The United States is arguably the most polarized it ever has been in modern history. The number of undecided voters is historically low. Voters are deeply entrenched in their party affiliations, they have consistently moved away from ticket-splitting, and have increasingly seen the opposition party with more and more disdain. However, for those few undecided voters, it is crucial to analyze the plans both presidential candidates have proposed and consider their respective merits. We owe it to ourselves and to others to think hard about the issues at play at such a crucial moment in our collective history. This election will likely decide the country’s trajectory on climate change, foreign policy, and the economy for decades to come. We will first examine President Trump’s substantial policy goals and analyze whether his record shows any sign of fulfilling those goals.
The state of the economy may very well decide the election, and it is the issue most acutely felt by the average American. The Trump administration has been fixated with deregulation and the retreat of government involvement in most aspects of American life. As a result, the Trump economic agenda is focused on lowering taxes. This may seem like a relatively straightforward endeavor, but there are significant challenges.
First, there are political obstacles. Trump hit historically low approval ratings during his push to approve his tax bill in December of 2017. In fact, the President suffered worse approval ratings during his tax push than during the COVID-19 outbreak. A president coming off what every measure indicates will be a slim victory is very unlikely to push for further equally unpopular policies. Even if Trump decides to propose another round of tax cuts, vulnerable Senate Republicans are likely to push back.
Moreover, the President’s most pressing issue will be extending the existing 2017 tax cuts, which are set to phase out or end entirely in the coming years. There is little space for further middle-class tax cuts without shifting the tax base to another segment of the population. Trump’s current tax code has added trillions of dollars to the national deficit, and any further expansion of his plans will likely do the same.
The prevailing theory behind tax rollbacks is that the increased income in consumers’ pockets will lead to greater consumer spending and prop up the rest of the economy. Even if we ignore the fact that the biggest winners under the Trump tax code were large corporations, the proposed effects of tax cutbacks still don’t seem likely to occur. The current public health crisis and fear surrounding COVID-19 are fueling the ongoing economic recession, meaning giving Americans more money will not lead to increased spending and fails to address problems related to the current unemployment rate.
The Trump administration has also promised to create 10 million jobs in the next ten months, but this promise is misleading. These jobs are not so much being created so much as they will be added back. COVID-19 triggered the rapid shedding of jobs, and only now are they returning. Jobs will be vulnerable to ongoing coronavirus developments and could be lost just as quickly as they are recovered. It is important to note that even if Trump does fulfill his promise, the economy will still have lost over three million jobs compared to pre-COVID levels.
Trump has promised to bring troops home, but the ongoing American presence in Afghanistan is a testament to the difficulty of ending such wars. To his credit, Trump has avoided involving the U.S. in new “endless wars,” but has been ineffective in terminating existing ones.
Negotiations with the Taliban in Afghanistan are fixated on ending U.S. presence in the area, but that ignores the fundamental dynamics of the region. America almost certainly made a tactical mistake of gigantic proportions when it chose to invade Afghanistan, but that doesn’t change the fact that we are there and have a responsibility to those we have impacted. Negotiations have left out the Afghan government and have therefore been unsuccessful in cementing peace. The rush to exit the region by year-end has only confused personnel on the ground and points to an absence of strategy. Without an overarching plan, it is hard to believe the president will deliver on his promise.
On the other hand, there does seem to be the inklings of a Trump blueprint on a global scale. The current administration’s “America First” foreign policy has been most evident to our allies as Trump plans to continue pushing them to “pay their fair share.” It is worth noting that the president has had some moderate success on this front but, this is unlikely to continue much further. Allies are increasingly losing confidence in the American capacity and willingness to protect their interests abroad and may view continued payments to NATO as a waste.
Similarly, the president also views NATO as only useful for eating up precious U.S. dollars. Trump fundamentally misunderstands the relationship the U.S. has with its allies. The international community founded NATO and similar institutions during the Cold War and the years leading up to it. The expectation was never that partners would pay their “fair share.” The agreement was always transactional, just not in a monetary sense. Allies would permit overwhelming U.S. influence in exchange for protection and the U.S gained massive influence but would have to foot the cost. Contributions from allies were nothing but a nicety.
