Cato Op-Eds

Individual Liberty, Free Markets, and Peace
Subscribe to Cato Op-Eds feed

All of my political predictions about Donald Trump were wrong.  I predicted that he wouldn’t get the Republican Party nomination despite all of the polls to the contrary.  I followed the polls closely during the election and thought Trump would lose.  I was wrong again.  While certainly no mandate, Trump won the election.  Now the policies his administration will implement and push for are what matters.  We have very little to go on when it comes to predicting his actions.  Trump has no voting record on this and other issues.  His statements, actions, a policy paper, and his staff picks are the best indicators of this actions.

My prediction is that Trump will increase the scale and scope of immigration enforcement, rescind President Obama’s executive actions or at a minimum not allow Dreamers renew their status, massively curtail or end the refugee program, and try to convince Congress to cut legal immigration.  I’ve been wrong about Trump in the past and I hope I’m wrong here too.  Let me lay out evidence that I think supports my pessimism and evidence that supports a more optimistic interpretation.

Optimistic Take: Why Trump Could Not be THAT Bad

Trump is not ideologically grounded except that he is a nationalist and a populist.  Those political instincts usually manifest an anti-foreign bias in trade and immigration but they don’t have to.  Trump has portrayed himself as a deal maker so it’s possible he’s staked out a harsh immigration position as a bargaining tactic to get concessions elsewhere.

Trump’s personal experiences with his wives and businesses hiring illegal immigrants and guest workers may soften him.

He’s also made some statements in favor of immigration liberalization.  In 2011 and 2013, Trump supported legalization for some illegal immigrants.  He said Republicans have to do “the right thing” during the 2013 debate over comprehensive immigration reform but refused to elaborate on what he meant by that. 

Trump flip-flopped on H-1B visas numerous times during his 2016 campaign, sometimes saying skilled migrants were great and that the United States needs more of them.  In every case I’ve found, he then backtracked from the pro-H-1B position, repudiated his earlier statements, or repeated that they are taking American jobs.  He’s also said that foreigners who attend U.S. universities should stay.  Some lobbyists think Trump will not support broad immigration reform but that he might be persuaded to support liberalizing high-skilled immigration.  Lobbyists should know those things but that could also be a public projection of confidence in order to maintain morale.

In his major immigration speech on August 31, 2016, in Phoenix, he said:

“And the establishment of our new lawful immigration system then and only then will we be in a position to consider the appropriate disposition of those individuals [illegal immigrants] who remain.

That discussion can take place only in an atmosphere in which illegal immigration is a memory of the past, no longer with us, allowing us to weigh the different options available based on the new circumstances at the time.”

That’s an improvement over a “they have to go” policy.  In the third presidential debate he said:

“As far as moving these people out and moving, we either have a country or we don’t. We’re a country of laws. We either have a border or we don’t.  Now, you can come back in and you can become a citizen. But it’s very unfair. We have millions of people that did it the right way. They’re in line. They’re waiting. We’re going to speed up the process bigly, because it’s very inefficient.  But they’re on line and they’re waiting to become citizens.”

That sounds like he wants to deport them or force them to leave but then they can come back through the legal system.  He’s made statements in support of letting the “good ones” come back a few times during the campaign, especially in the later stages.  Allowing them to come back, especially after deportation, would require significant legal changes.  His call to “speed up the process bigly” is encouraging though.  Trump could soften his deportation plan much sooner than he let on here if he’s confronted with the logistical and humanitarian nightmare of deporting more than 11 million people. 

Pessimistic Interpretation: Why Trump Will Probably be That Bad

Trump is a national populist with a zero-sum worldview.  His long opposition to trade with Japan and now China and Mexico shows that he doesn’t understand how voluntary exchanges are mutually beneficial.  Opinions on trade and immigration are tightly correlated.  His 2013 statements on immigration reform could mean that he thought the Senate’s 2013 bill would destroy the Republican Party.   

Trump’s immigration position paper is detailed, specific, and terrible.  It supports drastic cuts in legal immigration and refugees as well as harsh new enforcement measures like a border wall, mandatory E-Verify, and a greatly expanded deportation force.  Many think this plan was inspired by Ann Coulter’s recent book on the subject and some of his statements support that theory.  In return, Coulter called Trump’s immigration position paper, “the greatest political document since the Magna Carta.”   

When Trump looked like he was wavering from his immigration position in the final week of August 2016, Coulter mocked him.  In her recent book In Trump We Trust, she wrote, “There’s nothing Trump can do that won’t be forgiven … Except change his immigration policies.”   Trump’s response was a blistering speech in Phoenix on August 31, 2016, where he doubled-down on his immigration stance and even read out portions of his position paper.  Coulter gave the speech her seal of approval, declaring it “better than Lincoln’s Gettysburg address.”  

Virtually every time Trump looked like he was wavering in his opposition to legal immigration or stepped up enforcement, he quickly reversed course.  When he has spoken off the cuff about immigration, it has almost always been negative and supportive of deportations, cutting legal immigration, and linking immigrants to crime.  If speaking off the cuff reveals Trump’s real opinions then they are largely consistent with his policy positions.

Trump’s presumptive picks for positions in his administration are opposed to immigration reform, support more enforcement, and generally favor cutting legal immigration.  Steve Bannon, the former executive chairman of the nativist Breitbart News and chief executive office of Trump’s 2016 campaign, looks to be on the shortlist for Chief of Staff.  Breitbart’s immigration position is well known.

Trump’s picks for his immigration transition team are uniformly supportive of increased immigration enforcement and, as far as I can tell, large cuts in legal immigration.  Kris Kobach is the first member of the transition team.  He is the Kansas secretary of state and architect of many of the immigration enforcement laws around the country in the last decade.  Just yesterday he said, “the wall is going to get built.”  The second member of the transition team is Danielle Cutrona, the chief counsel in Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) judiciary committee. 

The connection with Senator Sessions is important and it runs throughout Trump’s other appointments – the Senator himself could even be appointed to an important position.  He is the most outspoken Republican Senator who opposes immigration reform, supports enforcement-first policies, and favors slashing legal immigration.  Trump is reportedly also considering Stephen Miller, former communications aide to Senator Sessions, for one of many potential positions.  Rick Dearborn, Sessions’ chief of staff, is also being considered for leading the office of legislative affairs. 

There are also a few leaked lists circulating around DC that say Trump is supposedly considering Cindy Hayden as head of the Department of Homeland Security.  There isn’t much information available on Ms. Hayden except that she was Sessions’ former chief counsel on the Senate Judiciary Committee. 

Sessions’ praise for Ms. Hayden is deep and effusive.  Upon her departure from the Senate in 2008, he said, “Cindy was just fabulous, and I depended on her.  Day after day, her work and the respect she engendered throughout the country played a big role in the final result, in which the [immigration reform] bill was pulled down without passage in that form.”  Senator Sessions himself wasn’t alone in his praise.  He quoted his former chief counsel William Smith and executive director of the Americans for Limited Government Research Foundation at the time, “The only group I know that will truly celebrate her departure will be illegal aliens.”  Brian Darling, then director of Senate Relations for the Heritage Foundation, was quoted as saying, “Without Cindy and ‘Team Sessions’’ tireless efforts to educate the American public on the contents of the secretly drafted amnesty bill, the bill may have become law.”  Joe Matal, then-counsel for Senator Kyl was also quoted by Sessions as saying that, “If you look closely at the corpse of last year’s immigration bill, you will find a series of small squares holes in its back. Those holes were produced by Cindy’s heels, stomping that bill to death.”

Trump has frequently cited the Center for Immigration Studies, a think-tank that produces near-uniformly shoddy research and supports cutting legal immigration.  It’s safe to assume that Trump facts, specific enforcement ideas, and message on immigration during his administration will be more influenced by them than any other group outside of the government.  Ending or severely curtailing refugee resettlement will be an early move.    

None of Trump’s actions since his election, from his statements to the people on his immigration transition team to those he’s considering for important positions, indicate that he is changing his position on immigration.  Trump looks like he partially wavered occasionally on the campaign when it came to high-skilled immigrants and some form of amnesty.  His instincts over the last several years show that his instincts aren’t uniformly nativist.  However, those few bits of optimism are overwhelmed by his other statements and actions to the contrary. 

Although I’m looking for reasons to be optimistic and I’m hoping my predictions about Trump continue to be as wrong going forward as they have been up to this point, the weight of evidence convinces me that his immigration policies will likely be just as bad as many of us feared.  I hope he changes and will gladly eat many humbles pies if he does but I’m not going to skip any meals in anticipation.      

For a quarter century Republicans in American politics have broadly campaigned on a promise of reducing the volume and cost of litigation. At first glance, it might seem that the rise of President-elect Donald Trump might signal a discarding or even a reversal of this position. As a businessman, Trump has been an intensive, sometimes zealous litigant; unlike earlier GOP candidates he has said little about lawsuit reform on the campaign trail; and some of what he has said, especially his instantly famous remarks about “opening up” libel law to allow more damage suits against the press, is in tension with the goal of a less costly and more predictable legal system. 

