Opinion

Can the nation afford to wait for the education of Donald Trump?

Posted March 30

The movement towards health care reform was decades in the making. President Clinton spent nearly two years on a proposal before abandoning the idea. Then, President Obama saw a golden opportunity to make major gains towards universal health care access with Democratic majorities in Congress. However, even with those advantages, it took 15 months for a bill to wend its way to his desk.

Yet President Donald Trump and the Republican majority believed they could repeal and replace Obamacare within 100 days. In the middle of the process, the president blurted: “Nobody knew health care could be so complicated.” Many people did, and the president should have.

President Trump campaigned on the promise that he would repeal and replace Obamacare. To hear him then, he would eliminate the program on his first day in office. Certainly, it would occur within his first 100 days. Yet, the president is beginning to realize that campaigning, particularly in his style, is not the same as governing. Governing requires more than claiming to be able to make deals.

Moreover, deal-making in government is not the same as deal-making in business. In business, the main objective of both parties in a deal is to make more money. The deal revolves around how each party can accomplish that goal.

In politics, deal-making has a very different character. Political deals speak to basic principles about how government should operate. Conservative Republicans weren’t interested in getting more money. They want to make government smaller and get it out of the health care business. Moderate Republicans also weren’t seeking a better financial deal. They wanted to avoid hurting their low-income and elderly constituents.

The president seemed unaware that the roots of political disputes run far deeper. The president’s assertion to be able to make great deals for the American public is now being proven for what it always was — a hollow claim. President Trump does not know how to deal to pass legislation. His failure on the Obamacare “repeal and replace” leads one to wonder about the other promises he made about besting the Chinese or the Russians in negotiations.

The president is far over his head in government. He may now be coming to realize it. Moreover, he may be grasping the reality that hurling insults at others does not win friends and lead them to want to work together on compromises. He also may see that his low popularity ratings place him in an especially vulnerable position with congressional Republicans who are more popular with their own voters than he is. Their incentives for working with the president mainly revolve around party loyalty, which clearly is fraying.

The president’s inability to work with Congress may sober him to the reality of another 46 months of incapacity to accomplish much during his term beyond the occasional executive order, which could be overturned quickly by the next president. That lack of achievement will become more acute if Democrats win back control of either house in next year’s elections.

On the other hand, President Trump may learn from his mistakes. He may decide to build public support, which is essential to the acquisition of political capital. He may seek to find common ground with Democrats rather than merely hurl insults at them. He may understand that leadership in government is more than assuming because he wants something, everyone else will bend to his will.

Will President Trump change his governing style and even his personality to succeed in the job Americans elected him to hold and from which those who voted for him expect achievement? This will be his choice, but it will be a fateful one. The nation’s immediate future hangs on it.

Presidents typically grow in the office. However, the learning curve is steep for the current incumbent. He starts with so little understanding of governing, a deficit that is now becoming apparent even to his supporters. Given the problems the nation faces, it is a shame that before we can solve them we must wait for the education of the president, assuming he even chooses to go through the process.

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