Okay, you’ve just been made President of the United States and you have two issues staring you in the face. One, U.S. products are not being purchased by foreign countries because they are too expensive. Two, our border with Mexico is so porous that illegals from many countries are entering our country and taking jobs from unemployed Americans.How would you approach solving these problems? I’m not asking you to solve the problem, just devise the approach to getting the problems solved. Bear in mind that if your approach is wrong, you’ll never reach an acceptable solution.
So, let’s say that you decide that one reason our products are not selling abroad is because foreign countries are imposing a 10% tariff, or tax, or penalty, or whatever, on our products and we are imposing only a 2% tariff on their same products. To cure that imbalance, you could advocate evening up the tariffs, but then the negotiations would be about where to meet in the middle between 2% and 10%. Or, you could demand a 20% tariff on imported products and the other nations’ negotiators would try to negotiate the U.S. down from that level. The latter approach stands a better chance of curing the imbalance than trying to ask other nations to reduce the levels of their tariffs. The President can offer to reduce his 20% demand to 18%, or 15%, or 10%, which would more likely draw acceptance from the foreign governments than asking them to reduce their tariff levels.
Similarly, if you want to reduce the number of illegal immigrants coming across our southern border with Mexico, you could try to negotiate a reduction in numbers, to be monitored by the countries on both sides of the border; or, you could demand that a wall be constructed to keep everyone out until we are ready to admit them as citizens, or under visas or some other temporary program. Again, if you demand closing the border with a wall, the negotiations begin with “0” illegals being admitted rather than reducing the number now crossing the border. It is once again more likely that the result will be a much larger reduction starting at “0” than if you start by trying to reduce a much larger number.
Once a negotiator tips his or her hand that they are willing to accept a middle ground, the middle ground becomes diluted because no one wants to agree to the first offer. It’s just like the process of buying a house. The buyer rarely offers the asking price, and the asking price rarely reflects what the seller is really willing to accept.
Obviously, I am speaking about two of the issues facing our country today and the approach our President is taking to resolve them. To some, he is being heavy-handed and even dictatorial. To others, he is simply negotiating with a firm hand.
The real risk the President runs is that the first heavy salvo may alienate all voters on the other side of the issue and they won’t be won back after a softer result is achieved because they were too offended by the initial approach.
The result down the road is more likely to be favorable to the U.S., even though until that end is reached the President may be seen as over-reaching, overbearing and unconcerned about the impact of his positions on others. On the other hand, he may just be a better negotiator than those who have preceded him in office. We’ll see!