At the same time, there are reasons to believe that a Trump administration will maintain considerable continuity with the positions of earlier GOP administrations as well as of Congressional Republicans. Here are some of those reasons. 

* Both sides of the “v.” Trump has been in court frequently as plaintiff and defendant alike. While he may be nobody’s idea of a critic of litigiousness, there is little reason to believe that his instincts about the legal system are systematically pro-plaintiff or pro-trial-lawyer in the manner of some Capitol Hill Democrats.  

* Much of the national litigation reform agenda is now negative. Some of the biggest priorities in the short term are simply to block or pull back destructive federal initiatives that the Obama administration pushed hard, including proposals to ban pre-dispute arbitration in consumer and labor settings in favor of litigation; proposals to extend overtime rules deep into the white-collar workforce, with wage-and-hour class actions inevitably to follow, and the idea of interpreting the Americans with Disabilities Act to require websites and online services to be made accessible to disabled users, on pain of freelance lawsuits. Trump has signaled that his administration will be skeptical of grandiose regulation, and by knocking out rules of this sort he would also knock out much prospective litigation. 

To be sure, some litigation issues narrowly related to trade and immigrant employment might see a reset. And because Trump may be more open than most GOP presidents to cutting deals with organized labor, it is possible he will seek new solutions on issues like compensation for occupational illness arising from asbestos and other long-term exposures.  

Social reform litigation. A Hillary Clinton administration would have been likely to cheer on big cities like Miami in “disparate impact” litigation seeking massive damages from banks for lending too freely (or too stingily; the theories vary) on mortgages and construction in urban neighborhoods. Whatever else is uncertain about a Trump administration, it seems unlikely that its instincts are to put real estate development at the mercy of redistributive social justice campaigns. And while Clinton campaigned on a promise to reopen the gun-control-through-lawsuits campaign by repealing the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), that idea is now gone. 

On libel law. As I and others have pointed out, our system doesn’t give the President much of a say in libel law, which consists mostly of state tort law bounded by constitutional law as interpreted by the Supreme Court in cases like New York Times v. Sullivan. Some earlier presidents (as well as some noted Republican-appointed jurists) have favored broader rights for plaintiffs to recover, but there is little evidence that the Supreme Court is on the cusp of any major reconsiderations here. One may also doubt that Trump in office will really make this a make-or-break litmus test for appointees knowing that it would limit his choice of politically appealing nominees and that a chipping away of Times v. Sullivan would in any case probably take many years. 

 * Progress on litigation reform does not depend on White House leadership. Most positive change in this area has come from a combination of state legislatures and the courts themselves through judicially driven improvements in doctrine and procedure, especially via the U.S. Supreme Court (DaubertIqbal/TwomblyDukes, etc.)  With occasional exceptions, as with securities litigation and class action reform, the U.S. Congress has not achieved much in this area, in part because our system of federalism places real limits on wholesale displacement of state court authority by federal. 

All of these predictions depend greatly on appointments; Trump is known above all for his capacity to surprise. But on an issue as important to the nation’s economic climate as this, don’t bet on President Trump to break with the near-uniform sentiment of the business community. 

I said there was no way Trump would last through the early primaries.  I belittled the prospect of Trump even attending the convention, much less accepting the Republican nomination.  And I was cavalier in my certainty that Trump would be making a concession speech early Tuesday night.  In other words, by Washington’s standards, I have established credibility on the subject. 

So you should feel reassured that I am less bearish about the direction of President Trump’s trade policy than I probably should be given candidate Trump’s bellicose campaign rhetoric.

The trade policies Trump outlined in broad strokes on the campaign trail would – to put it mildly – devastate the economy.  For example, Trump has said he would:

  • impose duties on 35 percent on imports from Mexico and 45 percent on imports from China;
  • impose special taxes on U.S. companies that incorporate foreign components or labor into their production or assembly operations;
  • tear up the North American Free Trade Agreement – or at least renegotiate what he calls “the worst trade deal ever negotiated,” and abandon the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which he calls a “rape of our country”; 
  • declare China a currency manipulator and impose countervailing duties to mitigate the export price advantages that practice allegedly bestows;
  • use tax policy, protectionism, and the threat of more protectionism to compel China, Mexico, and all of the other countries with whom the United States runs bilateral trade deficits to buy more from U.S. producers and sell less to U.S. consumers in order to achieve a state of balanced trade;
  • tax manufacturing companies that lay off workers.

The list of angry, knee-jerk, foolish ideas goes on and on. If you take candidate Trump at his word, U.S. trade policy is going to be an unmitigated disaster.

That kind of hot-headed hyperventilation arguably has a place on the campaign trail. It is a coveted perquisite of the opposition candidate – the outsider – to spew venom about the status quo. But those kinds of populist fantasies rarely translate into prudent policy. 

Two things constrain Trump.  The first is Congress, which really does have constitutional authority to regulate foreign commerce.  Yes, the Peterson Institute issued a paper a few months ago documenting all of the laws under which the president has been given authority to raise trade barriers. But in almost every case there are statutory thresholds that must be surpassed or judicial review to restrain autocratic impulses. (Here’s a response from a legal scholar.) The president does have more discretion – and thus greater liberty (to co-opt a good word) to act unilaterally – if he invokes his authority on national security grounds under specific national security statutes. 

Prompted in part by the specter of a Trump presidency, there is a debate emerging over whether, where, and to what extent the president has been given statutory authority to act unilaterally on trade matters. Cato colleagues Scott Lincicome and Simon Lester (both lawyers) have noted some troubling ambiguities in the language of various, relevant statutes. Of growing concern is the question of treaty withdrawal.

Without the consent of Congress, the president is authorized to withdraw the United States from NAFTA – that is not really in doubt.  The question, however, is whether congressional authorization is required to raise tariffs on Mexico and Canada back up to their non-preferential rates – and to undo the other liberalizing provisions.  If so, a withdrawal from NAFTA would have no real impact unless Congress was also on board. 

But, as Scott and Simon have noted, there are clauses in the implementing legislation for U.S. trade agreements that might be interpreted as meaning that withdrawal from a treaty nullifies it terms as articulated and effectuated in U.S. law. (Expect more from one or both of them soon.) Different interpretations of the meaning of those clauses could provoke a constitutional crisis if Trump, for example, instructed U.S. Customs officials to assess duties at the higher rates without Congress first changing the relevant laws. If this happens, Congress could file suit against the president, and that is a potential tinderbox.

If the separation of powers doctrine strikes Trump as too quaint, and he wished to push to expand his authority in the trade realm, there is a second constraint that should work: Reality.

Frankly, asserting presidential authority to impose, say, a 45 percent duty on all imports from China would be laborious and resource-consuming. The president would have little bandwidth for much else. And more to the point: Does Trump really want to destroy the U.S. and global economies?  If he’s the Manchurian Candidate, perhaps.  Otherwise, I imagine he wants his policies to succeed.  He wants to be beloved – actually, worshipped.  For that to be within the realm of possibilities, his economic policies cannot fail. They must spur real economic growth.

But it wouldn’t take very long – days, weeks – for the policies bellowed on the campaign trail and populating the first draft of the “First 100 Days” documents to spawn a mass exodus of capital and the ditching of plans to send more foreign direct investment to the U.S.  The negative economic results would begin to show up in the statistics within one quarter.

I suspect Trump will continue to talk tough, but we can bank on his hubris and vainglory being better fortified by economic policies that history will judge kindly.  Implementation of any of his protectionist ideas, I believe, will be more cosmetic than functional.

There may be a rocky first year beset by rising trade tensions, especially with China, but also the possibility of course correction before too much damage is done.  Regardless, we all have our work cut out for us.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, 

that all men are created equal, 

that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, 

that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men.

Throughout the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump’s attitude toward NATO has engendered significant consternation throughout both Europe and the U.S. foreign policy establishment. Although the president-elect has not explicitly advocated pulling out of the NATO, he has suggested that the United States should rethink its involvement since the United States continues to bear a disproportionate share of the defense burden within the alliance. The incoming administration could thus be poised to conduct the sort of “agonizing reappraisal” that John Foster Dulles threatened 63 years ago. Although a complete withdrawal from NATO would be unwise, the time to redefine the United States’ role in the alliance may have arrived.

Critics have attempted to undermine Trump’s intimation that he might refrain from defending NATO allies such as Estonia by suggesting that the United States is treaty-bound to do so. The day after Trump’s election, Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s Secretary General, insisted that “NATO’s security guarantee is a treaty commitment…All allies have made a solemn commitment to defend each other. This is something absolutely unconditioned.” But that is only true to a certain extent. Article V of the North Atlantic Treaty stipulates that in the event of an attack against a NATO member state, each ally “will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.” The key phrase “as it deems necessary” gives the United States a great deal of latitude.

