The following editorial appeared in the Chicago Tribune on Tuesday, Jan. 24:
How do you like Donald Trump’s presidency so far?
If you focused on Monday morning, his first business day in the White House, Trump did what he promised as a candidate: to put the emphasis on creating jobs and boosting wages. He met with a group of high-powered CEOs to gather ideas on how to expand the U.S. manufacturing economy. He talked about the influence of tax rates on job creation. And, as expected, he withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed trade deal with 11 other nations, because he doesn’t think it will protect American workers.
Trump could have chosen any topic to get his presidency rolling. He picked jobs. Good.
Not everything since Friday’s inauguration has gone so smoothly — typical of any new administration getting its bearings. He gave a rambling campaign-style talk Saturday to CIA employees in front of their memorial wall, which made for a jarring contrast, especially when he bragged about his “running war” with the news media. There was also a clumsy effort by the new White House press folks, citing “alternative facts,” to assert falsely that Trump’s inauguration was somehow the most popular ever. Silliness. When the president is tweeting about TV ratings, that’s 30 seconds of potential progress America will never get back.
As for what this president envisions for invigorating the economy and protecting American factory jobs in the era of global trade and investment, he’s on more solid ground, though caveats abound. He told the group of CEOs — which included Ford’s Mark Fields and Tesla’s Elon Musk — that he wants to reduce the top corporate tax rate from 35 percent, which is one of the world’s highest, to 15 or 20 percent. He also said he wants to relieve the burden of federal regulations that costs time and money. Those are the kinds of moves that encourage companies to invest more and add jobs. Today’s high tax burden — recall that ex-President Barack Obama also wanted to cut the corporate rate — puts American companies at a disadvantage internationally. Reducing that cost could lead some big corporations to stay onshore or move here. But everything Trump does to spur business activity will help an economy that trundles along — almost eight years after the Great Recession — at an uninspired pace.
The bigger-picture question pertains to Trump’s skeptical view of America’s role in the global economy. The U.S. is dependent on trade. It would unlock more markets to our goods. Trade boosts prosperity. Yet Trump appears to think he can force changes in U.S. relationships without destroying American wealth or missing out on opportunities.
On Monday, Trump offered some guidance: He won’t shut the door on trade deals. He intends to negotiate agreements with one or several partner countries at a time, rather than take the TPP approach of striking regional pacts. On Friday, British Prime Minister Theresa May comes to the White House. With Britain preparing to leave the European Union and go its own way on trade, Trump may find his first willing partner to negotiate what he calls “free and fair” trade. Trump also may try to reopen negotiations over some existing deals, such as with Mexico and Canada on the long-running North American Free Trade Agreement.
The president’s big fear is that the global economy is robbing America blind — “stealing our companies and destroying our jobs.” We don’t see it that way. Exporting is good for U.S. businesses and their workers. Imports reduce prices for American consumers. Most factory jobs that disappear aren’t shipped to China or Mexico, they are victims of increased productivity. Anything Trump does to isolate the United States, or punish American companies with tariffs if they make goods abroad and bring them home, would needlessly constrain U.S. competitiveness and destroy wealth. We hope he comes around on that.
It’s the earliest moments of this administration. Trump’s prickly temperament — his thin skin, especially — has already been a distraction. Not surprising. But he’s also begun to set appropriate priorities. Soon the details will come into focus, and so will his presidency.