As Republican presidential candidates, Abraham Lincoln and Donald Trump shared a passion for big ideas, unconventional oratory, and an establishment that discounted their chances to win.
Both were surprise victors who won the Electoral College without getting a majority of the popular vote. Both entered the White House with optimistic supporters but a disdainful and skeptical majority.
We know how Lincoln performed. History judges him a great president who ended slavery and maintained the Union.
The question is: Can President Trump, like Lincoln, be a great president?
“When America is united, America is totally unstoppable,” Trump said in his inaugural address Friday. “We stand at the birth of a new millennium, ready to unlock the mysteries of space, to free the earth from the miseries of disease, and to harness the energies, industries and technologies of tomorrow.”
Donald Trump is certainly a divisive figure with a big personality — pre-inauguration favorability ratings reported more people dislike him than like him. But I believe he can tackle many of our nation’s biggest problems and position us for new opportunities. He lays some of his ideas out for us in his books. The Art of the Deal details Trump’s focus on cost, ability to envision a result and pursue it relentlessly, and disdain for small-minded bureaucrats and politicians. In Think Big, Trump describes his core values: hard work, competence, setting big goals, challenging conventional thinking, and loyalty.
President Trump will be bolstered by a Republican Congress eager to help — but lawmakers need a clear, strategic direction. So President Trump must ensure his vision is not waylaid by politics, special interests, or bureaucrats.
On foreign policy, President Trump’s strategy must establish our role in the world. Fair, free trade is critical to U.S. economic success. Trump can create a competitive, modern trade structure by updating NAFTA and cutting a trade deal directly with post-Brexit Britain. He can leverage his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin to ease Russian aggression. He can assert his business acumen to stand up to the EU’s attacks on American companies. Trump also can redefine our economic relationship with China by requiring parity: if Chinese citizens can buy real estate and do business in the U.S. without a local partner, Americans should be able to do the same in China.
President Trump can encourage U.S. companies to invest in America. He can work with Congress to lower corporate taxes and cut litigation incentives, invest in infrastructure and make it palatable to repatriate funds held overseas. And he can reform our immigration laws to attract and keep the world’s best and brightest — innovators and entrepreneurs who want to come to our country to build businesses and create jobs.
Our education system is broken. President Trump can require our schools to focus on the skills businesses need to help us build a world-class, 21st-century workforce, with an emphasis on the STEM subjects — science, technology, engineering and mathematics. He can help raise the status and pay of technical education. And he can encourage schools to share student loan default risks.
Trump can set big, game-changing goals: for example, pledging to cut vehicle deaths by 50 percent by supporting self-driving cars, and working toward a two-state solution in the Middle East.
Trump doesn’t have to tackle all these problems alone. On Capitol Hill, he can partner with the bipartisan group No Labels, with which I am affiliated, which is committed to specific national goals on jobs, energy, entitlements, and the deficit.
Finally — and most importantly — for Donald Trump to succeed as president, he must recognize and take advantage of our nation’s lead in innovation. He can do this by embracing business disrupters that challenge the status quo and create new markets to meet consumer demand. Companies such as Uber and Lyft are ruffling the feathers of legacy transportation networks, and car makers’ self-driving vehicle development is on pace to disrupt these networks once again. We need a president who welcomes — not runs from — these market challenges.
To be sure, Trump faces serious challenges on his path to presidential success. Part of being a great president is letting others respond to insults hurled at you — something Trump struggled with on the campaign trail and continues to battle today.
Before President Trump can fix our country’s problems, he must work toward fixing the fissures among our divided populace. He must find ways to make all Americans believe he is looking out for their best interests and the best interest of our nation as a whole. To do this, he must set a moral example based on his obvious patriotism.
America is a great nation, but we have room to grow. Our goal should be to create a stronger nation for our children — just as President Lincoln did 150 years ago. If President Trump seizes these pathways to success, he may indeed turn out to be a truly great president.