Were the North Atlantic Council to invoke Article V in response to a Russian incursion into Estonia, for instance, the United States could fulfill its treaty obligations in any number of ways. The Pentagon could certainly deploy the U.S. military to combat Russian forces directly. On the other hand, the United States could restrict its role to the provision of military equipment and logistical support to its European allies. To borrow a phrase from Franklin D. Roosevelt, the United States could serve as the great arsenal of NATO.

Some would argue, however, that although Article V does not legally obligate the United States to deploy military forces in defense of its NATO allies, such a response would be essential to preserve American credibility. In other words, if the United States failed to defend its NATO allies against Russian aggression, all of the United States’ other allies around the globe would begin to doubt whether they could really depend upon the United States. Yet U.S. credibility would only suffer if Washington were to maintain an expectation of U.S. intervention and subsequently failed to fulfill that expectation.

If the incoming Trump administration is serious about reducing its commitment to NATO, its first priority should therefore be to eliminate the expectation that the United States would automatically intervene militarily in defense of its NATO allies. For that expectation is the root of the inequitable distribution of the defense burden within NATO. Why should the European allies invest significantly in defense if they can count on the United States to guarantee their security? Rather than maintaining an implicit commitment to spearhead any defense of NATO territory (particularly in Eastern Europe), the Trump administration could make it clear to the allies that the United States will serve as a balancer of last resort in Europe. In other words, the European allies will bear primary responsibility for the defense of Europe; the United States will only intervene in dire circumstances if they are unable to defend themselves (much like during the two world wars).

Redefining the United States’ commitment to its NATO allies in such a manner would need to be accomplished gradually, however. After years of underinvestment, European militaries suffer from significant deficiencies. Heavy land forces, in particular, have atrophied substantially since the end of the Cold War. Germany’s fleet of Leopard 2 main battle tanks has declined from 2,020 in 1990 to only 306 in 2015. Over that same period, the British and French tank fleets have each also shrunk from over 1,300 to about 200.

In the long run, however, Europe certainly has the wherewithal to ensure its own defense. In 2015, the combined GDP of Britain, France, and Germany totaled nearly $8.6 trillion—seven times that of Russia. With 210 million people, those three allies command a population 1.5 times that of Russia—and significantly healthier. Since the economies of Western Europe are also much more technologically advanced than that of Russia, the European allies are capable of constructing robust, technologically-advanced military forces capable of defending against Russian aggression.

To give the European allies time to construct such military forces, the Trump administration could delineate a timetable for the phased withdrawal of U.S. forces from Europe. The first phase could focus on the withdrawal of the U.S. forces that the Obama administration has deployed to Eastern Europe as part of the European Reassurance Initiative, essentially in violation of the NATO-Russia Founding Act. While encouraging European allies to step up and shoulder more of the defense burden in Europe, such an action would constitute an important first step in alleviating Moscow’s concerns that the United States is intent upon isolating and encircling Russia. After pulling back from NATO’s frontier in Eastern Europe, the United States could gradually reduce its military presence in Western Europe over the next decade.

One problem with a phased withdrawal would be its reversibility. Since the timeline for such retrenchment would extend beyond a single presidential term, a potential Trump successor could easily halt of reverse such a policy. Yet that possibility should neither dissuade the incoming president from attempting to redefine the United States’ role in NATO, nor encourage the new administration to undertake a risky, immediate withdrawal from Europe. A phased U.S. military withdrawal from Europe is the prudent choice. 

Donald Trump is well known for his vociferous complaints about foreign trade.  Trump has also gained notoriety for offering very vague policy proposals, and trade is no exception.  This has left observers knowing that Trump wants to do something big on trade but without much sense of what, specifically, that will be.  Now that Trump is president-elect of the United States, that uncertainty is bound to vanish as Trump’s plans and intentions necessarily become more concrete.

For the moment, however, we are left to speculate based on Trump’s vague and bellicose announcements.  The most reliable indicator of Trump’s plans is probably Trump’s “100-day action plan to Make America Great Again” he produced in the closing weeks of his campaign.  That plan has reportedly been fleshed out a bit by his transition team.  The plan includes numerous executive actions and a list of legislative proposals. 

In one section, Trump lists “Seven actions to protect American workers,” four of which directly involve trade.  Let’s go through them one by one.

Renegotiate of Withdraw from NAFTA

It’s no secret Donald Trump really doesn’t like NAFTA.  He has said that NAFTA “destroyed our country.”  It’s safe to assume Trump means to act on this.  According to Politico, the longer version of Trump’s 100-day plan specifies that Trump will start renegotiating NAFTA on day one and withdraw from NAFTA “by day 200” if he hasn’t gotten what he wants yet.

Claims that NAFTA should be renegotiated are not unique to Trump.  Both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton promised to renegotiate NAFTA.  Their concern, however, was that NAFTA doesn’t have strong enough provisions on labor and environment regulation.  Obama even claimed that the TPP—which does have stronger labor and environment provisions and includes all three NAFTA countries—is the embodiment of his promise to renegotiate NAFTA.

But for all the complaining Trump does about NAFTA, we don’t really know specifically what he doesn’t like about the agreement.  He has misguided concerns about bilateral trade deficits, so he probably wants to raise U.S. tariffs while keeping Mexican tariffs low.  Mexico, of course, will not want to do that.

The only leverage he seems to have to get Mexico to agree to those terms is the threat to withdraw from NAFTA.  And withdrawing from NAFTA is something Trump has the power to do.  Under the terms of the treaty, any member can withdraw after giving six months’ notice.  This sort of thing has never happened before and it’s not clear exactly what legal authority Trump will use to raise U.S. tariffs after withdrawing or what he will raise them to. 

What we do know is that ending NAFTA would be disastrous.  Americans conduct more than $3 billion per day worth of trade with Canada and Mexico.  Withdrawing from NAFTA would severely disrupt integrated North American supply chains that depend on zero tariffs and predictable trade laws.  Ironically, the only way Trump can “fix” NAFTA is by threatening to eliminate its many benefits.

So we need to seriously consider the possibility that Trump has no real intention of withdrawing from NAFTA.  It would make a lot of sense for him to secure some minor concession from Mexico and play it up like a big achievement.  That may be the best possible outcome for everyone.

Withdraw from TPP

This is action is pretty simple and straightforward.  Trump referred to the TPP as “a rape of our country” and shows no sign of letting up on his opposition. 

The TPP has already been signed by the United States but has not been ratified or entered into force.  President Trump could simply refuse to submit it to Congress and the agreement would die.  He’s bound to make an official announcement though, probably in the first few days of his presidency.  What the rest of the members of the TPP do afterwards will be interesting to watch, but it will happen without the United States.

Neither Trump nor his surrogates have said what he will do about the ongoing free trade negotiations with the European Union or various agreements in the works at the WTO.  That will be something to watch over the coming months.  As we learn who will fill key positions in Trump’s administration, we will learn more about the probable fate of these projects. 

Label China a Currency Manipulator

Thankfully, labeling China a currency manipulator has little to no meaning for actual trade policy.  It won’t raise tariffs or impact in any way the right of Americans to trade with people in China.

Unlike ripping up trade agreements, it’s also not an especially radical thing to do.  Mitt Romney made the same promise during the 2012 campaign and Hillary Clinton promised this year to crack down on foreign currency manipulation.

It will certainly be worth watching how the Trump administration deals with the issue of currency manipulation in the future, but labeling China a currency manipulator simply scores domestic political points and antagonizes the Chinese government.

“Use every tool under American and international law” to “end foreign trading abuses”

On one level, this is just a plan to maintain the status quo.  We have trade laws in the United States and agencies that exist to protect rent-seeking U.S. industries from foreign “abuses.”  Contrary to Trump’s campaign rhetoric, those agencies are not incompetent or failing to do their job.  Trump’s plan to support the use of trade remedies and bring challenges at the World Trade Organization simply continues a longstanding policy of previous administrations.

But there’s also a more alarming possibility.  There are a number of dormant U.S. trade laws that grant the President the power to raise trade barriers under various circumstances, and some of these laws are worded broadly enough to be used beyond their original purposes.  Gary Huffbauer at the Peterson Institute has provided a thorough explanation of how Trump might use these laws to impose high tariffs on goods from China or Mexico.  There’s a lot of uncertainty as to how this would all play out because, thankfully, past presidents have not been belligerent mercantilists. 

Considering the sort of promises Trump made during the campaign to keep Carrier and Ford from moving manufacturing operations to Mexico, it’s not unreasonable to fear Trump will use whatever powers he has available to punish U.S. companies that invest in foreign manufacturing.  There’s no indication that Trump already plans to do anything like that in his first hundred days, however.

