November 13, 2016

Mr. Trump Goes To Washington

by Hal Gershowitz

Comments Below

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsSound familiar? Readers old enough may remember the original, “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington,” the story of a hopelessly naïve Jefferson Smith (played by James Stewart) who is thrust, unprepared, into the US Senate only to find Washington a cesspool of corruption. We’re not suggesting that the old 1939 film, which many consider one of best in the annals of film making, was a prologue to the present. President-elect Trump isn’t hopelessly naïve, although his degree of preparedness, well, that might be another story.

In any event, Mr. Trump, ready or not, will be going to Washington, and any similarity between Mr. Trump’s sojourn to the nation’s capital and Mr. Smith’s will, for sure, be purely coincidental. The unprepared Mr. Smith was in a position to do little harm nor little good. The unprepared Mr. Trump can do a world of both.

To do a world of harm, all he has to do is spend a lot of time, money and credibility delivering on many of his crowd-pleasing but nonsensical campaign promises. To do a world of good, all he has to do is think presidentially—not just act or behave, but think presidentially. That’s one thing all of our great Presidents had in common— They were great thinkers. Be a great thinker, President-elect Trump.

That means President-elect Trump will have to stop antagonizing and marginalizing millions of our fellow citizens and neighbors. Seal our borders as tightly as necessary, but we have higher priorities than rounding up millions of undocumented men and women who have been here a long time, and the 380,000 children who are now protected by the Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals executive order.

Like it or not, for the entire history of our country, anyone born in America is an American citizen, regardless of how their parents or grandparents arrived here. Leave those families alone. Leave them intact. You have more, much more important things to do than hunting down and deporting or breaking up law-abiding families. You will have prosecutorial discretion just as your predecessors have had. Accept your predecessor’s discretion regarding undocumented, law-abiding families that are here, most having been here for a long time, and then deal with immigration policy going forward as you deem appropriate.

We have written extensively about the sausage making that became the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). Until you can figure out what to do about fixing it, we suggest you stop talking about it. There is no way to repeal it without throwing twenty million people to the wolves. Announcing (post-election) that people with pre-existing conditions will still be covered, and those under the age of twenty-six will be allowed to remain on their parents policies, was a wise thing to do, but it is the universal mandate that makes that coverage possible. It has been estimated that covering pre-existing conditions without the mandate would add $25 billion to the federal deficit.

Our guess is that defeating ISIS will take time. We understand that it played well to the crowd to promise that ISIS will be gone once you were elected and that they would be gone quickly. We know you promised a fool-proof plan for quickly defeating ISIS and taking the oil currently in their possession, but it’s probably a bit more complicated than that, and we’ll probably need considerable support of Muslim countries to do that, unless we plan to invade and occupy what’s left of Syria and what’s left of Iraq.

Thousands are marching in cities across the country to protest your election. So far these protests, with very few exceptions, have been peaceful. They’re protesting because of the divisiveness and closeness of the campaign. You’ll have your job cut out for you to unite the country now that this election is over. Let them know you don’t plan to prosecute your former opponent and throw her in jail as you promised to do during the campaign. Or if you intend to prosecute her, let President Obama know that so that he can pardon her now, and spare us the spectacle. Yes, we think her carelessness was mind-boggling, maybe even criminally so. But if you really believe the nation “owes her a major debt of gratitude for her years of service” as you said the night you declared victory, put an end to the speculation about prosecuting her.

This week we learned of various instances of lawlessness about which we should all be concerned. Swastikas painted on storefronts with the slogan, “Make America White Again,” and school children surrounding and taunting an immigrant classmate with shouts of “Build the Wall!” And children handing out faux deportation orders at a school at which children of Latin American ancestry were classmates. Everyone responsible for these calumnious, offensive insults will, we assume, be properly disciplined or otherwise rebuked. Well, maybe not everyone President-elect Trump. Truth be told, President-elect Trump, you share much of the blame. We don’t think you envisioned, nor do we think you condone such behavior, but words matter. Dog whistles matter even more. You’ll have to pick your words more carefully now.

We are strong believers in the Electoral College, about which we’ll write more in the next week or so. This election will give impetus to a movement to do away with the Electoral College or to require electors in each state to vote for whichever candidate wins the national popular vote. This election will cause many Americans to support such a movement. Many Americans wish our elections were decided by a national popular vote. Following this election, many more may feel the same way. After all, as of now, Hillary Clinton has polled over 600,000 more popular votes than you did President-elect Trump. And given that most of the remaining uncounted votes are on the west coast she may beat you with close to a million popular votes. While that wouldn’t affect the final Electoral College vote (this plurality seems to be in states she has already won) it will startle many Americans.

You are not, however, the only candidate to be elected President while failing to win a majority of popular votes nationally. Andrew Jackson won the popular vote in 1824, but couldn’t win in the Electoral College. In fact, with four candidates running in 1824 (Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, William Crawford and Henry Clay) no one achieved a majority in the Electoral College. The House of Representatives finally elected Adams. Rutherford Hayes lost the popular vote to Samuel Tilden, but became President of the United States with a plurality of one vote in the Electoral College. Then a decade later, Benjamin Harrison (grandson of William Henry Harrison) beat Grover Cleveland in the Electoral College after losing the national election count by 90,000 votes. And, of course, George Bush beat Al Gore in 2000 by ultimately winning Florida’s electoral votes after losing the national election tally. So President-elect Trump will be the fifth President of the United States who failed to win the national popular vote. It happens.

So on January 20, 2018 the real Mr. Trump will go to Washington just as the fictitious Mr. Smith did in 1939— seventy-eight years ago. We hope there is more to the real Mr. Trump than we saw during this election campaign. Every tough decision imaginable will wind up on your desk Mr. Trump, some of them literally life and death decisions. Some will be decisions that define who we are. You are now the President-elect of all the people—even those who say you are not. You will be one of forty-four men who have led this nation.

The premise of our essays has always been that America’s best days are before us if we hold true to our founding principles. Prove us right Mr. Trump.

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4 responses to “Mr. Trump Goes To Washington”

  1. Irwin yablans says:

    a very concise summary of what needs to happen. I hope the President Elect gets to read these words.

  2. Steve Marcus says:

    Very well thought out. We can only hope and pray that candidate Trump was only an act designed to separate himself from the competition and that the office will define the man. However the appointment of Steve Bannon to be Reince Prebius “partner” in the “office of the President” has the potential of an internal struggle that will send mixed messages as to the direction of this government. While it’s important for any President to hear differing views on matters of importance it’s not useful when their underlying world views are so divergent. My guess is that one of them won’t last and that the tone and trajectory of this Presidency will be determined by who is the survivor. The President-elect won office by dividing. Governing will require uniting.

  3. steve hardy says:

    With all this the discussion of racism and misogyny the popular media as usual totally misses the real risk of a Trump presidency. That is international trade. This article, https://fee.org/articles/global-trade-on-trial/ explains it better than I can.

    We agree with Mr. Hardy — strongly. We are planning to address this issue in a forthcoming essay.

  4. Irwin yablans says:

    With the actions of Trump this week it’s appalling that this column seems more responsive to the trade agreements issues than the the pick of Bannon,Flynn and maybe Giuliani
    This is no Frank Capra movie. It is deadly serious . A n incompetent fool is in charge of our lives and Millions of Americans are scared. The usual political arguments about policies are irrelevant in light of this monumental shift in time honored principles

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