Our president promised to “Make America great again” during his campaign.
Well, nearly five months into his term, he doesn’t seem to have made much progress. In fact, we may actually have gone backward in some areas.
Part of the reason is that Republicans have been obsessed with trying to erase Barack Obama’s name from the history books, rather than do anything constructive.
Take, for instance, the attempt — unsuccessful, so far — to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, which, despite its shortcomings, has meant fewer uninsured Americans. Supposedly, the Republicans in Congress had some exceptionally nifty plans for a health care plan all ready to replace it. All they needed was a Republican president who wouldn’t veto their plan.
Well, it was a lie. When it came time to actually revealing the niftiness of their plans — which they had seven years to create — Congressional Republicans couldn’t agree on what their plan was. They finally bullied one through the House of Representatives, despite popular opinion in favor of keeping some of the provisions of the ACA, which led to angry protests by voters. As a result, many representatives had to hide from their constituents rather than face their wrath.
Senate Republicans, though, didn’t like the plan either, and they want to create their own plan.
For his part, Donald Trump promised a plan that would cover everybody with no deductibles and low premiums. It was a promise that could not be kept, which should have been obvious to anyone who pays attention to the health care issue. Of course, the president concluded that “Nobody thought health care would be so complicated,” so maybe he doesn’t know anybody who pays attention.
In the end, the shortcomings of the Affordable Care Act will probably be replaced with whatever program the Republicans finally devise, and it will likely have even greater shortcomings. I doubt that America will be any greater in the final analysis.
In foreign policy, the president frequently claimed during his campaign that other nations were taking advantage of trade deals to steal our jobs while relying on our military to defend them. As a result, he said, nations around the world were laughing at the U.S., and he promised to stop that laughing by putting America first.
That was probably why, during his recent trip to Europe, Trump indicated that he might not honor our obligation to defend other members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization from attack. That provision of the treaty was to discourage attempts by the old Soviet Union to add more European nations to the Communist bloc following World War II. The Soviet Union is no more, but historically, Russia had always occupied parts of nations such as Poland, and still may be inclined to continue such actions. That’s why the mutual defense part of the treaty is important to Europeans.
Even if Russia has no such intentions now, abrogating the mutual defense agreement would mean we are reneging on a long-standing agreement. Other nations would see us as undependable, which can only harm our prestige and influence among the nations of the world.
The president also used the opportunity to attack Germany for unfair trade, based on the fact that Americans buy more German goods than Germans buy from Americans. To Trump, that means Germany is taking advantage of us, but like health care, the truth is more complicated, and Trump’s policies against German trade will harm many states that supported him in November.
In South Carolina, for example, a BMW automobile plant employs almost 9,000 people. It is one of 160 German companies which have invested $4.6 billion in South Carolina over the last six years. The state says more than 10,000 new jobs have been the result.
Does starting a trade war with Germany make us greater, or does it threaten the creation of jobs in South Carolina and other states, leading to a weaker economy and higher unemployment?
Finally, Trump has made a big deal about removing environmental standards set by the Obama administration and abandoning the Paris Agreement, by which nearly every other nation has agreed to work on reducing the release of carbon dioxide into the air. The Trump administration believes that will bring back coal as a fuel and encourage more oil production. It probably won’t work.
Coal use is declining as power generators shift to cheaper and cleaner natural gas. Employment in mining has also declined as companies find more and more ways to reduce costs through automation. Consequently, attempts to revive employment in coal mining will fail.
Discouraging the use of other sources of power will harm the U.S. as well, because it will discourage American companies from developing other power sources. Nations that are part of the Paris Agreement will continue efforts to develop alternative sources of power and, in the end, Americans may find themselves purchasing those technologies from Germany, China or India because they are not available from American companies.
Trump promised to adopt a policy of America first, and I suppose his recent actions in Europe reflect that. But like it or not, the U.S. is only one of many nations. Our economy will always be entwined with the global economy, and our safety will always come through cooperation with other nations. To ignore that truth could very well make us poorer and less safe.
As with health care, our place in the world is complicated.