The most ambitious and defining part of Trump’s trade plans will be his effort to renegotiate NAFTA.  If he succeeds, U.S. tariffs may go up and we will all be a little worse off.  If he fails and follows through on his promise to withdraw from NAFTA, we will all be even more worse off. 

It’s going to be an interesting year.

President-elect Donald Trump said on the campaign trail that he will balance the federal budget and cut wasteful spending. Here are some of Trump’s views on budget reforms:

  • “We are going to ask every department head in government to provide a list of wasteful spending projects that we can eliminate in my first 100 days.” Source.
  • “We can also stop funding programs that are not authorized in law. Congress spent $320 billion last year on 256 expired laws … Removing just 5 percent of that will reduce spending by almost $200 billion over a ten-year period.” Source.
  • “I may cut Department of Education. I believe Common Core is a very bad thing,” Trump said. “I believe that we should be — you know, educating our children from Iowa, from New Hampshire, from South Carolina, from California, from New York. I think that it should be local education.” Source.
  • “If we save just one penny of each federal dollar spent on non-defense, and non-entitlement programs, we can save almost $1 trillion over the next decade.” Source.
  • “We’re going local. Have to go local. Environmental protection—we waste all of this money. We’re going to bring that back to the states … We are going to cut many of the agencies, we will balance our budget, and we will be dynamic again.” Source.
  • “Waste, fraud and abuse all over the place. Waste, fraud and abuse. You look at what’s happening with Social Security, you look—look at what’s happening with every agency—waste, fraud and abuse. We will cut so much, your head will spin.” Source.

I hope my head does spin from cuts, although most of Trump’s proposals are vague and quite timid. Still, I’m hoping that the more the incoming president finds out about the federal budget, the more he will appreciate the need for major terminations.

So let me suggest some wasteful spending that the new administration should tackle, and the annual savings from terminating each:

President Trump will face major budget pressures in coming years as deficits and entitlement spending soar. Today’s $600 billion deficits are headed toward $1 trillion, and deficits will be even higher if a recession comes along.

Federal spending cuts would help avert a fiscal crisis and boost growth by reducing economic distortions. The incoming Trump team should start with some of the cuts here, and there are plenty more proposals at DownsizingGovernment.org.

On election night, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani told MSNBC interviewer Chris Matthews that Donald Trump’s victory, after a campaign against the elites and insiders, was like Andrew Jackson’s first presidential victory. At the end of his first term in office, Jackson cut the federal government’s ties to the Bank of the United States (by vetoing an Act to renew its charter), an institution that was in some respects the Federal Reserve System of its day. Might Donald Trump’s presidency have equally dramatic consequences for the Federal Reserve?

During his campaign, candidate Trump mulled an idea for thoroughgoing reform of our monetary system: a return to the gold standard. As Ralph Benko noted, Mr. Trump told a New Hampshire television station in March: “We used to have a very, very solid country because it was based on a gold standard.” He added that a return would be difficult because “we don’t have the gold. Other places have the gold.” He similarly told GQ magazine that “Bringing back the gold standard would be very hard to do, but boy, would it be wonderful. We’d have a standard on which to base our money.”

It should be pointed out to the president-elect that in fact the US government does have enough gold in Fort Knox and its other depositories, at least if the US Treasury has been reporting its holdings honestly. At the current market price of about $1,280 per fine Troy oz., the U.S. government’s 261.5 million ounces of gold are worth $335 billion. Current required bank reserves are only $168 billion. Looked at another way, $335 billion is just a bit more than 10 percent of the $3,347 in current M1 (the sum of currency and checking account balances), which is more than a healthy reserve ratio by historical standards. In that respect, restoration of the gold standard is eminently feasible. After unwinding the QEs, the Fed could swap commercial banks’  required reserves for gold, and hold gold against its own currency liabilities, Federal Reserve Notes, which would once again be made redeemable in gold. Better yet, the federal government could allow commercial banks to issue their own currency again (or, if it already technically legal, promise not to penalize them).

Whether restoration of the gold standard will be politically feasible depends of course on how serious the new president will be about pushing it, and how receptive the Republican majorities in Congress will be.

Regarding reforms of Fed policy that keep fiat money in place, candidate Trump’s position seemed to evolve. In an April interview, he told Fortune that “The best thing we have going for us is that interest rates are so low,” and that the prospect of rate hikes was “scary.” During an October debate, by contrast, he accused Fed chair Janet Yellen of keeping interest rates artificially low for political reasons, namely to keep the recovery chugging along until the election and so to help the incumbent party. Even back in the April interview, when he thought that Yellen had been doing “a serviceable job,” he was already saying that “I would be more inclined to put other people in.” Thus it would be a surprise for Trump to reappoint Yellen as Fed Chair when her four-year term expires in February 2018. What he would look for in a new Chair is less clear.

As president, Trump will immediately have the authority to nominate two new Governors to the Federal Reserve Board, thereby to the Federal Open Market Committee. Normally the FRB has seven members, including the Chair. Currently it has only five members, all Obama appointees. Senate Republicans have deliberately left the two vacancies open by refusing to hold hearings on Obama’s latest nominees. The FOMC’s makeup is thus currently 5 Obama-appointed Governors plus 5 regional Federal Reserve Bank presidents, who tend to be more hawkish on inflation (apart from the New York Fed president, the only regional Bank president who is permanently on the FOMC). A pair of thoughtful nominations by the Trump White House could increase the hawkishness of the median (tie-breaking) voters on the FOMC.

In his October criticism, Trump said that the Fed was “keeping interest rates so low that the next guy or person who takes over as president could have a real problem.” He said elsewhere that artificially low rates were creating a “very false economy.” In these remarks Trump appeared to have recognized that overly low interest rates can misdirect investments and create unsustainable asset bubbles. He might then be favorable to Congressional proposals made in recent years, particularly by Rep. Jeb Hensarling, for fastening a monetary policy rule on the Federal Reserve. A Taylor Rule with teeth, for example, would mandate automatic adjustments in the Fed’s interest rate target based on publicly observable variables. Such a rule would strip discretion from the FOMC and avoid the problem of politically tinged policymaking.

[Cross-posted from Alt-M.org]

President-Elect Donald Trump has released his plans for his first 100 days in office. After outlining proposals for term limits, a trade war, and mass deportations, the plan includes the following paragraph on education policy:

School Choice And Education Opportunity Act. Redirects education dollars to give parents the right to send their kid to the public, private, charter, magnet, religious or home school of their choice. Ends common core, brings education supervision to local communities. It expands vocational and technical education, and make 2 and 4-year college more affordable.

The details are far from clear, but it appears that his education policy will focus on three areas:

1. School choice

Trump has the right instinct on school choice, but if he is planning to promote a national voucher program, then he’s going about it the wrong way. He has previously pledged to dedicate $20 billion in federal funds to school choice policies, and stated that he would “give states the option to allow these funds to follow the student to the public or private school they attend” as well as using federal carrots to get states to expand choice policies even further. Expanding educational opportunity is admirable, but using the federal government to do so is misguided. As David Boaz explained more than a decade ago in the Cato Handbook for Congress, the case against federal involvement in education:

is not based simply on a commitment to the original Constitution, as important as that is. It also reflects an understanding of why the Founders were right to reserve most subjects to state, local, or private endeavor. The Founders feared the concentration of power. They believed that the best way to protect individual freedom and civil society was to limit and divide power. Thus it was much better to have decisions made independently by 13–or 50–states, each able to innovate and to observe and copy successful innovations in other states, than to have one decision made for the entire country. As the country gets bigger and more complex, and especially as government amasses more power, the advantages of decentralization and divided power become even greater.

A federal voucher program would very likely lead to increased federal regulation of private schools over time, especially after a new administration takes over that is less friendly to the concept of school choice. As we’ve seen in some states, misguided regulations can severely undermine the effectiveness of school choice and induce a stifling conformity among schools. Moreover, as I’ve explained previously, those regulations are harder to block or repeal at the federal level than at the state level and their negative effects would be far more widespread:

When a state adopts regulations that undermine its school choice program, it’s lamentable but at least the ill effects are localized. Other states are free to chart a different course. However, if the federal government regulates a national school choice program, there is no escape. Moreover, state governments are more responsive to citizens than the distant federal bureaucracy. Citizens have a better shot at blocking or reversing harmful regulations at the state and local level rather than the federal level.

That said, the Trump administration can promote school choice in more productive and constitutionally sound ways. The federal government does have constitutional authority in Washington, D.C., where it currently operates the Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP). The OSP should be expanded into a universal ESA that empowers all D.C. families to spend the funds on a wide variety of educational expenses in addition to private school tuition, including tutors, textbooks, online courses, curricular materials, and more, as well as save unused funds for later expenses, such as college. The Trump administration should explore similar options in areas where the federal government has jurisdiction, such as on Native American lands and military bases.

