Trump as Disrupter
It helped to have been up against the worst candidate in history, but the main reason Donald Trump got elected is that enough people were fed up with the status quo and were prepared to give a disrupter a shot. To the amazement and chagrin of the Left and the media, the disrupter has been going about, well … disrupting. He is simply keeping his promises and bumping his poll numbers. And this is driving them nuts.
The news cycle moves so fast that we forget sometimes the major disruptions Trump has already put on the books in his first 18 months, among them tax cuts, massive regulatory reductions, a laundry list of conservative judges including Justice Neil Gorsuch, dropping the Paris climate change deal, withdrawing from the Iran deal, recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, securing the border, withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, boosting domestic energy including infrastructure like the Keystone XL pipeline, deferring to the Constitution in dropping DACA, wiping out ISIS, and strengthening the military.
And he has done them with the skill of an expert negotiator and a businessman’s focus on results, not appearances. This maybe isn’t the most diplomatic approach, but if the interest is in getting things done, it’s the most effective. More recently we have eliminated the individual ObamaCare mandate, are negotiating for better free-trade deals, and of course Trump just had a historic meeting with Kim Jong-un to launch the process of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula. What big thing might be next? We’ll get to that in a second.
Congress denied the Obamacare repeal/replace option, but the elimination of the individual mandate has essentially put Obamacare on a path toward the off-ramp. Remember, the only way the Supreme Court got around the obvious unconstitutionality of the government’s forcing individuals to buy something under threat of a financial penalty was to call the penalty a “tax.” With that gone, so goes the constitutional underpinning, and 20 states have filed suit to therefore eliminate Obamacare in its entirety. It’s hard to see how that won’t succeed. The practical impact of that will be a necessity-is-the-mother-of-invention moment, in which Congress will be forced to address alternatives to Obamacare and Trump will try to steer that more toward a private-sector solution. Can you really spell disruptive?
The main takeaway from the supposed punch-up at the G7 is that Trump thinks differently from traditional politicians. Rather than simply accept things as they have always been, Trump starts from scratch and considers issues as though he has a clean slate. What would he design on trade if there were no agreements in place? When he proposes the hardly controversial concept that trade should be free and fair with equal tariffs (ideally zero) on all sides, those who currently have legacy sweetheart deals that tilt the playing field in their favor scream bloody murder. They try to distract from the obvious unfairness of the status quo by redirecting the discussion to the horrors of “change.” And when Trump calls them out, they hurl personal insults with an eye as much toward domestic politics as toward cutting fair deals.
It’s all part of the negotiation. But because the U.S. has allowed these types of tilted deals dating back to WWII, both our trading partners and the DC elites view them as gospel, and any attempt to level the field is heresy. Maybe there had been some justification at some time in helping countries damaged by war or emerging as possible growth markets, but not now. Trump is prepared to break some eggs to create more balance. If Obama were driving this train, the media would cheer at the brilliance of his logic. Trump? Not so much. But there will be major changes when the dust settles.
On North Korea, what can you say other than the first step is huge? The mere meeting was big enough, but this was the first time that Kim himself had actually verified in writing his commitment to denuclearizing North Korea. Trump still holds all the cards. The sanctions are still there, and if things go off the rails, the military option remains. You can quibble with Trump’s offering to drop war games with South Korea in return for a denuclearization pledge, but the military capability is still there regardless. The next step is going to be a trade of full disclosure by Kim of everything nuclear in North Korea for some additional security guarantee, like a no-invasion pledge. That will be the key as to whether a deal can get to the finish line. No one in their right mind would tell a potential adversary where all their secret military assets are located without some quid pro quo. Trump has negotiated Kim into a corner. As long as he keeps China onboard, Kim has nowhere to go. There is still a long way to the finish line, and there remains tons of risk that a deal might get derailed, but only the true #NeverTrumpers and #Resistance members can deny that great progress has been made and cautious optimism reigns.
Trump has a goal — denuke the North — and will trade things including security guarantees and economic goodies to achieve it. He doesn’t care about appearances, only results, so the idea that he gave away the ranch by merely letting Kim appear on the same stage is just silly. Ditto the moving of goal posts by the Left and the media elite which claim that the communique after one day of meetings was “weaker” than what Obama or Clinton got at the end of a multi-year process. Or the absurd point that human rights were not front and center. A complete resolution will take time, but the sanctions clock keeps ticking for Kim. This week’s meetings were a very promising first move.
So what’s the next big thing for Trump? Consider the recent report that Social Security is paying out more than it takes in and will run out of “trust fund” money in 16 years. But even that is a fiction since there is no “trust fund”; money paid out in Social Security comes from general revenue or intergovernmental transfers. As folks live longer, population growth slows and disability claims rise, tinkering with some of the Social Security variables like increasing taxes, raising retirement ages and progressively taxing payments will be constantly chasing the solvency tail. Ditto with Medicare and Medicaid.
After November, watch for Trump to really jump into the disrupter jungle by proposing radical changes in these entitlement programs, like perhaps going back to the original purpose of Social Security, which was to provide a safety net for impoverished seniors. It was never intended to be a retirement plan or to benefit the elderly who can provide for themselves. North Korea may prove simple to deal with by comparison, but Trump loves a challenge. So stay tuned.