a lot of the policy prescriptions he banters about cavalierly won’t help him fulfill that promise.

As a conservative and lifelong Republican I was against Donald Trump’s nomination for two simple reasons.

  1. I didn’t think he could beat Hillary Clinton and the Democrat machine (obviously I was spectacularly wrong on that count).
  2. I didn’t think he was conservative.

I still have grave doubts about Trump’s ability to govern effectively or conservatively (the irony of liberals fearing concentration of power in the executive and the judiciary now, however, is too delicious not to enjoy). Trump has been something other than a Republican for most of his life; he’s never talked seriously about an ideological conversion the way Reagan did. In fact, he doesn’t seem to have many deep thoughts about policy and when he makes statements they are often contradictory. His impulses on domestic policy appear to be statist in nature and on trade he’s a protectionist.

I believe that in order to be successful, President Trump should focus on conservative agenda items that are broadly popular with conservatives and beyond, like repealing and replacing Obamacare with something that works better. This is probably the most pressing issue and is already making headlines. Working with a friendly Congress to come up with market-based reforms should be a priority. For example, they could scrap the individual mandate and the onerous regulations in the ACA, while keeping the healthcare exchanges to operate as a free market.

Trump should also move from “build a wall” which is expensive and impractical to “build a virtual wall.” A wall that spans the entire border with Mexico is a simplistic idea that simply can’t work. For one thing, about 1000 miles of that border is a river that both countries have agreed to maintain. I doubt the U.S. is going to cut itself off from the river and cutting off Mexico from the river seems just as unlikely. So let’s get real and start talking about border security instead of a wall. There isn’t a single conservative I know of that’s for having an unsecured border.

Similarly, Trump should move from “deport them all” to “deport the violent criminals.” Illegal aliens comprise about 3% of the population in this country. If Trump could magically teleport them all back to the countries they came from, it would almost certainly crater the economy. Yes, illegal immigration has a lot of hidden and unhidden costs but most of these people are simply here to work. As a believer in free markets (and labor is a market) I think we should make it easier, not harder for them to work.

He could move from import tariffs (which are taxes) and protectionism that inflate prices and give consumers fewer choices, to tax cuts that bring companies back, create jobs, and preserve low consumer prices. For example, in 1960 an RCA 21” color TV manufactured in the good old U.S. of A. cost $495 (that’s almost $4,000 in today’s dollars). But today you can have a 39” high-definition flat screen TV delivered to your door for less than $250. Yes, the cost of technology is cheaper — but don’t kid yourself, a big part of the price difference is that the U.S. isn’t competitive in the worldwide labor market. But you know what would make us more competitive? Competition. Let’s not go back to the ’70s when Americans paid high prices for inferior goods that were made in America just because the government was in cahoots with big business to maintain oligopolies. Lowering (or even better yet, eliminating) corporate taxes would go a long way toward luring companies back to America.

One of the sacred cows of liberal Democrats is the minimum wage, but anyone who looks at it dispassionately understands that a high minimum wage creates unemployment among those most vulnerable, unskilled workers. Why not suspend or drastically lower the minimum wage in areas of high unemployment? See what happens. You can always put it back.

During the campaign, Trump didn’t really address the debt and spending, and when he did, he actually advocated more borrowing because interest rates are so low. That might be sage advice for real estate investors, but any conservative understands that continuing to spend money we don’t have will eventually lead to bad times. Very bad times. Trump should join Speaker Ryan in taking on the very real issue of spending and reforming entitlements that are driving the most spending.

A truly great America is one that is at peace with the world, especially its neighbors, where everyone who wants to work can find a job, where the government lives within its means and allows the citizenry to live as it wishes. It’s a country that millions from around the world will continue to want to come to and where many will be welcomed in a legal and organized manner.

As someone who didn’t want Trump, and who voted third party, I will give President Trump a clean slate, denouncing or applauding him as merited. If I was right about his anti-conservative nature, then I will be denouncing him frequently. But I hope that I was wrong.