2. Common Core

Yet again, Trump has the right instinct but the policy leaves much to be desired. Ending Common Core is a noble goal, but it is primarily a matter of state policy and at this point there is little the federal government can do about. As Neal McCluskey noted yesterday, “the main levers of [federal] coercion—the Race to the Top contest and waivers out of the No Child Left Behind Act—are gone.” The only way for the federal government to get rid of Common Core would be to engage in the same sort of unconstitutional federal coercion that critics of the Core opposed in the first place.

Nevertheless, the Trump administration could ease the path for states to ditch Common Core by merely refraining from using its authority under Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) to dictate state policy. As Neal explained:

What [Trump] can do—and I think, along with a GOP Congress, will do—is ensure that regulations to implement the ESSA do not coerce the use of the Core or any other specific standards or tests. This has been a real concern. While the spirit and rhetoric surrounding the ESSA is about breaking down federal strictures, the Obama education department has been drafting regulations that threaten federal control over funding formulas and accountability systems. And the statute includes language vague enough that it could allow federal control by education secretary veto. A Trump administration would likely avoid that.

3. College and Vocational Education

Here is where Trump’s plan is the murkiest. He wants to “expand” vocational education and make college “more affordable” but he does not explain how. His campaign website provides little more in terms of details:

  • Work with Congress on reforms to ensure universities are making a good faith effort to reduce the cost of college and student debt in exchange for the federal tax breaks and tax dollars.
  • Ensure that the opportunity to attend a two or four-year college, or to pursue a trade or a skill set through vocational and technical education, will be easier to access, pay for, and finish.

These vague bromides could just as easily have appeared on Hillary Clinton’s campaign website, which states:

  • Every student should have the option to graduate from a public college or university in their state without taking on any student debt. By 2021, families with income up to $125,000 will pay no tuition at in-state four-year public colleges and universities. And from the beginning, every student from a family making $85,000 a year or less will be able to go to an in-state four-year public college or university without paying tuition.
  • All community colleges will offer free tuition.
  • Everyone will do their part. States will have to step up and invest in higher education, and colleges and universities will be held accountable for the success of their students and for controlling tuition costs.

So how will Trump try to expand vocational education and make college more affordable? It’s not clear. Ideally, Trump should work to phase out the various federal loan programs and higher ed subsidies that a mountain of research has shown are fueling rapid tuition inflation. Unfortunately, Trump has previously proposed an income-based student loan repayment plan. Such a policy could assist borrowers in repaying loans, but it would still create perverse incentives that fuel tuition inflation and overconsumption of higher ed while leaving the taxpayer on the hook for whatever the borrower couldn’t repay. When a student takes out a $35,000 loan to pursue a degree in puppeteering and then surprisingly can’t find a decent-paying job, taxpayers would pick up the tab. 

At this point, it’s not clear what Trump will do about education policy. His education proposals are vague and somewhat disconcerting, but there is also evidence that he wants to move in the right direction, particularly regarding school choice and a reduced federal role in K-12 education. What Trump needs now is a set of good advisers to help guide his commendable education policy instincts toward wise and effective policy.

In the hit musical Hamilton, King George, newly estranged from the revolutionary American colonies, challenges his former subjects to justify their choice. “What comes next?” he asks, “You’ve been freed. Do you know how hard it is to lead? You’re on your own. Awesome, wow! Do you have a clue what happens now?”

We might well ask the same question.

The unexpected elevation of Donald Trump to the Presidency presents a failure for pollsters, a reorientation of American politics, and raises the fundamental question of what kind of policies a Trump administration is likely to pursue. On foreign policy, Trump’s statements throughout the campaign have been profoundly incoherent, ranging from more traditional hawkish Republican views on issues like the Iran deal, to more unorthodox, restrained views on Syria and other Middle Eastern conflicts, to his more conciliatory approach to Russia and truly bizarre fixation with Russian strongman Vladimir Putin.

So what comes next? How will the Trump administration approach foreign policy? As Elizabeth Saunders notes over at the Monkey Cage, advisors wield substantially more power under an inexperienced president. So to a large extent, Trump’s foreign policy choices will depend on who he chooses, not just to be his key foreign policy advisors, but to staff his administration’s foreign policy positions more generally. There are two potential scenarios that we can imagine:

Scenario One: The Isolationist

President-elect Trump—assisted by advisors from the Breitbart wing of the Republican Party—could choose to double down on the America First, trade- and immigration-bashing policies that helped to get him elected. This approach would bring a few improvements on the Obama administration (or more likely, on the policies Hillary Clinton would likely have pursued): the potential for less U.S. involvement in civil conflicts in the Middle East, and for improved relations with Russia. Yet unlike the prudent, restrained foreign policies often erroneously described as isolationism, Trump’s policies would be truly isolationist, with a less active foreign policy combined with trade and immigration restrictions that would see America retreat from the world. Trump’s emphasis on winning at all costs would create zero-sum conflicts with other states, and potentially lead to dangerous trade wars against other major powers.

Scenario Two: The Imperialist

The other strand prominent in Trump’s campaign was his near-Jacksonian rhetoric, with its focus on the importance of military strength. His repeated calls for ISIS to be crushed, for terrorists’ families to be killed, and even his strange convictions about seizing Iraqi oil all fit into this paradigm, which would see an inwardly-focused America which nonetheless prizes military power. In addition to hawkish-leaning congressional Republicans, and his Vice President Mike Pence, the rumored candidates for cabinet appointments in a Trump administration include neoconservative thinkers like John Bolton and hawks like Gen. Mike Flynn. On the upside, like the first scenario, this would probably see the United States get involved in fewer unnecessary civil conflicts. Yet the downsides are again far more pronounced, with substantially increased military spending and military conflict likely.

Certainly, these are two extreme options. The most likely scenario for foreign policy in a Trump presidency is probably some milder combination of these choices, with Trump perhaps defending his conciliatory approach to Russia, but bowing to congressional hawks on other issues. His foreign policy could remain incoherent, simply reacting to crises on a day-to-day basis. Or it’s possible that Trump largely ignores foreign policy issues, or even that he will be effectively constrained by some combination of foreign policy elites and civil servants within the foreign policy bureaucracy.

But these scenarios still raise a serious concern: we simply don’t know what to expect from Trump’s foreign policy. So as we come to terms with the idea of a Trump presidency, we have to ask ourselves: what comes next? No one knows.

With Republicans retaining control of the House and Senate, President-elect Donald Trump might think it will be easy to push through his plans for “peace through strength” but he’s offered dubious rationales for why we need a much larger military. And his proposals for how he would pay for the additional spending are incomplete and inadequate.

He outlined his plans in a speech in early September. The high points include:

  • Active-duty Army: 540,000, up from 491,365 today, and currently projected to hit 450,000 in 2018, and stay there through 2020;
  • Marine Corps: 36 battalions, up from 23 now;
  • Navy: 350 surface ships and submarines, up from 276 today (the Navy’s current plans call for 308 ships by 2021, peaking at 313 in 2025);
  • Air Force: 1,200+ fighter aircraft; which is close to today’s inventory of 1,113;
  • A “State of the art missile defense system”; and
  • Major investments in cybertechnology, both offensive and defensive.

Estimates for what it would cost to implement these changes vary, but most experts doubt that Trump can make up the difference without raising taxes or adding to the deficit. His call for “common sense reforms that eliminate government waste and budget gimmicks,” is extremely vague, and it seems unlikely that Democrats will agree to relax the Budget Control Act caps on defense spending while leaving non-defense caps in place.

The bigger question is what Trump plans to do with this much-larger military. He is right to be skeptical of nation-building in foreign lands. He scorned Hillary Clinton’s support for the regime-change wars in Iraq and Libya. Those types of missions often require vast forces, especially ground troops, willing to remain in those countries for decades, or longer. But if he doubts that such missions are needed or wise, why does he call for increasing the active duty Army and Marine Corps? What does he expect them to be doing that they aren’t already?

Fighting terrorists doesn’t require a massive military, either. The hard part is finding terrorists, not killing them once found. Thus, the most effective operations against groups like al Qaeda involve timely intelligence, active cooperation with local actors, and occasionally the precise application of force.

ISIS is different, because it, unlike al Qaeda, chose to occupy territory that can be targeted by traditional military force. But if Trump follows through on his plans to “bomb the hell out of ISIS,” that doesn’t require massive U.S. ground forces either.

Lastly, Trump hasn’t adequately explained how he would ensure that the military spends the money that it has wisely and efficiently. In inflation-adjusted dollars, American taxpayers spend more on our military today than we did during most of the Cold War, and yet we appear to be spending more, and getting less. Increasing the military budget by 10 percent or more won’t make it easier to control rising costs; if anything, it will allow the Pentagon to forego difficult but necessary reforms.

