Before the coronavirus slammed into the United States in a way that few foresaw, it seemed Donald Trump was heading to reelection based on a record of genuine, though modest, accomplishments. Despite being treated as an usurper by the media, the Democratic Party, and many of those who work in the federal government—particularly in the intelligence agencies—Trump had both outlasted Robert Mueller and turned aside a clumsy attempt to impeach him.
He had also managed to avoid embroiling the U.S. in another Mideast war, while taking tentative steps to withdraw American forces from Syria and Afghanistan. Trump had imposed significant tariffs on imports from Communist China and used the threat of tariffs to secure trade concessions from Canada and Mexico and to end an upsurge in illegal immigration through Mexico.
Trump had begun using his regulatory powers to curb immigration, rather than boost it, and had also used his emergency powers to fund a wall along a substantial portion of the border with Mexico, after first unwisely trusting former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan to deliver on that campaign promise. Trump’s judicial appointments have pleased most conservatives, most voters were feeling more prosperous than when Trump took office, and a tightening labor market saw wages rising more for those in the lower income brackets than for those at the top.
All that changed with a virus that has killed 72,000 Americans as of this writing, terrified millions more, and led to some 30 million Americans newly on the unemployment rolls. Donald Trump will not be able to take the podium at the presidential debates and ask Americans whether they are better off than they were four years ago, however much he might legitimately point to the way the coronavirus has disrupted life and crushed economic growth in country after country in the industrialized world.
At this point, Trump risks becoming another Herbert Hoover, reviled for decades. There are several scenarios that could lead to Trump’s reelection, but his best chance to avoid giving his legion of enemies a long last laugh is to move from a fitful embrace of a variety of nationalist policies to a full-throated advocacy of American nationalism, demonstrated by a series of dramatic policy changes.
The coronavirus has revealed the folly of outsourcing manufacturing to Communist China. Americans have learned that not only did the pandemic originate in China—either in its barbarous wet markets or in its sinister biological warfare research centers—but that America now relies on China for surgical masks, medical equipment, pharmaceuticals, and many other items vital to the wellbeing of the United States.
Trump, a long-time skeptic of free trade, never advocated the outsourcing of American manufacturing jobs to China, but the stated objective of his tariffs has been to convince the Chinese to abandon their protectionism. Trump should exchange that goal for the more ambitious one of convincing U.S. companies to return production to America, and he should drive the point home by both raising the tariff rate and imposing tariffs on a wider range of Chinese goods. The point should be unmistakable: the only way to avoid the tariff is to build things in the United States.
Immigration should be his next clarion call. Trump has already announced a temporary moratorium on immigration because of the massive job losses brought about by the coronavirus. However, the executive order he signed was too modest, limiting the moratorium to 60 days and exempting entirely a variety of visa programs that bring in foreign workers.
Although these visa programs are presented in the media as both necessary and uncontroversial, it is useful to consider what would have happened to FDR if he had gone to Congress in 1937 and asked to import hundreds of thousands of guest workers at a time of mass unemployment. Americans living through the Great Depression knew that their countrymen had first claim on jobs; many ordinary Americans feel the same today. The time for a true immigration moratorium is now.
Finally, Trump can seize the opportunity presented by the plummeting price of oil to definitively disengage from the Middle East. We hardly need to police that perennially troubled region to secure the supply of a commodity that was briefly trading below zero. Trump should also finally do what he has long wanted to do and bring all American troops back from Afghanistan.
Taking these steps might not be enough to overcome a pandemic and a budding depression on top of the unwavering hostility of the media and the Deep State. But trying to win reelection on a platform that could have been embraced by Mitt Romney or Jeb Bush will almost certainly guarantee that Donald Trump will wish he had never gone down that escalator back in June 2015.
[Image by LEEROY Agency from Pixabay]
Thomas Piatak is a contributing editor to Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He writes from Cleveland, Ohio.