Slowly and perhaps even surely, Donald Trump is pulling together a team he believes can help him achieve his goals. Which are what exactly?
The most basic are given to him in Article II, Section One, Clause 8 of the U.S. Constitution. On Jan. 20, 2017, Mr. Trump will swear to “faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States,” and to the best of his “ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
Faithful execution implies a presidential obligation to enforce the laws of the land. What about laws he objects to as a matter of principle or policy? He can work with Congress to repeal them. But to disregard them (as one might argue President Obama has done) is to violate his oath.
As for protecting and defending the Constitution, President Trump can make a strong start by nominating to the Supreme Court a justice who regards the Constitution as the highest law of the land, a contract that can be amended (however cumbersome that process may be) but not reinterpreted to suit to policy preferences (however well-intentioned those policies may be).
OK, so that covers Mr. Trump’s first afternoon in the White House. What’s next? His campaign vow was to “make America great again.” What that means depends on your definition of “great.”
Alexander the Great conquered far-flung territories. Muhammad Ali (the boxer, not the Ottoman Khedive of Egypt) called himself “The Greatest” because he could “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” in the ring. Great Britain is the largest of the British Isles.
Mr. Trump probably has something rather different in mind. What he intends, I think, is to reverse the decline in American prosperity, power and prestige.
If that’s true, it echoes Ronald Reagan who, in 1980, pledged to restore “the great, confident roar of American progress and growth and optimism.” Four years later, the opening line of his famous television ad was: “It’s morning again in America.” In other words, his theme then, like Mr. Trump’s now, was American renewal.
What most urgently needs renewing? President Reagan prioritized rebuilding the American economy after years of economic malaise and defeating America’s enemies rather than pursuing an elusive and illusory detente.
Mr. Trump could do worse than to make the same choices. True, he’s a populist, not a conservative like Mr. Reagan. But achieving populist goals — such as job creation — can best be achieved through conservative policies — such as cutting high corporate tax rates and excessive regulations that have discouraged investment and entrepreneurship.
Couple that with policies conducive to the production of more and cheaper energy and a significant economic recovery could result. “Trump’s popularity at home is likely to depend in large part on whether he can revive blue collar jobs,” writes Walter Russell Mead, a Bard College professor and neither a populist nor a conservative. “An energy boom offers the best prospect for growth in manufacturing jobs.”
As for defeating America’s enemies: That requires a central role for the U.S. military which, thanks to Mr. Obama and bipartisan congressional acquiescence, has been seriously diminished. Fixing what’s broken — e.g., increasing forces and readiness, modernizing equipment, investing in next-generation capabilities — will require a strong secretary of defense, one who understands that a long war has to be waged against the imperialists and caliphate-builders of the 21st century.
Opposition to such policies will come from the left but also perhaps from populists wary of interventions abroad. They should be reminded that the best way to avoid wars is to convince your adversaries that it would be irrational to challenge you — or even to incur your wrath. That’s what President Reagan meant by “peace through strength.” While that’s a conservative doctrine, I have to believe it’s embraced by most of the patriotic Trump supporters in the heartland.
Time and energy permitting, perhaps President Trump also might attempt to renew America’s commitment to liberty — a word seldom heard these days, a synonym not for entitlements but for the “natural rights” that governments do not grant and no legitimate government can take away.
Among the most fundamental is freedom of speech, now an endangered species in academia where groups on the left (the alt-left?) routinely use intimidation and even violence to shut down speech they deem politically incorrect.
Internationally, there’s the “Istanbul Process,” entered into five years ago by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in partnership with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, one of the largest voting blocs in the United Nations. Its purpose is to restrict or punish speech that the Muslim rulers of unfree countries consider blasphemous, Islamophobic or just plain offensive.
Finally, let me suggest a novel way to announce these priorities for American renewal. Mike Pence, after he’s sworn in as vice president, could pay a return visit to the cast of “Hamilton.” He could say: “The last time I was here, you said you were ‘alarmed and anxious’ that the administration in which I serve ‘will not protect’ you, that we wouldn’t ‘defend’ what you called ‘diverse America,’ and that we wouldn’t uphold your ‘inalienable rights.’
“I want to make sure you know we will. We understand about ‘inalienable’ rights — including your right to criticize me. Know, too, that in our administration the brave men and women who serve in our military will be given the resources they need to protect you. We also plan to revitalize the economy so that for years to come, plenty of people will be able to afford to spend hundreds of dollars for a ticket to ‘Hamilton’ because without such diverse — and wealthy — Americans, you’d all be out of jobs. And we wouldn’t want that, would we?”