I recently argued that President Trump is ignoring our real crises in order to focus, as he did in the State of the Union address, on a fake crisis at the border. A reader suggested that I take the next step by proposing solutions to the six crises I identified. Needless to say, solving problems is a lot harder than identifying them. But here goes.
Climate change. A distinguished, bipartisan group of economists advocates a carbon tax that would “increase every year until emissions reductions goals are met.” To prevent a political backlash of the kind that occurred in France following a gas tax hike, all of the revenue would be refunded to citizens.
Sorry, Republicans: This means some version of the Green New Deal. Sorry, progressives: Renewable energy isn’t enough. Sweden is on track to meet its target of “net zero” emissions of greenhouse gases by 2045, because 40 percent of its electricity comes from nuclear power plants and the rest from wind and biofuels.
Gun violence. Institute universal background checks and a mandatory waiting period for gun purchases. Ban high-capacity magazines. Prohibit gun purchases by the mentally ill, individuals on terrorism watch lists, or anyone convicted of a violent crime or the subject of a restraining order. An assault-weapon ban is also necessary.
Opioids. Every year, about 25 million shipping containers enter the United States, roughly half by sea and half by land. Mark A.R. Kleiman, a criminologist at New York University, told me a single container is enough to supply the entire country with heroin for a year. Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, is 50 times stronger than heroin.
Trump signed legislation in October to increase opioid treatment, but the law’s impact is expected to be modest. More money is needed for treatment. Kleiman also suggests making methadone and a more advanced opioid-treatment medication, Buprenorphine, more widely available by allowing more doctors to prescribe them.
Debt. The answer to our looming debt crisis is simple to describe but hard to implement: Cut spending and increase revenue. In 2010, the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles Commission recommended raising the Social Security retirement age to 69 by 2075; lowering Social Security benefits for high-income earners; reducing Medicare reimbursements to doctors; making cost-of-living adjustments for government benefits a little less generous; cutting discretionary spending (including defense); and eliminating $1.1 trillion in tax breaks.
China and Russia. Trump at least recognizes that China is a problem, but his trade war is unlikely to reverse its predatory trade practices, economic espionage, human rights abuses, political and economic power projection, and military aggression. Trump’s administration has taken some steps to contest Russian power, but Trump himself has been Vladimir Putin’s biggest fan. To meet the challenge from China and Russia, the United States must take a variety of steps.
Autocratic populism. Trump is taking an important step to challenge the spread of autocratic populism by working with U.S. allies to topple the illegitimate Maduro regime in Venezuela. But Trump has been encouraging populists who are attacking democracy in Hungary, Poland, the Philippines, Egypt, Turkey and other countries.
The United States cannot by itself reverse the tide of autocratic populism, but it can start the process by holding Trump accountable. Whoever succeeds him will need to champion human rights and democracy as previous presidents did — and not just in Venezuela.
There are no easy answers. But we need to at least focus on the really important issues instead of being distracted by Trump’s politically motivated sideshows.
Max Boot is a columnist with The Washington Post.