WASHINGTON – Donald Trump is still 65 days away from taking the presidential oath of office, but he can already point to key victories on signature issues such as stopping illegal immigration and fixing the economy.
The Republican president-elect campaigned to stop undocumented migrants from “pouring” across the border unchecked, but it turns out there are at least a million fewer people here illegally than there were in 2007 and the current migration trend is actually in the opposite direction, toward Mexico.
“These numbers are lower than we’ve seen in 40 years,” Royce Murray, policy director at the American Immigration Council, said in an interview Tuesday. “The border is more secure than ever before.”
And while Trump has been calling the state of the economy “a disaster,” there have now been 73 consecutive months of job growth, a record, leading to a national unemployment rate of 4.9 percent ― lower than what 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney promised it would be by the end of his first term, had he been elected.
Trump, of course, had nothing do with the current state of either issue. Nevertheless, this progress could give him and congressional Republicans the room to slow or modify their agenda in the coming weeks and months. For instance, Trump’s vow to build a massive wall along the border with Mexico and his promise of big tax cuts could take a back seat, should Republicans choose to delay either of them.
Trump could have a much tougher time, though, with two other major promises: bringing back coal mining in Appalachia and returning millions of manufacturing jobs “stolen” by China, Mexico and other countries in recent years.
Some economists believe Trump could and should change trade policy to punish countries that manipulate their currencies to make it easier for them to export goods. Robert Scott, of the left-leaning Economic Policy Center, said cracking down on countries like China or adjusting the value of the U.S. dollar downward would make U.S. exports more competitive. “I think we can create more manufacturing jobs,” Scott said Tuesday.
But other economists say that Trump’s plan to impose tariffs on foreign products would backfire by igniting a trade war that would bring on a recession.
Mark Perry, an economics professor at the Flint campus of the University of Michigan, called Trump’s views on trade “naïve, immature and somewhat childish.” The majority of lost manufacturing jobs over the past quarter century, he said, have been lost to machines, not lower-wage workers in other countries. “This has nothing to do with foreign trade. We’re producing more with fewer workers. The idea that Trump would somehow bring some of those jobs here, I don’t see that as realistic or even possible.”
Bringing back coal mining jobs, meanwhile, seems even less doable.
While Republican politicians, including Trump, have for years blamed Democrats’ “war on coal” for the loss of mining jobs, industry analysts agree that the bigger problem for coal is the abundance of cheap natural gas, thanks to fracking.
A McKinsey & Co. report a year ago did not mince words: “The United States has plenty of coal, but the world does not need it,” it stated, attributing the lack of demand to the availability of natural gas combined with higher costs ― including from environmental restrictions ― for using it in electricity generation here and abroad.
A February study from Goldman Sachs concluded that with power companies turning to natural-gas plants, the end of coal was inevitable: “Investment in new coal-fired generation is becoming less common and the implied decline in long-term demand appears to be irreversible.”