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What sort of mandate did Americans give Trump?

The American people – those who voted and those who stayed home – said clearly they’re tired of business as usual. They want change for the better.

How will President Trump govern? From the center, with a managerial, problem-solving approach? Or will he adopt a more hard-line, ideological agenda favored by some of his supporters on the right?
REUTERS/Mike Segar

Well, now what? Donald Trump won and will be our next president. Those facts are tough for many of us to swallow, but we need to move on and ask, what will he actually do? No one knows, maybe even the president-elect himself. A better question might be: What sort of mandate have the American people given him? To do what, exactly?

Some argue that by giving Republicans control of all three branches of government, voters have signed on for anything and everything candidate Trump and his party espouse. Really? Americans want us to get out of NATO? Push Japan and South Korea into acquiring nuclear weapons? Engage in torture? Deport 12 million residents? I don’t think so.

And the evidence is otherwise. For starters, at least 1 million more people voted for Hillary Clinton than for Donald Trump. That doesn’t change the result – the Electoral College is our baby and we’re sticking with it – but it does show that Americans are deeply divided about our country’s direction.

Frustrated with status quo

If there a unifying theme among Trump voters, it’s dissatisfaction with the current state of the nation. Call this an anti-Washington trend, but it’s really more a broader frustration with our inability to get anything done, to deal with the major problems facing our nation.

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Democratic voters share that frustration, a reason nearly half of them chose Bernie Sanders rather than the establishment candidate, Hillary Clinton, in this year’s primaries.

Then there are the tens of millions of eligible voters who chose not to vote. Sitting it out is another way of showing lack of hope in our politics. The dismal ratings for Congress – less than 10 percent approval of the institution – is further strong evidence of a widespread disillusionment. People are fed up with seeing politicians – in or out of office – get rich, while their own concerns are ignored (except during election season).

The American people – those who voted and those who stayed home – said clearly they’re tired of business as usual. They want change for the better. We can answer that message and restore faith in our democracy only by moving beyond partisan gridlock to address real problems and concerns. That would be change we could all believe in.

Border issues will require compromise

There’s genuine fear and anger about failure to police our borders and devise a rational, balanced and humane immigration policy. It’s time to forge an agreement on the way forward. It will take leadership and a willingness to compromise by both parties.

Entitlement reform is another vital, unaddressed issue. Lots of viable fixes for Social Security are available, but yet nothing gets done; many citizens, young and old, doubt the system will be there for them. Providing for the general welfare is one of government’s responsibilities under our Constitution. We can’t just keep kicking this can down the road.

The same is true for health care. No one much likes the employer-based system we currently have. It’s an unfathomable maze; or, as Churchill said of Russia, “it’s a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” Obamacare brought some real improvement, including health insurance for 20 million citizens previously left out, but it has also resulted in higher costs or less coverage for others. Barring our switching to a single payer system, we need to fix what we have – not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Everyone seems to agree our roads, bridges and highways are badly in need of repair or replacement. A substantial investment in improving our infrastructure would create good jobs, stimulate our economy now and better prepare us for the future. So let’s start moving on it instead of getting hung up on ideological differences over which pot of money should be used.

Mixed signals on Trump’s intentions

How will President Trump govern? From the center, with a managerial, problem-solving approach? Or will he adopt a more hard-line, ideological agenda favored by some of his supporters on the right?

The early signals are mixed. Most of the president-elect’s post election comments have been conciliatory and even handed; he’s called for unity and said he wants to be a president for all Americans. Many of his rumored appointments, however, go the other way. John Bolton is said to be under consideration for secretary of state, even though the Senate refused to confirm him as ambassador to the United Nations because of his extreme partisan views. Some of the president-elect’s closest advisers, Newt Gingrich for example, are of the take-no-prisoners school of politics. Gen. Mike Flynn appears to be cut from the same cloth.

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For now, the jockeying in Trump Tower is over positions and power. Soon enough we will see how that struggle translates into policy – and whether the American people’s longing for an end to partisan gridlock will be realized.

Dick Virden is a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer. He lives in Plymouth.

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