I hope to hear more in the coming weeks about what President-elect Trump will do to rein in the Pentagon’s civilian work force, eliminate excess overhead, including unneeded bases, and modernize military compensation. Members of Congress have either failed to address, or actively blocked, reform proposals thus far. Time will tell whether having Trump in the White House will stiffen their spine.

Donald Trump has been touting staunchly protectionist and isolationist rhetoric on trade policy throughout his campaign. Whether this was merely campaign-talk is still to be seen.

However, at his core, Trump is a businessman. In the business world, isolationism is synonymous with self-destruction.

So when Trump brandishes protectionist rhetoric and sullies the role of international trade, he’s ignoring the fact that, in international relations, trade also serves as an expression of diplomatic goodwill and a means for constructive connectivity. Trade could also promote and advance free market principles abroad.

Take China, for instance. Beijing is embarking on a new era of “economic diplomacy”: trade and foreign investment have become the preferred tools for engaging with the international community, as well as for boosting domestic economic growth. China’s relatively new $1 trillion New Silk Road trade and investment initiative spanning several countries and continents attests to just that.

Instead of taking the opportunity to forge beneficial economic and trade ties with Beijing, Trump is instead threatening to impose high tariffs on China and declaring it a currency manipulator. However, doing so would actually isolate the United States’ economic interests rather than “protect” them, especially in the long run.

Trump will now have to quickly transition from a businessman into a statesman. In the business world, there is something to be said for taking a tough, zero-sum approach to negotiations. But in international relations, flippant threats and tough-talk—especially when it comes to the world’s second largest economy, as well as a nuclear power—is tantamount to recklessness, and likely to cause more harm than good.

Lastly, there are reasons to doubt whether Congress will comply with Trump’s trade and foreign policy stance. Members may instead insist that trade within a mutually beneficial arrangement, and not economic isolationism, will lead to more U.S. jobs and overall economic growth.

Donald Trump’s upset victory over Hillary Clinton last night is bound to stir up fears of instability and uncertainty in East Asia, a region that was almost entirely ignored during the campaign. Commentators have rushed to predict that Trump’s campaign rhetoric will turn into reality: the United States will pull back from East Asia, and China will take advantage of the ensuing chaos to seize geopolitical dominance of the region. This morning James Palmer at Foreign Policy writes, “Chinese leaders near me in the palatial complex of Zhongnanhai are surely cracking open the drinks.” This is a pretty scary vision of the future. However, such assessments, which focus solely on Chinese benefits, don’t take into account the complex nature of U.S.-China relations.

President Trump is by no means a clear victory for China. The uncertainty created by his victory could easily produce an economic and geopolitical climate that damages Chinese interests. For example, three of the seven points in Trump’s Plan to Rebuild the American Economy mention policies that would hurt the U.S.-China economic relationship: labeling China a currency manipulator; bringing trade cases against China in the World Trade Organization; and imposing tariffs in response to “illegal activities.” Igniting a trade war with China would pose a severe risk to China’s economy, which is already slowing down. Trump’s stated policies would likely deepen China’s economic woes, thereby increasing the domestic instability that Beijing is obsessed with avoiding, especially in the lead-up to the 19th Party Congress in late 2017.

In the realm of geopolitics, Chinese gains in the conventional balance of power resulting from a reduced U.S. commitment to traditional allies could be offset if other regional states turn to nuclear weapons. America’s regional partners have started to improve their conventional self-defense capabilities, but it will take a good deal of time and money to get their militaries to the point where they can resist Chinese coercion without U.S. help. With this in mind, and given the recent nuclear saber rattling by North Korea, if Trump starts shedding U.S. alliance commitments then partners may turn to nuclear weapons to defend themselves.

Japan would likely be the first country to develop a nuclear weapon in such a scenario. Its limited conventional capabilities create a pressing need for a deterrent if the United States would not come to its rescue, and its highly-developed nuclear energy program makes it relatively easy for Japan to acquire the materials it would need. It would still take a good amount of time for Japan to develop such weapons. For example, a 2006 article by Jeffrey Lewis at the Arms Control Wonk blog suggested a timeframe of 3–5 years. If Japan goes down this road, there is a chance that neighboring countries, such as South Korea, would also push for their own nuclear weapons. While Japan would face enormous resistance to nuclear weapons development, support for having nuclear weapons among lawmakers has increased in recent years in response to growing tension in East Asia. A nuclear-armed Japan is completely anathema to Chinese security interests, and would be a serious setback for China’s geopolitical position in East Asia.

While this analysis is almost purely speculative at this point, there is a case to be made that the Trump administration will not be as good for China as many commentators have suggested. China could reap some benefits from a United States occupied with domestic political turmoil and a president that disdains alliance commitments. However, the economic and geopolitical uncertainty that could be unleased by his victory should curb Beijing’s enthusiasm. As Isaac Stone Fish recently stated in Foreign Policy, “the Chinese elite seem to prefer Trump’s opponent because they feel she would be better … [for] global stability, which remains of great importance to Beijing.” The officials in Zhongnanhai should save those drinks for another day. 

Please excuse the haste, as I’ve spent the last week ignoring the “impossible,” focused instead on writing about the likely direction—including the copious double-talk and rhetorical pirouettes—of President Clinton’s trade policy. If you’re a sucker for transparency, congratulations! You’ll get that in spades from President Trump’s trade policy. It will be transparently awful—for a while, at least.

Having a Republican president and GOP control of both chambers of Congress was once the ideal formulation for successfully negotiating and ratifying trade agreements. That all changed when Donald Trump, an avowed critic of U.S. trade agreements, rose to the top of the party’s ticket. As of last night, there is no longer any realistic chance that the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement will be ratified in the Lame Duck session of Congress; there is no chance that the TPP will be implemented over the next four years without the deal first being reopened and revised to reflect terms desired by President Trump; there is much greater scope for trade frictions, especially with China, to erupt into deleterious rounds of tit for tat protectionism; and there is the distinct risk that policies intended to punish U.S. companies for outsourcing will slow inward foreign direct investment (insourcing) and chase U.S. companies off-shore, altogether, depleting capital, driving up interest rates, and hamstringing prospects for growth.

But there is a silver lining, which is that the worldviews of presidents tend to be more outward, engaging, and accommodating than the worldviews of presidential candidates. After repeatedly pledging to force Canada and Mexico back to the table to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement during his bid for the White House, President Obama phoned the Canadian prime minister and Mexican president within one week of his 2009 inauguration to reassure them that he had had a change of heart. 

President-elect Trump’s hardline, isolationist, nationalistic, protectionist proposals may be more difficult to walk back, especially if he fails to excommunicate some of his current advisors and branch out to obtain the counsel of economists and policy specialists who have a better understanding of international economics and the rules of global trade. If he is able to expand and diversify the pool of people advising him, there is a reasonable chance that President Trump’s actions will be less bellicose than his rhetoric has been. After all, as someone who wants to make America “great again,” President-elect Trump will want the policies implemented by his administration to help grow the economy. Trade agreements have succeeded in that regard and, in addition to the TPP, there are plenty of countries and regions willing to partner, including the European Union and the United Kingdom (separately), and plenty of alternative negotiating platforms for accomplishing trade and investment liberalization. 

In the short term, if President-elect Trump wants to encourage U.S. manufacturing to produce and hire more, he should ask Congress to eliminate tariffs on all imported intermediate goods – components and raw materials that go into U.S. production. That would immediately reduce U.S. manufacturing costs, which would give the sector a leg up in its competition for U.S. and foreign investment.

Trump might quickly grasp that removing tariffs—rather than imposing them—is the kind of protectionism we can afford.

Donald Trump’s signature policy issue during his campaign was forcing unauthorized immigrants out of the United States. But it would be a mistake for Republicans in Congress to fund any effort to make this dream a reality during his administration. Trump won the presidency, but he failed to convince anyone, including Republicans, on the issue that he spent the most time promoting, and history still shows that an anti-immigration agenda could become incredibly damaging to the GOP’s electoral prospects long-term.

Here are six reasons why congressional Republicans shouldn’t confuse a Hillary Clinton loss with a mandate to target immigrants.

1. The vast majority of voters still want to let the immigrants stay. A supermajority of Americans favors legalizing immigrants who are in the country illegally, according to exit polls from CNN (70%), Fox News (70%), the New York Times (70%), ABC News (71%), CBS News (70%), and the Wall Street Journal (71%). In fact, even more Trump voters favored legalization than favored deportation. This jives with Pew Research Center’s most recent poll that found that fully two-thirds of Republicans favored legal status for unauthorized immigrants. As the figure below shows, Trump failed to persuade Americans during his campaign despite making it his number one talking point. It would be foolish for the GOP to think that this will suddenly change.

Figure: Should undocumented immigrants be allowed to stay in the United States?

