Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Smiling Populism

In tonight's address to a joint session of Congress, President Trump hit many of his familiar populist themes on immigration, trade, infrastructure, and other topics.  However, he presented them in a more conciliatory tone.  While speaking frankly about some of the very real challenges facing the United States, he emphasized the importance of Americans coming together to address those challenges.

For all the moderation of tone, this speech was big in policy ambition.  On immigration, he called for a shift to a more skills-based immigration system (a major change from the current dynastic immigration system).  On trade, he proposes upending the orthodoxy that has ruled in the Beltway for the past quarter of a century (if not longer).  A big-budget infrastructure program could have huge fiscal and economic implications.

If he is successful in this agenda, there could be a realignment of American politics.  But, in part because it could be so transformative, the agenda faces many obstacles in Congress.  Tonight's address aimed beyond the president's base and sent the message to members of Congress that the president could articulate a positive, unifying vision.  Both of those moves may be a sign from the Trump White House that it acknowledges how tough the road ahead could be--and that it is willing to use a variety of tactics to confront those difficulties.

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