Donald Trump has released an ambitious if highly general plan for the first one hundred days of his administration. He calls it a contract, and like virtually all contracts, its literary value is nonexistent. As a document for change, it should frighten everyone, those who didn’t vote for him and those who did.
The document consists of two parts, things he thinks can do as the executive and things he will ask Congress to do. This article looks at what he intends to do as head of a vast regulation-creating bureaucracy. In a different article, we’ll consider his program for Congress.
The executive’s part of Trump’s “100-day action plan to Make America Great Again” consists of four types of actions: 1) A few good ideas; 2) Things we already do and have done for a while; 3) General actions that are inherently bad because they deny his Administration the flexibility to address each problem in the best way possible; 4) Specific actions that will harm us economically or in other ways.
The good, the done, the bad and the ugly. Let’s look at these categories:
Trump wants to impose a five-year ban on White House officials becoming lobbyists after government service and a lifetime ban on lobbying on behalf of foreign governments; note he doesn’t include foreign corporations. He also wants to impose a complete ban on foreign lobbyists raising money for any American election. He will propose a constitutional amendment imposing term limits on members of Congress. All these moves will help reduce the influence of corporate and wealthy interests on our federal government, although none would help as much as appointing a Supreme Court justice who would vote to overturn the Citizens United decision.
He also proposes allocating funds to fix our water and environmental infrastructure,which is a good thing. Unfortunately he wants to fund it by cancelling financial obligations to United Nation climate change programs, which makes no sense for two reasons: 1) the UN programs are also important to address the climate change he claims is not occurring; and 2) the money we spend on these programs represent a small drop in a very large bucket as far as what we have to expend to fix our city’s aging sewer systems, secure our coastal regions and improve our ability to withstand future extreme weather events.
During the election, Trump made a number of false accusations regarding the way the federal government handles basic functions, such as searching for undocumented immigrants who are criminals and administering trade deals and regulations. He thus now has to make a big show of doing things the right way. His ego demands it. I’m sure that after a few months he’ll release statistics that show Obama era improvements, take credit for them and declare victory. Here are the actions he proposes that we are already doing quite well. In all these areas, we are already doing everything we can to the extent that the law allows. For Trump to attempt more, he would have to break the law and he would likely end up impeded by lawsuits and constraining orders:
- Identify foreign trade abuses that unfairly impact American workers and use every means possible under current law to end any abuses uncovered.
- Launch a program to identify and remove all criminal undocumented immigrants.
- Suspend immigration from regions in which safe vetting of refugees cannot safely occur.
- Implement “extreme vetting” of immigrants and refugees from certain areas.
- Cancel every unconstitutional action, memorandum and order issued by Obama: if any unconstitutional actions existed, the courts would have already canceled them!
The other thing Trump will do that has been done already is name a Supreme Court Justice to replace Antonin Scalia. If his appointment enables a new conservative majority on the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, I wonder how the nine percent of white women who believe in a woman’s right to an abortion but who nevertheless voted for Trump will feel—they turned the election.
Trump insists he will implement a number of very rigid actions that apply across the board to all Administrative branches. These actions represent management strategies that are known to fail because they are too inclusive and deny organizations the flexibility they need to address specific problems. Here are the bad management techniques Trump wishes to implement:
- Freeze all federal hiring not related to the military or public health and safety to reduce the federal workforce through attrition.
- Require that for every new government regulation, two existing regulations must be eliminated.
For Trump seriously to implement these two misguided principles he would have to cut into necessary and expected government services or to gut further the oversight that the government exercises over state governments and industries. Federal government employment is at a low point right now when we take a look at the post-World War II era. Many agencies such as the Internal Revenue Service and the Environmental Protection Agency are already seriously understaffed.
Most of the specific actions Trump wants to take will inflict short- and/or long-term pain on the economy and American workers.
The most damage derives by his actions related to energy policy. Trump says he is going to lift Obama roadblocks to oil and gas development projects like the Keystone Pipeline and lift restrictions on the domestic production of shale, oil, natural gas and coal. By focusing on increasing domestic fossil energy supplies he makes a fateful decision: to develop fossil fuels instead of alternative energy and energy conservation. Let’s forget the deleterious impact on the environment that this decision will have and focus on the economic impact. There is currently a surplus of fossils fuel that has driven prices down significantly, in part as corporations and governments react to the global warming that Trump still denies. Figuring in inflation, American gas pump prices are the lowest in years. At this point, all the fossil fuel transmitted along the proposed Keystone pipeline will end up being sold to China, which will enrich the Canadian producers, but not Americans. If we want to sell more fossil fuels abroad, we will face some pretty stiff competition from Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Venezuela and Russia.
By contrast, when it comes to competition in the emerging alternative fuels industry, only China can rival U.S. technical prowess. Pushing alternative fuels should be a major plank in any job-creation program of the early 21st century. Unfortunately, it’s a simple fact that anything that lowers the price of oil and natural gas hurts the alternative fuel industry, which is one of our major growth industries today and well into the future.
Three actions Trump promises in the area of trade could be disastrous. He wants to renegotiate the North American Trade Agreement (NAFTA), walk away from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and label China a currency manipulator. Whether you think NAFTA was a good or bad idea in 1992, let’s take a look at it today, when it supplies millions of jobs to American workers. Renegotiation in and of itself could be a good thing, especially if it leads to higher wages for workers in all three countries. But I have a feeling that Trump really wants to end NAFTA, which will put a lot of Americans out of work. Walking away from TPP would drive our trading partners to make a deal with China that doesn’t include us. Instead we should renegotiate TPP to make sure that the countries party to it comply with wage, environmental and our product and workplace safety regulations and to make sure it does not give corporations the right to sue governments.
Labeling China a currency manipulator will get us off on the wrong foot with a country that could be a friend or a foe. Strange that Trump is making rapprochements to Russia while poking a stick into China’s eye. When we take a look at the two countries, the size of their armies, their intentions beyond their own borders, the business opportunities represented by their respective domestic markets, and the way their interests coincide or clash with ours, selecting Russia over China makes no sense at all. Unless, of course, those close to the Russian government have invested a lot into your companies.
The final specific action Trump will take chills free speech, hurts the economy and wreaks havoc on anyone who depends on city services like mass transit to survive. It is also likely illegal and will embroil the Trump Administration in a large number of lawsuits it is likely to lose: Trump says he is going to cancel all federal funding to sanctuary cities, which are municipalities that adopt policies not to prosecute people solely for being undocumented. Imagine the economic chaos Trump will create by withdrawing all federal funding from New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Washington DC, Seattle, Oakland, San Jose, Baltimore, the Portland on both coasts and other major cities that have taken seriously the concept of local control that Trump touts for education, wage rates and women’s health issues.
I suspect that if Trump really implements this hodgepodge of ideas—a few good but most not only bad but based on economic and governmental naivety—it will be enough to sink the U.S. economy with no help from Congressional Republicans.