Sources: Pew (October 2014–March 2015); Wall Street Journal (November 2016)

2. GOP senators in close races who favored legalization performed better than Trump in their states. Trump’s immigration position did little, if anything, to advance his cause in the swing states. All of the incumbent Republicans who supported legalization in tight Senate races—Senators John McCain (AZ), Marco Rubio (FL), Mark Kirk (IL), Kelly Ayotte (NH), Rob Portman (OH), and Ron Johnson (WI)–outperformed Trump in their states. Sens. Richard Burr (NC) and Pat Toomey (PA) who tried their best to avoid discussing the subject while not supporting Trump’s deportation position netted the same share of the vote as Trump. Sen. Roy Blunt disavowed a path to legal status and did worse than Trump in Missouri.

3. Many Republicans in the House and Senate don’t agree with Trump. Well over a hundred GOP senators and congressmen have publicly backed legal status for unauthorized immigrants in the United States (here are some). Trump will need to lead a party that includes these members. Party leaders in Congress would be unwise to abandon such members now that they have helped the GOP achieve a majority. Ironically, the fact that Hillary Clinton did so poorly, with low voter turnout hurting Democrats in competitive races, actually helped to maintain this moderate wing of the Republican Party. The GOP would likely be in a worse position to support real immigration reform if the election had been a Democratic blowout.

4. California Republicans won on nativism in the 1990s—and it cost them everything. The Republicans made blaming unauthorized immigrants for crime and government deficits a major part of their campaign in 1994. Governor Pete Wilson championed a ballot measure, Prop. 187, intended to expel the state’s undocumented immigrants. The measure actually had the support of a majority of voters, but as my colleague Alex Nowrasteh has meticulously documented, the campaign turned California permanently blue. Wilson had an electoral mandate in 1994, and the Republicans still lost the state for a generation. Trump has no such mandate today.

5. Trump won a single election, but deportations could lose a generation of voters. One reason why misinterpreting Trump’s victory could be devastating for the GOP in the long-term is that barely any young people agree with him. Only 17 percent of Americans under 30 agree that unauthorized immigrants “should not be allowed to stay,” according to the latest survey from the Pew Research Center, and only 37 percent of these voters backed Trump. Republicans will still need a pro-immigrant strategy to address this issue.

6. Trump is the most unpopular president-elect ever. It is impossible to overstate the importance of this point. Americans have never elected a person that they find so disagreeable. Fully 61 percent of voters said yesterday that they had an unfavorable view of Trump. It makes little sense for Republicans to try to help the new president build goodwill by doing something that the vast majority of Americans do not want.

These political calculations all stand in addition to the multitude of economic and moral reasons to oppose removing from the country people who have built their lives in the United States.

Marijuana legalization keeps rolling. The legalization of recreational marijuana was on the ballot in five states yesterday. The people of California, Massachusetts, and Nevada voted to legalize.  As of this writing, legalization maintains a slim, too-close-to-call lead in Maine as well. Legalization failed in Arizona by a small margin.

Beyond legalizing marijuana in America’s most populous state, the vote in California also means the entire West Coast has now rejected marijuana prohibition. The vote in Massachusetts makes it the first state east of the Rocky Mountains to do the same.

In addition, medical marijuana was legalized in Arkansas, Florida, and North Dakota, while restrictions on medical marijuana were relaxed in Montana.  In Oklahoma, which prides itself on being “the reddest state in the nation” (Donald Trump won every single county last night), voters passed an amendment to state law that recategorizes a variety of drug offenses from felonies to misdemeanors.

All of these developments speak to a growing (and increasingly bipartisan) acknowledgment that Americans are tired of the failed drug war, and especially the government’s crusade against marijuana. More people are arrested for marijuana offenses than for all violent crimes combined in this country, and voters increasingly think it’s time to put a stop to it.

As my colleague Jeff Miron points out, marijuana prohibition is predicated on myths. The allegations that marijuana legalization leads to huge increases in use; causes increases in crime, traffic fatalities, and addiction; and leads to abuse of other, harder drugs simply do not comport with the data we’ve seen from legalization policies in the U.S. and around the world.

Despite this building momentum for reform, last night also injected a bit of uncertainty into the prohibition discussion. Marijuana remains illegal under federal law. The Supreme Court has already ruled that federal marijuana prohibition is constitutional, state-level legalization notwithstanding (although Congress has put temporary limits on federal funding for that purpose). As a result, the progress we’ve seen thus far has depended on President Obama’s commitment to respect the will of the states when it comes to marijuana enforcement. Essentially, President Obama has refused to enforce federal marijuana laws when those laws conflict with legalization bills passed by state voters.

President-elect Trump is not required to continue that commitment. He, along with his pick for Attorney General, could decide to begin enforcing federal marijuana laws in states that have voted to legalize (provided Congress provides funding), in which case the successful experiments in legalization would end virtually overnight. The more states legalize marijuana, however, the less likely it seems that the federal government will try to force the cat back into the bag.  

President-elect Trump should let the state experiments play out, and respect the will of the American voters who increasingly reject the failed policy of prohibition.

During the Republican primary season, most candidates railed against the Iranian nuclear deal promising to rip it up. Indeed, Donald Trump, our new President-elect, described the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the JCPoA) as “one of the worst deals I’ve ever seen.” With Trump’s unexpected success in yesterday’s election, the future of the Iran deal—one of the major diplomatic successes of Barack Obama’s presidency—has become murky.

Over the last year, Trump’s campaign was impressively inconsistent on the question of the Iran deal. Various Trump surrogates—including Rudy Giuliani in his speech at the Republican National Convention—suggested that Trump would “rip up” the deal on day one in office. Trump himself strongly criticized the deal, promising in a speech to AIPAC in March that dismantling the deal would be his number one priority. Yet later statements focused instead on the idea that he would “fix” the deal, by going back to the negotiating table with Tehran, a line later adopted by many of his campaign advisors.

Unfortunately, though this might indicate that Trump’s stance was more rhetoric than reality, he is likely to face strong pressure from the GOP-dominated congress to upend the deal. The pressure is liable to come from inside his administration too: not only did Mike Pence, Trump’s VP pick, take a hard line on the Iran deal in debates, but several of Trump’s potential advisors have similarly argued that the deal should be destroyed. It’s hard to imagine an administration featuring Bob Corker, John Bolton or Michael Flynn taking a conciliatory approach to Iran on any issue.

So can Trump actually end the Iran deal? Perhaps more effectively than many have assumed, though it would be politically and diplomatically costly. In order to end the deal, the United States would have to assert to the UN Security Council that Iran is violating the agreement. Though such a violation would technically be confirmed by an external party like the IAEA, the fact is that the “snapback” provision of sanctions relief found in the JCPoA allows the United States to exercise its veto power, forcing the reintroduction of UN sanctions.

The United States cannot force the European Union to reintroduce all its sanctions, which include some of the harshest measures on Iran’s oil and banking sectors. Nor can it apply sanctions retroactively; any deals made by companies during the last six months—like the Total oil and gas deal—are grandfathered in. But if he wanted to, President Trump could issue executive orders reinstating or creating new sanctions on Iranian individuals or companies. He could also direct the Treasury to apply those sanctions extraterritorially, preventing European or Asian companies which do business with Tehran from accessing the U.S. financial system.

Yet the choice to end the Iranian nuclear deal would be extremely costly for the United States. It would alienate key allies in Europe and elsewhere, discouraging them from participation in future U.S. diplomatic endeavors. A better deal is pretty much impossible to achieve, thus we would substantially increase the likelihood that Iran will return to nuclear development, bringing them closer to the bomb, and the United States closer to military conflict. And it would be a black eye for the United States, implying that we cannot be trusted to abide by international agreements which we negotiate.

It’s certainly possible for President-elect Trump to dismantle the JCPoA. But as with all questions about Trump’s foreign policy, it remains unclear whether he will choose to do so or not. If he does, the repercussions for U.S. foreign policy would be unpleasant. Tearing up the Iran deal may look good to the Republican base, but it’s the diplomatic equivalent of shooting ourselves in the foot: it achieves no foreign policy goals, runs the risk of destabilizing the Middle East still further, and does grave harm to America’s diplomatic reputation.

Even if one had the stomach for more prognostication after last night, when it comes to Trump foreign policy looking ahead seems like a fool’s errand (see my last op-ed if you don’t believe me). As Max Fisher notes in the New York Times today, Donald Trump has been so inconsistent on foreign policy specifics that no one feels confident in making bold predictions. Uncertainty, at home and abroad, rules the day.

However, even though the election can’t tell us much about what might happen in the future, Trump’s victory does reveal a great deal about how Americans think about politics in general and foreign policy in particular.

One thing we have learned is that the divide in Americans’ foreign policy views now mirrors the broader political fault lines in the nation. As I wrote after the final presidential debate, in the absence of a compelling external threat, Americans have become more polarized as the “national interest” has devolved into an array of competing interests. The foreign policy debate is no longer about how to keep America safe; it’s a clash over competing conceptions of America and its role in the world.

