23 February 2019
Donald Trump (L) can benefit by taking a lesson from the governance style of a popular predecessor, Ronald Reagan. Photos: AP
Donald Trump (L) can benefit by taking a lesson from the governance style of a popular predecessor, Ronald Reagan. Photos: AP

Will Trump be the new Reagan?

While many Americans are cheering Donald Trump’s victory in last week’s election, there are also many others who remain deeply concerned about the upcoming occupant of the White House.

Some are worried that Trump could spell disaster for the US and jeopardize its superpower status, whereas some others are more optimistic, arguing that the system of checks and balances, which has been working well for the past 240 years, will continue to serve as an effective mechanism preventing anyone, including the president, from doing whatever he wants.

The success or failure of the Trump presidency will, to a large extent, depend on what kind of role he will assume as a leader in the days ahead.

In my opinion, it would perhaps be the best outcome for America if Trump can play the role of a “new Reagan”.

Although Ronald Reagan, who had served as governor of California before he became president in 1981, had a lot more political and administrative experience than Trump, the two of them actually have quite a lot in common.

They are both showbiz celebrities, and they are both masters of soundbites and photo ops, adept at staying in the public eye and pitching their ideas to common people in plain language.

Now, Trump has one definite advantage over Reagan. Thanks to his own highly professional social media team, Trump doesn’t have to please the traditional mainstream media and rely on them to get his message across like Reagan did.

The popularity of Reagan and the success of his presidency can, to a large extent, be attributed to his “big picture thinking”. Even though he wasn’t familiar with how exactly the bureaucracy in Washington worked and how policies were formulated, Reagan had a very clear sense of policy direction throughout his term in office, coupled with his very forceful and winsome personality.

And Reagan’s role as president was simple: as a leader who wasn’t interested in micro-management, all he did was set his policy goals and articulate them to the American public, which is, to keep the government small and allow the free market to work efficiently, and above all, to win the Cold War, and then give the technocrats under him a free hand to accomplish these goals.

It was Reagan’s rock-solid faith in small government and free market that gave rise to the so-called “Reaganomics”. Also, it was his unwavering determination to win the Cold War that gave birth to the Strategic Defense Initiative, often known as the Star Wars program, which would later prove instrumental in draining the Soviet Union and leading to its final collapse.

Reagan’s style of government can perhaps provide some guidance for Trump as to how he should run his administration. Like Reagan, Trump is also a leader who thinks big and talks big, and who also seems to have a clear sense of policy direction, which is, “to make America great again”.

Perhaps all Trump needs to do is to stick to his policy goals and give his cabinet members a free hand to achieve them.

That said, the key to a successful Trump presidency would probably be a team of cabinet members who understand how the bureaucracy works but are not part of it, who know how to cut through red tape, and whom Trump can rely on to achieve his policy goals.

Given that Trump has been at odds with both mainstream Republicans and Democrats, and given that it would take quite a while to mend fences, perhaps his only viable option for now as far as forming his government is concerned would be to tap into the talent pool of disgruntled political elites who have been marginalized by the Republican or Democratic establishment over the years.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov. 11

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version中文版]

– Contact us at [email protected]


Associate professor and director of Global Studies Programme, Faculty of Social Science, at the Chinese University of Hong Kong; Lead Writer (Global) at the Hong Kong Economic Journal

EJI Weekly Newsletter

Please click here to unsubscribe