Divisions are sharp in Washington State, and the United States, between economically challenged rural communities and thriving metro regions. This crystalised with the election of Donald Trump. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote in Washington with 54.3 percent to Trump’s 38.0 percent, but Trump carried 27 Washington counties to her 12, including four that twice supported Barack Obama.
Though predicting much better results, Democrats in the Washington House failed to boost their one-vote majority. The fiscally conservative bipartisan coalition controlling the State Senate held its majority. Across the country, 33 governors will be Republican, up from 31. The GOP will control both chambers of the state legislature in 32 states, up from 30 before the 2016 election, 14 after 2008, and 4 in 1976. The big takeaway is less about parties, more about the direction of policy.
A Roadmap To Uncharted Territory
Change is afoot from statehouses to the White House, but our new Chief Officiant has been a puzzle. He often seemed to be actively sabotaging his own candidacy, but now is doing a pretty fair impression of a President-Elect.
Expectations and alienation are high. How to make sense of it all?
We need a roadmap to the Time of Trump.
Who is this guy, how did he get elected, and how should he spend his political capital?
Start with style, which is much more than window dressing these days. Trump delivers a form of improvisation best described as “shtick.” It’s topical, improvisational, and can get confrontational. Grammarphobia blog: “In Yiddish, a ‘shtick’ is a piece, a part of something, a bit of misconduct, a trick, or an attention-getting gimmick used by an entertainer.” There you have Trump’s M.O. In the age of information fatigue, what’s old is new.
Disruptors Cut Through In Europe, Too
In Italy, Sicilian stand-up comic Beppe Grillo is leading the populist 5 Star Movement of rank amateurs into power. Voters are torn up about a stalled economy, vaporizing jobs, and growing public debt. Sound a bit familiar? The electorate finally said, “Basta!” Enough!
Working class worries fueled Brexit. In France, the limp economy, government bloat and repeated terrorist attacks on everyday citizens – like those here in the U.S. – have helped elevate Thatcher-ite conservative Francois Fillon and nationalist Marine Le Pen to a final run-off for President.
Weaponized shtick in hand, Trump battered opponents and media. Yet each storm of outrage he provoked only solidified and expanded his base. People: Never. Mind. His. Latest. Tweet. Outrage is so October. A good place to start? Channel the economic anomie felt by so many Trump voters.
Seattle City Council Member Tim Burgess, encountered recently downtown, was not one of those voters, but was carrying a copy of J.D. Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy,” about bootstrapping amidst great social dysfunction, in Appalachia. Burgess shared a telling observation: the mistake Trump’s detractors made was to take him literally when his appeal was all in the broad strokes.
Bullseyes On Jobs, Growth, Taxes
Still, Trump now must hit the bullseye repeatedly on jobs and growth. Federal data show when non-searching and underemployed workers are added to the mix, so-called “U-6” unemployment nationwide has been at 9.8 percent over the last four quarters, versus 4.9 percent for the standard “U-3” measure, of those recently searching. Trump cannot fail to preside over a far-reaching expansion of the economy. Otherwise, he gets fired.
Threading the needle on tax policy will be critical. Trump and Congress must find ways to leave average U.S. households with more to save and spend, and the nation’s entrepreneurs with more to invest. At the same time, reckonings are due on off-shoring of corporate profits and big carve-outs in the federal tax code.
The Debt Debacle
Trump and Congress must also limit growth of the $20 trillion federal debt. Especially the $14.4 trillion federal public debt, much of it owed to Chinese investors.
According to the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank, it had reached an alarming 105 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by the second quarter of 2016. That’s up from 40.2 percent 50 years ago in 1966; and 73.5 percent by the fourth quarter of 2008.
Trump has sent clear signals as a candidate, not to mention in his business dealings, that debt does not greatly concern him.
Yet the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform appointed by President Barack Obama, in its December 2010 final report titled “Moment Of Truth,” emphasized that stabilizing U.S. public debt as a percent of GDP is vital to guard against a loss of confidence by the creditors who lend us money to pay for a history of uncovered obligations.
‘America Cannot Be Great If We Go Broke’
Creditor doubts as the debt grows could force a run on what’s owed and dramatic fiscal austerity measures, the Commission warned. The bipartisan Commission wrote, in language that ought to resonate for Trump, “America cannot be great if we go broke. Our businesses will not be able to grow and create jobs, and our workers will not be able to compete successfully for the jobs of the future without a plan to get this crushing debt burden off our backs.”
Trump must eschew failed federal stimulus policies like those of Obama, which he has seemed to support in principle. However, Trump has already begun to put space between himself and other worrisome stands on trade, immigration, isolationist foreign policy, and more.
A welcome exception to Trump’s course corrections will be follow-through on promised rollbacks of regulations Obama implemented by executive fiat. Those pledges are still a good bet. For starters, expect reversal of lower mandatory overtime pay thresholds, and cutting loose of the Clean Power Plan.
Growing Prosperity, Opportunity
Meanwhile, the rending of the social fabric is giving way to something else. Americans are beginning to probe how to advance the fortunes of our Republic. This begs the question of how best to grow prosperity and opportunity.
Many challenges in Washington state also reflect national priorities: boosting K-12 choice and competition; career and technical ed; and the development of higher-level aptitudes. Maintaining global free trade, curbing regulatory overreach. As for righting the fiscal ship of state? More Hayek, less Keynes.
Help everyone own it, President Trump. Surprise us again.