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Off and Running to…?

After less than twenty days post inauguration there were already skirmish lines forming all over the American landscape. Even approaching 100 days, most issues have been due to the new president’s style, mannerisms, and behavior while others are grounded in edicts, threats and executive orders that foster deep concerns for the future.

Perhaps the most telling event took place far below the radar of most citizens but heralded what might become one of this nation’s most profound platforms for evolution and, in some ways, revolution. As reported in Time Magazine in late January, one of the nation’s most influential Republican industrialists, Charles Koch, hosted a gathering of 550 powerful business leaders to discuss their level of support for the president’s various platforms, edicts, orders and actions that do not bode well for the American economy. As quoted in Time, Koch stated, “We cannot be partisan. We can’t say, O.K., this is our party, right or wrong.” His point throughout the conference was that many promises and opening actions launched from the Oval Office are contrary to good business practice and cannot possibly end well for the U.S. The most prominent point cited at the conference was the growing erosion of trade relationships, economic partnerships and global networks that many business leaders have developed over the past three to four decades.

In addition to the business community’s view that no one ever wins a trade war is a parallel view that cutting taxes, huge infrastructure projects, more military spending and the goody bag of promised changes would do nothing but drive the U.S. toward economic recession and potential depression. Among serious, experienced global business leaders there is resistance brewing. These are not seat of the pants operators, but America’s best, who operate according to strategic plans, are collaborative, understand diplomacy, and embrace the long view. Any business owner would have serious questions about how $1.2 trillion in infrastructure projects will be financed. New taxes? That would be curious in light of the promise to cut taxes. In other words, business professionals are already wondering how all the promises can be kept and who will pay.

In this context, we are moved to look over the horizon and make predictions regarding several areas that will be in flux during 2017 and beyond. Among the most remarkable phenomena is the current administration’s lack of understanding that we live in a republic that has evolved over 240 years. The new administration is not a ‘business turnaround’ where a new group of managers is brought in to reorganize a company according to their personal experience and perspectives. While certain changes in government would be welcome, there are processes, procedures and protocols that must be followed if the republic is to remain strong. The most obvious and already brewing dichotomy is between what was promised and what is possible, practical and wise. The potential for conflict and a continuing circus atmosphere is high.

There is high probability that the prospect of regulatory shifts, more government spending and a pro-business atmosphere will energize the economy. However, the question is how long it might last before reality strikes. As stated previously in this space, what goes up always comes down. Regardless how it is postured, we live on a connected planet with interconnected economies and it is both foolish and myopic to believe that America can force anyone to do anything, outside of armed conflict. The current economic environment is one of escalating competition, growing collaboration, and evolving symbiotic relationships. This is how the world works and other countries will continue to evolve, compete, and battle for economic relevance. America must do the same. It can’t dictate all the rules.

Sooner or later (bet on sooner), citizens will understand that the U.S. is not weak, vulnerable, passive, struggling, or economically doomed. This country has a vibrant economy, millions of new jobs have been added since 2010 (227,000 in January, 235,000 in February and a 4.7% unemployment rate), thousands of new business enterprises have been formed, new alliances have been created, and far fewer live in poverty. More, violent crime is down, new trading partners are at the table and consumer confidence has been quite high over the past two years. At some point, the citizenry will no longer buy into negative rhetoric. It’s difficult to complain when there is so much to celebrate.

Unfortunately, over the next year or several years, there may be less focus on national parks, the environment, occupational safety, free speech and equality. Immigration could be crippled for years, which could have a negative economic impact and health coverage, even if the Affordable Care Act is partially unraveled without a valid upgrade could dwindle for millions who now have coverage. In this review, keep in mind that policy evolution is how reform tends to happen…it is incrementally improved, not totally removed. It has taken years for Civil Rights and American with Disabilities legislation to become what it is today…improved rather than discarded.

I have noted earlier that bombast, threats and jingoistic retorts do little to improve relationships or forge alliances. Even small trade wars will negate years of improving global relationships and possibly devolve into global recession. Trust and mutual respect are integral elements if America is to build trading relationships that strengthen its economy while fostering long-term opportunity. If Koch and his colleagues are concerned, we should all be concerned.

There are enormous forces in play but it appears that some individuals do not understand that other countries have the sovereign right to compete, grow, seek and participate. Every sign points to continued slow global growth with many struggling economies. America will also experience slow growth, but it will be steady and sustainable if it is not derailed by foolish policies and the erosion of trading and security relationships. Unfortunately, there is significant potential for polarity among U.S. citizens, especially if the economy struggles, healthcare is restricted, there is stagnant job and wage growth and inflation begins to escalate.

2017 will see a new centering of America but it will be driven by polarity, at least until wisdom and leadership prevail. It will be a comical, frustrating and troubling period that will test this country’s will, values, and spirit. The vast majority of Americans treasure dignity, harmony, good will, diplomacy and true leadership. Sadly, the new administration has so far not reflected any of these characteristics, but you can bet they will become more precious in the months ahead.

With over four decades working in and with federal, state and local government, John Luthy understands public agencies.  Known for his real world, straight talking style, he is a leading futurist specializing in city, county, state, and federal long-range thinking and planning. John is the author of Operations Planning: A Guide for Public Officials and Managers in Troubled Times, and The Strategic Planning Guide, both published by the International City/ County Management Association (ICMA). Reprints of his book, Planning the Future – A Guide to Strategic Thinking and Planning for Elected Officials, Public Administrators and Community Leaders (2010) has sold out several times. An innovative and dynamic presenter, John is frequently asked to speak and consult on how to prepare public organizations and communities for emerging challenges (public futures at http://www.futurescorp.com).

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