Policies work best when they are fair, consistent, and well implemented. Politics work best when they are representative and support effective policy. Principles work best when they are applied to both policy and politics to ensure just outcomes. But when these three interface, we often have tensions and challenges. That has especially been the case in the recent decisions of the Trump Administration relating to separating children from adults crossing the border and also in the recent decision to withdraw from the U.N. Human Rights Council. The following provides some perspective on each of these decisions in light of recent policy, political, and principle challenges.
On Valentine’s Day 2018, my family was celebrating together at home and at our children’s schools. Cards, chocolates, flowers, and sentiments of love and affection abounded. But in the backdrop were news reports of the school shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida — such a stark contrast from the Valentine’s Day sentiments and such a terrible loss of 17 lives.
A debate stretching back to America’s founding recently resurfaced during this election cycle, with Donald Trump’s suggesting the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank’s monetary policy favors the incumbent party’s bid to retain political power. From the beginning of our nation’s origins, our leaders have quarreled over the power and influence of a central bank. Initially, opposition led by Thomas Jefferson, centered on the concentration of economic clout a central bank would necessarily possess, claiming it would benefit manufacturers and traders in New England over agrarian interests in other states. However, with war debts still needing to be repaid, merchants and farmers having to rely on credit from one another or on banks in England, and each state issuing its own currency, the argument favoring a central bank prevailed. At the time of its creation, just three local banks operated in all of the 13 states, one in Boston, New York City and Philadelphia.
In November 1989, I was a junior at the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. I had come of age during the Cold War and the world was evenly divided between Democracy (led by the USA) and Socialism (led by the USSR). I had spent the previous 2 1/2 years immersed in international politics, especially studying Soviet politics and Marxist theory to prepare for the diplomatic needs of this divided world. But that fall semester, the Berlin Wall fell and, within two years thereafter, so did the USSR. The world and life, as I had known and studied, had forever changed.
When President Obama ran for office in his first term, his platform focused on “change” – while critics would question what change he was advocating, the general implication was a change in approach to address a series of unfortunate domestic issues from the end of President George W. Bush’s years. President Obama’s focus in both his first and second term continued to center on domestic issues – particularly stimulating the US economy and passing/implementing “Obamacare.” These efforts may have had their reasons and rationale, but they required a high degree of resources and effort both from Congress and from the White House, and resulted in highly politicized and divisive domestic policies and programs. While the cost of these efforts is high domestically, the cost may be even higher globally. Especially with recent global events including the barbaric terrorism of ISIS and the series health threats of Ebola, foreign policy and geopolitics is proving to have increased significance and growing demands for the Obama Administration.