In one corner are the previous champions, the liberal internationalists, who enjoyed a long, bipartisan run after the end of the Cold War. The liberal internationalists have seen globalization as a boon for the U.S. and the world. In this vein they have pursued free trade, an expansive network of alliances, and meddled a great deal in the affairs of other nations for a wide range of often dubious but usually well-intentioned reasons. In the other corner we have Trump’s surging nativists and nationalists—much more pessimistic about the benefits of globalization, much less supportive of free trade, far less interested in engaging the world, and far more concerned about what immigration might do to the United States.

Trump’s election last night might have been a shock, but the growing divide on foreign policy has been clear for some time. A great deal of polling data from the past several years has revealed that the public has lost much of its appetite for the liberal internationalist cause. Recent polling has discovered that record numbers of Americans think the United States should “mind its own business” internationally and fully 70% of Americans want the next president to focus on domestic policy.  When you add to that the widespread concerns about Obama’s trade deals and U.S. policies in the Middle East, it becomes clear that much of the nation is ready to rethink the Beltway Consensus on foreign policy.

The implications of this emerging foreign policy tribalism are profound. Without existential national security concerns to ground the debate, foreign policy has become just another arena for cultural and identity politics. Trump’s foreign policy, whatever it turns out to be, will not be constrained by broad-based public and elite support for a single strategic vision. Instead, Trump is free to pursue foreign policies that please his base.

Though I won’t dare to make predictions about which issues Trump will take up in earnest next year, a quick comparison of his supporters to Democrats on key issues is potentially revealing. 80% of Trump’s supporters see immigrants and refugees as a critical threat, for example, compared to just 27% of Democrats. 92% of Trump’s supporters support his proposal for a wall on the Mexican border while just 29% of Democrats do. Whereas 68% of Democrats believe international trade is good for the U.S. economy, just 42% of Trump supporters do.

I will boldly end with one prediction: Regardless of which way Trump goes on foreign policy, the divisions revealed during this campaign will not go away any time soon.

It happened.

Don’t worry, our country is strong enough to deal with what might be coming. Unfortunately, however, our Constitution has some holes in it, many of which were created by the last two administrations, that allow presidents to assert shockingly broad powers. We will gladly welcome back to the fold our left-wing friends who have spent eight years cheering for executive power. They resisted executive power during the Bush administration, and it should be like riding a bike. We hope we will be joined by principled people on the right who understand the need for constitutional limits. Maybe, in the process, we can create a new consensus around limiting executive power.

Constitutionally limited government exists to protect the freedom of the citizens from the vicissitudes of democratic rule. The Framers of the Constitution knew that a person of George Washington’s caliber would not always be chosen president. They knew about demagoguery and populism. James Madison, in particular, was terrified of how voters in states could be swept up in waves of populist fury and, in the process, enact policies damaging to the long-term prosperity and freedom of the people.

Unfortunately, after a century or more of erosion, our Constitution doesn’t limit our government the way it once did. In particular, the president is incredibly powerful, and able to make significant decisions without proper checks and balances. Democrats wanted this power when President Obama was in office, but the powers of the executive, especially after President Obama, are now truly concerning when held by someone as unpredictable as Donald J. Trump.

Here’s a basic principle of good government: Don’t endorse a government power that you wouldn’t want wielded by your worst political enemy. Democrats will soon be learning that painful lesson.

Obama’s most concerning legacy was to use congressional inaction as a justification for sweeping executive orders. In the DACA and DAPA immigration cases, the president decided that, if Congress didn’t do something about immigration, then he would. This is a shocking argument for asserting unilateral power in a constitutional system that depends on checks and balances, and it should not matter whether you agree with the policy outcome. Nevertheless, Democrats, by and large, endorsed Obama’s action.

Obama also used congressional inaction as a justification for claiming the power to decide whether the Senate was in session. After his nominees to the NLRB and CFPB were blocked by the Senate, President Obama used his recess appointment power—which gives the president the ability to appoint executive officers during Senate recesses—to push his nominees through. In so doing, he essentially declared that the Senate’s pro forma sessions, which were sham sessions first used by Harry Reid to block President George W. Bush’s nominees, were not “real” sessions of the Senate. It was a bold, reckless, unprecedented, and dangerous move that was struck down unanimously by the Supreme Court. On many types of executive overreaches, however, the Court will not be able to similarly intervene. If Obama had the temerity to push through those appointments, imagine how far Trump might go on other matters.  

Finally, the Congress hasn’t declared a war since World War II. Korea, Vietnam, First Iraq, Second Iraq, and Afghanistan were all fought without obtaining the constitutionally required declaration of war from Congress. We currently have the Authorization of the Use of Military Force, signed a week after the September 11th attacks and subsequently used by two presidents to fight “terrorists” wherever they wanted. President Trump will have that power too, which should concern anyone.

Like nearly every president, President Obama defined a new baseline of executive power. Now that power will be handed over to Donald Trump, and left-wing groups like our friends at the Constitutional Accountability Center will probably be on our side when Cato inevitably files briefs opposing Trump’s forthcoming executive overreaches. I’ll try to restrain myself from saying, “I told you so.”

If you work in education policy, you maybe should have seen Donald Trump’s monumental upset coming. I didn’t, and I would guess most other wonks didn’t either. But we all saw populist frustration boil over with the federally coerced Common Core national curriculum standards. Average Americans rejected the Core over the paternalistic, “you just don’t realize this is good for you” objections of establishment types on both the left and right, just as seemed to happen with Trump’s campaign that defied establishment predictions—and disbelief—almost from day one.

Of course, popular rejection of the Core does not capture nearly all that seems to have driven Trump’s support—immigration, dwindling manufacturing jobs, plain old fear—but it does capture a seeming disdain for elites.

What is this likely to translate into in education policy, especially with a Republican controlled Congress?

Let’s start with the Core. Candidate Trump, without specifics, indicated on the campaign trail that he would get rid of it, seeing it as an unacceptable federal intrusion. And it was federally coerced. The problem is that the main levers of coercion—the Race to the Top contest and waivers out of the No Child Left Behind Act—are gone. Race to the Top is over, and No Child has been replaced by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Unless Trump tries to coerce states to dump the Core—make receipt of funds or regulatory relief dependent on ditching it—he can’t end the Core.

What he can do—and I think, along with a GOP Congress, will do—is ensure that regulations to implement the ESSA do not coerce the use of the Core or any other specific standards or tests. This has been a real concern. While the spirit and rhetoric surrounding the ESSA is about breaking down federal strictures, the Obama education department has been drafting regulations that threaten federal control over funding formulas and accountability systems. And the statute includes language vague enough that it could allow federal control by education secretary veto. A Trump administration would likely avoid that.

Trump has also promised to spend $20 billion on school choice. The inclination is right—the way to make education work for kids is to give parents control of the dollars—but “encouraging” with federal carrots or sticks is wrong. For one thing, the Constitution gives Washington no authority to meddle in education outside of the District of Columbia itself, federal installations, and prohibiting state and local discrimination in their provision of education. Perhaps more important, we do not want private schools becoming dependent on federal money because, inevitably, with federal money would come federal rules, which would, over time, render school choice much less of a real choice, with all schools—public or private, from California to Georgia—increasingly identical.

What about higher education, in which federal subsidies have fueled skyrocketing prices and massive waste for decades? The good news is that Trump is unlikely to propose a Clinton/Sanders style “free” college plan. The bad news is that, so far, Trump hasn’t signaled an intent to significantly curb self-defeating subsidies like federal student loans and grants. Rather, he’s proposed an income-based repayment plan for loans and threatened the tax breaks and subsidies of schools that aren’t deemed to be making “a good faith effort” to control student costs. Part of that would include going after schools with big endowments, something likely to make little difference because only a few schools have endowments that are typically considered big.

What will almost certainly come to an end will be the war on for-profit colleges prosecuted by the Obama administration and its allies in Congress. (Programing note: Big event on for-profit schools next week!) That’s good, because for-profit colleges—though they produce some pretty bad outcomes—are not the problem in higher education. Every sector produces bad outcomes. The root problem is the mammoth subsidies, which incentivize bad decision-making by students and price hikes by schools. They are what need to be attacked.

For the youngest children, Trump has not proposed a wide expansion of preschool such as Head Start, which is good. The top-quality research does not support its effectiveness, despite what politicians and advocates pronounce. But he has proposed federal incentives to expand childcare, and that could include an education component. We’ll have to wait and see.

Overall, Trump has inveighed against federal intrusion in education, including talking about eliminating the U.S. Department of Education. The semi-concrete proposals he has put out there, however, seem somewhat at odds with that. One thing, however, seems certain: wonks and pundits would be wise not to dismiss his proposals as political pie-in-the-sky. Trump may well have a better sense for what is politically viable than they do, and his supporters don’t seem inclined to do what Beltway types tell them.

Pages