More than two months after Donald Trump was elected to be the 45th President of the United States, many on the left are still throwing a fit. Many think pieces have been published urging Americans not to “normalize” Trump’s divisive politics. Meryl Streep used her lifetime achievement award speech at the Golden Globes to criticize Trump’s hatred of Hollywood. More than 40 Democratic members of Congress are now refusing to attend the inauguration, in protest.
This brand of indignant partisanship is not helpful to anyone. Love him or hate him, Trump will soon be Commander-in-Chief. Those who wish to challenge his agenda should end their pity party and instead roll up their sleeves to work with the administration when possible.
On the subject of bridge building, Democrats and #NeverTrump Republicans should not write the administration off as pure evil. The one consistent trait of the president-elect is his inconsistency. Trump doesn’t seem to have much of an ideological core, which could make the man open to persuasion from friendly parties. The operative word here is friendly. In order to have a seat at the table, lawmakers must show some basic respect for the office of the president — no matter how hard it may be at times.
For liberals and libertarians, Trump’s refusal to adhere to the neoconservative norm on foreign policy could provide some hope in rolling back military adventurism abroad. His nonchalant attitude towards LGBT and women’s rights could mean that progressives could protect and even advance their agenda with the right attitude and willingness to reach across the aisle.
For #NeverTrump conservatives, Republican control of both Houses of Congress could allow for sweeping tax and regulatory reform. However, they should not assume that the process will be painless. Most legislation requires the president’s signature, and Trump has not exactly proven himself to be a free market purist. Just yesterday, for example, the president-elect suggested that his replacement for Obamacare will be another attempt at universal healthcare. As such, Congressional Republicans should be proactive in providing popular market-oriented policy ideas to the president before he comes up with his own cronyist schemes.
Of course, this is not to say that opposition to the Trump administration is futile. To the contrary, it will be very necessary — most likely on issues of civil liberties, trade, and immigration. However, politicians must learn to choose their battles. Blind opposition to Trump will only lead him to do what he wants by executive fiat without Congressional input, as we saw for many years with President Obama.
The sad truth is that executive power has become so concentrated in recent years that Acts of Congress are almost a luxury nowadays. The president has “a pen and a phone,” as Obama famously said in 2014, which is enough to change policy when faced with a hostile legislature.
Perhaps the best example of a politician encapsulating this can-do attitude in recent years in Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). Instead of blindly opposing Obama like most of his fellow Republicans, Paul consistently reached across the aisle, building bridges with Democratic lawmakers and constituents. He helped put criminal justice reform on the radar by forming a coalition with Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ). He spoke at liberal bastions like UC Berkeley and Howard University, spreading the message of freedom to the most unlikely audiences. This constructive attitude is desperately needed in the Trump era.
Critics of President-elect Trump should not automatically write off positive policy reform over the next four years. It can happen, but only with the right attitude and a seat at the table.