No matter your political leanings, all people of good will hope that President-elect Trump will grow into the job and be a person who indeed will “make America great again." To do that, I believe he must trade the black-white thinking of his campaign for a measured conservatism, one that recognizes that wisdom exists on both sides of center and thus mends our so divided nation.
If I were advising him, here are what I’d recommend be his guiding principles:
1. Focus on excellence, not just on the “vulnerable.” Politicians of both parties are falling over themselves to say who’s better for the poor, the disabled, and otherwise vulnerable. Unless we at least equally focus on maximizing the potential of our best and brightest as we did in the Sputnik era, we are devolving the U.S. to its lowest common denominator. That is not a formula for a happy citizenry, let alone one that can compete with China and India.
2. Politicians must steward tax dollars like it was their own. Liberals and conservatives alike mouthe agreement with that but under the pressures of polling, activist groups, and the media, it’s too tempting to say yes to every spending bill. After all, isn’t it tempting to vote for a candidate who promises you stuff rather than one who cuts stuff. Wise stewardship would make cuts in conservative darlings such as defense and liberal darlings such as education, which is so bloated with administrators and labyrinthine rules.
3. Ethics must be top priority. America has become a land of deception, with politicians leading the pack. Conservatives always talk about values, yet are they hard enough on unethical businesses? Do they allow money to influence their votes? Nothing is more important than integrity. Neither party has a monopoly on ethical behavior. Conservatives can and should fill the vacuum. A country that isn’t built on a foundation of ethics will likely collapse.
4. Leave intimate decisions in the hands of the people. Conservatives often wrap themselves in rhetoric extolling freedom. Well, nothing could be more restrictive of freedom than telling a woman when she can have an abortion, whether a gay person should be allowed to marry, or to tell a doctor that s/he can’t assist a person who feels it’s time to end his or her life.
5. Work toward equal opportunity, not equal outcomes. The benefits of trying to redress past and lingering discrimination with affirmative action are outweighed by the liabilities. Too often, affirmative action in practice is reverse discrimination, resulting in a less meritorious person selected. Not only is that unfair to the not-selected person, it’s unfair to the classmates and professors at a college, to the coworkers, bosses, and customers of a business.
6. Exercise restraint. Intrinsic to conservatism is restraint. Indeed, it was liberals in the 60s who encouraged the drugs, sex, and rock’n’roll lifestyle. But those are inimical to the life well-led. A life is meaningful mainly to the extent it is ethically productive and contributory. Today, the Left is making all efforts to legalize marijuana, creating a second alcohol despite strong evidence it damages motivation, memory, mental health, and increases car accidents, heart disease, and cancer risk. Conservatism implies conservative behavior. Conservatives should themselves pull on ropes of restraint and, from its bully pulpit, encourage the productive work life and a recreational life of pleasures that don’t damage individuals and the nation.
The big picture. Mr. Trump, you need to be aware that not all good ideas come from right of center. For example, the Left is cosmically correct in ensuring a basic safety net for all people, even, where possible, to facilitate that outside our borders. The Left is also correct that left to their own devices, businesses will too often be unfair to workers, customers, and the environment--Moderate regulation is a good thing. But I believe that the best America, the one that can indeed “Make America Great Again” is the one that incorporates good ideas from both sides of center.