06 May Trump and Biden – Policy Brothers
“Although America is experiencing bitter partisanship, core policy execution will be the same whether the next President is named Trump or Biden.” – The Lonely Realist
Three major policies occupy the bulk of Presidential attention: fiscal; foreign; and social. With Republicans and Democrats at terminal loggerheads, unless one Political Party or the other secures the Presidency with a large Congressional majority, neither a President Trump nor a President Biden will have success in lawmaking. The next President’s focus therefore is likely to be limited to what can be accomplished by Executive Order. At a minimum, that means there is likely to be little difference between fiscal, foreign and, to a substantial extent, social policy-making. While there most certainly are differences between President Trump and President Biden in accommodating their polarized bases – contrasting small vs. big government (when convenient), lesser vs. greater regulation (when convenient), Federal Statism vs State Statism (when convenient), etc. –, core policies are likely to remain surprisingly similar.
Let’s start with fiscal policy. Without comfortable majorities in both Houses of Congress, the next President will be powerless to reduce America’s debts and deficits …, while members of Congress will be disinclined to risk votes by backing any proposal that might conflict with the wishes of their gerrymandered constituents. As a consequence, America’s obligations will continue spiraling out of control. Although both Political Parties agree that America’s $31+ trillion Federal debt is beggaring the nation, no President – not Reagan, Bush1, Clinton, Bush2, Obama, Trump or Biden – evidenced sufficient courage to propose cutting Social Security and/or Medicare benefits …, despite the fact that those programs’ spending is unsustainable. Their costs will exceed 100% of Federal tax revenues by 2040! There are budgetary solutions, but enacting them requires compromise. For example, a Democratic Party preference calls for raising the Social Security tax (FICA) on Americans earning more than $1 million/year, a vote-loser for too many Democrats. Finding support among Republican Party representatives is a vain hope in today’s tribalized environment. A President Trump might take action to hollow-out the Department of Education and a variety of other unnecessary overstaffed executive branch departments, although he made no effort to do so in his four years as President and was not successful in reducing government bureaucracy. He nevertheless could be far more successful in a second term. However, cutting Federal bureaucracy in itself would barely dent America’s debt and deficits. Less controversial, though apparently equally undoable by any President, would be to disband the Space Force, collapse the redundancies created by the walls between America’s separate armed forces, eliminate agricultural and energy subsidies and tax benefits, cease disbursing unspent COVID funds, close unnecessary military bases, and claw-back the monies allocated to earmarked pork-filled projects. Being President in the 21st Century requires strong leadership. It requires taking on entrenched interests, an appropriate task for a second term President. Unfortunately, neither Trump nor Biden has demonstrated either an interest or an ability in doing so.
There are few foreign policy initiatives that would change under a second Trump or Biden Administration. Both Presidents favor America First trade protectionism (even though Biden labels it “industrial policy”), tariffs and sanctions, and both believe in pushing the limits of Presidential power and legislating through Executive Order. Both, after all, are Statists. Moreover, both see China and Iran as adversaries and neither will attempt to alter America’s support for Ukraine in the face of an overwhelming Congressional and public consensus. That being said, a second Biden Administration would be more engaged internationally, favor interaction with allies and non-aligned nations, and be dependent on State Department guidance. A Trump Administration would emphasize isolationist policy-making and bilateral vs. multilateral trade, withdrawing from global engagement while minimizing treaty-making and historical commitments.
It is the social policy sphere that frames the true differences between the two presumptive Presidential candidates. Those differences turn primarily on support or rejection of replacement theory, the 1619 project, woke-ist themes, gun control, and abortion rights. The greatest differentiator, however, is the chasm between President Trump and President Biden in their selection criteria for Federal judges, and especially for Supreme Court judges. America’s judges decide not only what laws mean – which, with Congress deadlocked, places far greater power in the courts than the Constitution intended –, but also which moral direction the country will take. Choosing a President solely on the basis of his social beliefs therefore has been the priority for a great many lobbying organizations, although it has not been a focus of the media, which garners eyeballs by emphasizing sensationalist issues like immigration. The surprising fact is that many of those sensationalist issues, including immigration, reflect Presidential policies that are not differentiators. For example, Trump and Biden have pursued virtually identical policies in addressing “the crisis at America’s borders,” a fact that is impossible to discern from media coverage. President Trump addressed the flood of immigrants by issuing an Executive Order that redirected Federal funds to add 52 miles to the existing border wall with Mexico, a wall that had previously totaled 649 miles. Because the Mexican border is 1,954 miles long, the 701 miles of built border wall have provided little deterrence. President Trump subsequently issued a further Executive Order utilizing the authority granted by Title 42 to summarily expel migrants, a public health rule triggered by COVID that authorized border officials to do so without due process. Unfortunately, neither the wall nor Title 42 reduced the pressure on America’s Southern border as the number of migrants increased, largely due to the decimation of Central American economies. Forbes explained that immigrants recently have been flocking to America’s borders “because life, where they have been living, has become intolerable. Whether for political, economic, social, cultural, or climate reasons, it is impossible for them to remain where they are.” The Biden Administration followed the Trump Administration’s Title 42 policy until the courts ordered a stop, which was when the Biden Administration re-assigned 1,500 active-duty troops to the Mexican border to supplement the 2,500 National Guard troops already stationed there. Good luck! Neither the Trump nor Biden Administrations can stem illegal immigration without Congressional action, let alone expel, naturalize or otherwise address the estimated 11+ million illegal immigrants currently living in America. Doing so requires workable immigration laws. The George W. Bush Presidential Center noted that “immigration policy has been reformed at the margins, with Executive Orders filling in where legislation has been desperately needed,” concluding that America’s immigration system doesn’t work. It hasn’t worked for decades, having been built for a different era. As with fiscal policy-making, immigration reform faces opposition from both the far right and far left …, meaning that the status quo will continue no matter who the next President is.
The glaring differences between a possible President Trump and a President Biden cannot be minimized. What needs to be recognized, however, is that many of the most egregious problems facing America cannot be solved by a President. They require Congress and America’s two Political Parties to act as contemplated by the Constitution, bridging philosophical divides for the good of the nation.
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Finally (from a good friend)