The most substantial accomplishment the Trump administration has to tout on healthcare is its promise to reduce prices on select drugs and its systematic dismantling of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Not only has a “beautiful” healthcare plan not yet emerged, but Social Security may be in jeopardy during a less politically restrained second Trump term. Presidents as a whole tend to become more aggressive during a second term where they don’t face the prospect of reelection. This will almost certainly be the case for a President Trump who seems to enjoy rallies and bragging about his 2016 victory more than anything else.
The Trump administration, in an effort to lower drug prices, signed an executive order that would force pharmaceutical companies to sell drugs through Medicare at the same prices offered in foreign nations. Although promising at face value, it simply instructs an obscure government agency to begin a long and ineffective bureaucratic process with no short-term effects.
The death by a thousand cuts the Affordable Care Act suffered, however, has had both short-term and long-term effects. Premiums have steadily risen, and the number of uninsured Americans has gone up along with them. Meanwhile, the Trump administration is going before the Supreme Court intending to strike down the entirety of the ACA. Losing the ACA without an adequate substitute would be bad enough, but the COVID-19 pandemic has only made things worse. Because healthcare was predominantly tied to employment, millions of the most vulnerable experienced a double blow when they lost their jobs.
A lack of a sufficient replacement for the ACA is all the more concerning since the coverage of pre-existing conditions is often the first thing on the chopping block. Insuring people with pre-existing conditions is expensive. Any substantive healthcare policy needs to include ways to offset that cost, such as through incentivizing young, healthy people to join and pay.
The ACA insures as many people as possible so that the cost can be spread out, but the government could also subsidize that coverage. Trump seems to have little appetite for either and is expressly arguing against the individual mandate in court. This tension will eventually come to a head, and either lower premiums or coverage of pre-existing conditions will have to go.
Furthermore, Social Security will soon be unsustainable without significant intervention. Social Security will likely take in less money than it pays out this year and will within a decade be out of money entirely. The president offered few assurances during the second debate over the future of Social Security and has yet to offer a plan to save it. At a time when millions have lost healthcare coverage and a global pandemic threatens to hit its second wave, Trump has offered no way forward.
The Trump immigration policy is easily one of the most controversial aspects of the president’s last four years in office. From family separation to a border wall, the general philosophy underpinning the administration’s actions is that blatantly cruel policies will discourage migrants from coming to the U.S. in the first place. The border is for all intents and purposes closed at the moment. However, it is vital that we visualize what the future of immigration will look like.
Trump will likely seek to extend his southern border lockdowns indefinitely, or at least until it becomes politically unsustainable. Nonetheless, even if restrictions are loosened, there already exists extensive infrastructure to justify blocking migrants.
The Supreme Court has continuously ruled that Public Charge is within the limits of executive power. It requires that any migrant wishing to come to the U.S. be financially independent and not use government services for a select period of time. This excludes those with disabilities or pre-existing conditions who are just as capable of contributing to the country as anyone else. Furthermore, COVID-19 has been shown to have long-term health effects, which may require additional medical attention and, as such, could very well be classified as a disqualifying condition. Because nations in the global South have been some of the hardest-hit by the pandemic, they will effectively be locked out of the United States for years to come.
The rule would also have a chilling effect on migrant communities since U.S. immigration law is confusing, and potential citizens are less likely to visit doctors if they think it will threaten their legal status. This will only serve to exacerbate disease transmission during a global pandemic.
Furthermore, the pandemic provided an ideal excuse for a proposed change to student visas that would restrict access to the country for foreign students who would only be taking online courses. The rule change was ultimately redacted due to overwhelming public pressure, but the general effort to restrict foreign student access has persisted.
Current proposals would require students to reapply for their visas as often as every two years, depending on their country of origin. This is incredibly difficult and places a huge burden on foreign students to navigate an increasingly complex and inept immigration system.
Trump claims to be on a mission to “Make America Great Again.” Regardless of your views on the end goals, it is clear the president plans to achieve them through fewer protections for the vulnerable, international isolation, and increased barriers for all.