Faculty Journal Posted on Friday, December 16, 2016

Mr. Trump, You Can Still Be President For Us All

Michael A. Lewis Professor of Social Work, Hunter College

On November 8th, 2016, Donald Trump made history by becoming the nation’s 45th President. Two important areas require attention during the incoming president’s first 100 days in office: public policy legislation and the tone of discourse. Let me start with the issue of tone. Trump won the electoral vote contest, but Clinton won more popular votes than he did by at least 2.5 million voters. This means that most of those who went to the polls actually voted against Trump. However, as the outcome on November 8th makes abundantly clear, winning the popular vote won’t make Clinton President. But, perhaps, winning more electoral, but fewer popular votes, should influence how Trump decides to govern.

During the campaign, as well as in his not-too-distant past, Trump said and, apparently, did things many regard as racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, or  downright ignorant. He managed to alienate people from a variety of groups, including Latinos, women, blacks, and Muslims, many of whom are terrified that, come January, he will take his place in the Oval Office.

In the early morning hours after election night, Trump gave a speech in which he mentioned how we must come together as a nation. He claimed that he wants to be President for all citizens. This speech initially sounded like a change in tone, compared to his comments and behavior during the campaign. But since that speech, President-Elect Trump has said and done things which make me wonder whether he’s truly capable of moderating himself in the way he needs to in order to be President for all of us.

Since his Electoral College victory, Trump has picked a fight, on Twitter, with an actor in the Broadway show ‘Hamilton,’ chastised protesters for being unfair to him, claimed, without presenting any legitimate evidence, that the election was plagued by massive voter fraud, stated that people who burn the American flag should, perhaps, face loss of citizenship or jail time, has yet to abandon the notion of a registry for Muslims, and chosen as a top member of his administration, a man, Steve Bannon, whom many regard as a white supremacist. If these are the behaviors of someone trying to unite the country, I’d hate to see what he’d do if he were interested in dividing it.

If Trump wants to convince those who didn’t vote for him that he wants to be President for all of us, he’s got to do much better than he has so far. In fact, he doesn’t have to wait for his first 100 days  to start doing so. Why not start now?  I have my doubts about whether he’s capable of doing much better. We may be in for four years of, as one comedian put it, an internet troll as President. However, I’d love for Trump to prove me wrong.

Let me turn to policy. I’ll focus on two areas: health insurance and immigration.

Trump has said he wants to repeal Obamacare, although lately he’s expressed an openness to keeping two provisions of the law: one is the ban on insurance companies denying coverage to people with preexisting conditions, and the other is a provision which allows young adults to stay on their parent’s policies until age 26. However, Trump wants to get rid of the individual mandate, which requires people to obtain health insurance or pay a fine if they don’t and also get rid of the subsidies, which help low and moderate income people buy health insurance, and replace them with health savings accounts (HSAs). However, a basic study of economics shows this arrangement isn’t likely to be good for low and middle-income people.

If we require insurance companies to provide policies to those with preexisting conditions, as well as to young adults up to age 26, this means insurance companies’ costs will be higher than they’d be if they didn’t have to meet these requirements, So without an individual mandate requiring people to buy insurance, many “young invincibles” – young, healthy adults who are crucial to helping control healthcare costs – won’t purchase an insurance plan. This would leave insurance companies with sicker pools of policy holders, putting further upward pressure on their costs, which economists call adverse selection. Insurance companies would likely pass these higher costs on to the rest of us in the form of higher premiums. In a world without subsidies – as Trump is proposing – many people won’t be able to afford health insurance, and it’s unlikely that HSAs would be able to offset this problem. Hopefully, when Trump takes office in January he will try to improve on the Affordable Care Act instead of repealing it.

When it comes to immigration policy, Trump has been clear that he wants to target  undocumented immigrants. When Trump becomes President, he’ll have the authority to end an Obama administration policy which allows certain undocumented immigrants to openly attend school, work, and otherwise live “out in the open” as U.S. residents. Such immigrants must have been brought, when they were under age 16, to the U.S. by their parents. If Trump were to end this policy, these young people might face the threat of imminent deportation.

One doesn’t have to be in support of  open borders to view such an act as one of extreme social injustice. How could it be fair to kick folks out of the only country they’ve known simply because, as kids, they were brought here illegally by their parents? Even if one blames their parents, why should the kids be held responsible for their parents’ actions?

While I, unfortunately, have low expectations for Trump’s first 100 days in office, I’d love for him to prove me wrong. By changing his tone to be more inclusive, as well as abandoning policy positions many regard as racist sexist, and xenophobic, Trump has an opportunity to truly be a president who can represent all Americans.

This post appeared as part of a Roosevelt House series on the first 100 days of Donald J. Trump’s presidency. To read the rest of the series, click here.

Michael A. Lewis is a social worker, sociologist, and former community organizer. He currently teaches courses in economics and public policy at the Silberman School of Social Work.