By Stephen W. Hiemstra
Congratulations on winning a uniquely difficult election campaign. You are now to become the 46th President of the United States and spokesman for the free world, all of it. May God be with you and bless you so that you may bless many others.
I like how you openly attend church on Sundays. I endorse your efforts to create public space for moderate politicians. I like the tone that you have adopted in your public speaking.
For the first time in my adult life, however, I did not vote in November.
On the one hand, I was concerned about the tone of the rhetoric; on the other, I was concerned about the slow march into socialism. Neither serve our country well.
About 80 percent of Americans left behind economically over the past 30 years. The obsession with identity politics diverts attention to the problem that Washington primarily serves corporate interests and accentuates class differences. The pandemic has accelerated this process.
Economically our country has championed free trade that has led to an economic boom that has lifted many boats. This is very good. The new challenge, however, is: how do we compete successfully in a world economy where everyone pays the same price? (Law of one price)
Two answers stand out: Education and common rules.
Education. We need to invest in education that raises our productivity. It is not enough to have a degree marking us as educated or to accumulate interesting facts about our world. Productivity is the driver of our standard of living, not the certificates that we decorate our walls with. We spend more on education than other countries, but we do not get a good return on our investment. Personal disciple matters–public schools cannot continue to graduate students that routinely require remedial education when they enter college.
Common rules. When everyone receives the same price for traded goods and services, we need to agree with other countries on how to pay for health care, worker protections, government services, and what environmental rules will be honored by everyone. This is not easy, but it is unfair to have trade advantages due to poor choices on any of these items.
Healthcare is a special concern for the United States, not just because of the corona virus pandemic. We pay too much for healthcare and receive too little value for the money spent. Being tied to employment, it raises our cost of production, reducing our competitiveness. The stranglehold that healthcare providers have on our political process points to the problem of corporate influence and the need for political reform.
Several challenges have arisen as some have advanced novel programs in recent months.Three big ticket items stand out: global warming, student debt relief, and concern about race.
Global warming. There is little dispute that world temperatures are rising and causing problems. I often point to the opening of the northwest passage in recent years as an obvious indicator. The real controversy is whether we can do much of anything about it in a short period of time–the human factor. Reasonable policies to encourage energy conservation and abate pollution are great (I drive a Prius). Cutting production of shell-oil extraction is a bad idea both economically and politically–low oil prices restrain the military expansion of key U.S. competitors.
Student debt relief. The student debt crisis is more an indication of a falling standard of living in America and excess capacity in higher education than a specific problem with debt. Increasing federal involvement in higher education is likely to lower educational standards, increase unionization, and reduce our national competitiveness. Forgiving student debt will bail out failing colleges and encourage additional spending on unproductive education, like pushing poorly prepared and poorly motivated students to attend college.
Concern about race. Clearly, we have issues on race. We can do better. The bigger issue, however, is class. The individuals left behind in the inner cities look an awful lot like the individuals left behind in our rural areas. Favoring one group over the other by focusing on race and ethnicity can only divide us. A better idea is to improve national standards (and spending) on education and policing.
My prayer for you is that you will learn to listen, especially to your critics. The president’s job is undoable without the support of many, many helpers. God gave us two ears, but only one mouth, for a reason: Listen. Listen patiently. Listen until it hurts.
Start by listening to God. Begin and end the day in prayer in the privacy of your home. Pray for understanding; pray while you are eating; pray while you are working out; pray while you are deliberating; pray for those you do not understand; pray with your family. As president, the one person who you can always trust is God—look to Christ for your example; ask the Holy Spirit for guidance, protection, and peace.
Listen to those who have gone before you. Invite the living presidents to Camp David on a regular basis for quiet time and reflection. Ask their guidance; apply it when appropriate; gain their trust; and ask for their support.
Listen to the American people. Appoint a diverse cabinet. Follow Reagan’s lead and delegate responsibility to leave time to focus on key priorities. Take Lincoln’s lead and invite your most able critics into your administration to learn from them and give them a reason to support you. Vanquish your enemies by making them your friends.
May God be with you and bless you so that you may bless many others.