Trump’s Duty to America

The new team in town.

Photographer: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Donald Trump has made history as the first man with no government experience to reach the highest office in the land -- and as the least popular and most divisive candidate ever to do so. The burden is now on him to leave a mean-spirited campaign behind and demonstrate that he can bring people together to move the country forward on important issues.

His victory speech hit the right notes. After showing a graciousness toward Hillary Clinton that was lacking throughout the campaign, he said it was time to “bind the wounds of division” and “come together as one united people.” He promised to seek guidance from those who didn’t support him, “so that we can work together and unify our great country.” And he declared, “I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be president for all Americans.”

Now he needs to follow through. Those sentiments, read off a teleprompter, need to come from within. They must be the spirit that animates Trump’s transition to the White House and his presidency.

He should begin by scrapping any talk of a mandate, which will only harden opposition among Democrats, who will point out -- rightly -- that many people voted against Clinton rather than for Trump, and that the former secretary of state may in fact have won the popular vote.

Trump must also seek out the best minds for his cabinet and senior staff and make a special effort to persuade them to join the administration. Republican policy experts who may be leery of working for a candidate with such a loosely defined, and often poorly thought through, world view, should gain whatever commitments they can out of him before joining -- but they should join all the same. Civic duty demands it. It’s essential, absolutely essential, that there be people in the White House with the guts and expertise to disagree and argue with the president.

Having campaigned against Washington’s dysfunction as a non-ideologue, Trump should also invite Democrats to join his administration -- and they, like Republicans, should put civic duty ahead of their political concerns. Daniel Patrick Moynihan was criticized by liberals for going to work in Richard Nixon’s administration, yet he helped initiate and guide some of its most important, and progressive, domestic achievements. Democratic policy experts should now follow his example, provided Trump gives them the chance.

In addition, Trump should step back from partisan activity in 2017, immerse himself in the workings of government, and put in the time necessary to build relationships across the aisle. This shouldn’t be hard given that he has never followed Republican orthodoxy. The fact that the president-elect is elastic in his fixed beliefs may prove to be his most valuable asset.

To that end, some issues are especially ripe for the kind of deal-making Trump says he excels at. For instance, on tax reform, Republicans are right that the corporate tax rate -- among the highest in the world -- is driving profits, and in some cases companies, overseas. Democrats are right that we need more revenue for infrastructure, that loopholes like carried interest are unfair, and that refusing to repatriate profits to avoid taxes is wrong and unpatriotic. Trump agrees with both sides -- and both can come out ahead by pursuing a goal that they share: simplifying the insanely complex tax code.

There are also bipartisan deals to be struck in other areas, including financial regulation. And if Nixon had the credentials to go to China, perhaps Trump has the credentials to convince Congress to address our broken immigration system.

Clinton lost the election for a variety of reasons, including the American public’s distaste for dynasties -- think of the original front-runners, Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton -- and professional politicians who are perceived to sidestep the rules. Voters prefer sound-bite solutions over lengthy discussions of policy nuance. Clinton’s inability to connect with voters who hold rational -- and no less intelligent -- beliefs was her downfall. Trump understood the lessons of Brexit. She did not.

Now, both parties have good reason to address the conditions that have left so many Americans feeling pessimistic about the future. That won’t be easy, and simple answers -- like attempting to keep a coal industry battered by market forces on life support -- won’t do. We need a more ambitious agenda to address the deeper shifts in our economy that have affected so many. This includes raising education standards, embarking on public works projects and putting in place trade deals that increase American exports.

After this dysfunctional election, it’s in the interest of both parties to show that they can cooperate, pass legislation and improve the lives of Americans. It’s the president’s job to lead them toward this goal.

To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg View’s editorials: David Shipley at davidshipley@bloomberg.net.