How Donald Trump can make America great again

George Koo November 17, 2016 5:05 PM (UTC+8)
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President-elect Donald Trump promised to make America great again. Now that he won the election, the question is how?

On different occasions during his campaign, he has indicated that he would find ways to get along with other nations and transform America’s infrastructure into the best in the world.

If we give these two positions serious consideration, we could easily conclude that they do represent real cornerstones toward making America great again.

There isn’t much question that America’s infrastructure, once the best in the world when these investments were made in the ‘50s and ‘60s, are in need of repair and replacement.

Lest there are any doubts, the lead-tainted drinking water of Flint Michigan and the Minneapolis bridge collapse would serve as stark reminders that infrastructure improvement is a real and urgent issue.

According to the EPA, the US will need US$384 billion investments for the drinking water treatment and distribution to remedy the situation in places like Flint and to prevent future tragedies in other economically blighted areas of America.

There are 700 bridges in the US in the same category as the Minneapolis bridge that collapsed, and are potential candidates for retrofit or replacement in order to prevent another rush hour collapse.

The bridge in Minneapolis cost well over US$200 million to replace. Thus the total potential tab to assure the safety of all the bridges would be in the US$100 billion plus level depending on the number that are actually in the dilapidated state and in need of remediation.

Roughly one-fifth of the roads are in poor condition and in need of repair according to the Federal Highway Administration. No estimated tab is available but the Council of Foreign Affairs said, “Cost estimates for modernizing run as high as [US]$2.3 trillion or more over the next decade for transportation, energy and water infrastructure.”

Trump did say as part of his acceptance speech, “We are going to fix our inner cities, and rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals. We’re going to rebuild our infrastructure, which will become, by the way, second to none. And we will put millions of our people to work as rebuild it.”

He hasn’t said exactly how he will accomplish this goal. One scheme being bandied about by some of his alleged economic advisors is to propose a private sector solution, meaning that private investors would undertake the infrastructure rebuild in exchange of tax credits and revenue stream.

This seeming something-for-nothing scheme is misleading, as critics have pointed out. Private investors won’t be suckered into putting money into say a highway unless they can expect to be rewarded by the toll revenue. The user pays the toll and the user is none other than the Mr. or Mrs. Taxpayer.

However, there is a real solution that does not require the need to flim-flam the public.

Again referring to his acceptance speech, he said, “At the same time we will get along with all other nations willing to get along with us. We will have great relationships. …We will deal fairly with everyone. All people and all other nations. We will seek common ground not hostility, partnership not conflict.”

Taken at face value, Trump’s position would represent a sharp and refreshing departure from the disastrous foreign policy of his two predecessors.

When George W. Bush became president, he bought into the neoconservative idea that time had come for Uncle Sam to take over the world. He invaded Iraq with the view of bringing about regime change as a step toward world domination.

Bush got his regime change but ended up with an unmitigated disaster: regional instability, out-of-control worldwide insecurity and atrocious acts of inhumanity. His inability to close the military campaign in Afghanistan and Iraq had already cost the US trillions of dollars by the time Obama succeeded him.

Indeed in the televised debates as he criticized the US military engagement, Trump had said we’re better off spending US$4 trillion “to fix our roads, our bridges and all of the other problems, we would’ve been a lot better off.”

Tragically, Obama, instead of making the course correction as mandated by his election, continued the mission to bring about regime changes.

Secretary Clinton has been given full credit, and deservedly so, for the regime change in Libya and the rise of ISIS because of the American attempt for regime change in Syria. She and Obama should bear full responsibility for the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean spreading into Europe.

Unfortunately for Trump, he can’t ignore the conflagration of the Middle East. But he can avoid creating more conflicts and new regional tensions elsewhere if he sticks to the idea of getting along with everybody.

He apparently has figured out how to get along with Vladimir Putin and Russia. He needs to do the same with China. To do otherwise, i.e., to continue efforts designed to contain and confront China will cost money, lots of money.

Money not spent on military build-up to face China would be funds available for the infrastructure improvements.

His only beef with China seems to be “losing jobs to China.” This issue has been a cheap shot from sleazy politicians and should be out of fashion by now.

Low paying jobs in textiles and sport shoes left the US decades ago for such places as Taiwan and South Korea. Now these industries are leaving China for Bangladesh, Vietnam and elsewhere, where the cost is lower.

China has not been wasting their energy accusing Vietnam and Bangladesh of stealing their jobs. Instead China has been concentrating on automation, indigenous design and innovation in order to make products and provide services with values higher on the economic food chain.

Chinese companies in seeking to make higher value products have become active investors in the US seeking synergy via collaboration with American firms. Foreign direct investments from China in America will create jobs and be good for the local economy.

The new Trump Administration will want to work with China and encourage this trend instead of responding with xenophobia.

Elsewhere in the world, China has been creating quite a stir with their one belt, one road Silk Road initiative. OBOR is short hand for infrastructure projects that China is interested in investing and collaborating with host countries near and far. Collaborating nations understand that these are not handouts with hidden restrictions but risk sharing, mutually beneficial projects.

Since the financial crisis of 2008, China has invested heavily in infrastructure projects inside China. Those projects kept China’s economy strong and facilitated growth in the ensuing years.

A side benefit is that they have gotten really good at managing and executing highway and high-speed rail projects. This is another reason countries along the silk roads are confident of the outcome and keen to work with China.

If invited to participate in America, Chinese companies would be in the position to help conclude the infrastructure projects within budget and on schedule.

It’s time to throw the neocon rascals out and shut them out of the mainstream. They have wreaked nothing but death and destruction on the world while spending out of control.

Donald Trump owes no fealty to the doctrine that America’s path to greatness lies in bringing about regime changes around the world.

If the new Trump Administration can stop having to pretend to be friends and find ways to work with China, he would be taking a major step to making America great again.

George Koo
Dr. George Koo recently retired from a global advisory services firm where he advised clients on their China strategies and business operations. Educated at MIT, Stevens Institute and Santa Clara University, he is the founder and former managing director of International Strategic Alliances. He is a member of the Committee of 100, and a director of New America Media.
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