Negotiator-in-Chief? The “Art of the Deal” author could learn a few things from his predecessor

Randy Abraham
6 min readApr 14, 2017


By Randy Abraham

President Donald Trump, who touted his deal-making prowess on the campaign trail, seems to be in a slump.

He completely misread and lost control of Congress in attempting to ram through a repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

He has been forced to back off his aggressive posturing regarding China’s trade and currency policies and its relationship with Taiwan and North Korea.

He has backtracked on his earlier demagoguery over NATO, the Export-Import Bank, NAFTA, and the policies of Federal Reserve Board Chair Janet Yellen.

His two attempts at an executive order restricting immigration from Muslim-majority countries have been blocked by the courts, and his proposed budget was completely ignored by Congress and one featuring Democratic priorities was adopted with bi-partisan support.

His willingness to accommodate Russian aggression and Syrian genocide has become indefensible in the aftermath of a horrific chemical weapons attack in Russia’s client state Syria.

He has yet to gain legislative ground on the Mexico border wall, tax reform and infrastructure, three signature planks of his campaign platform.

And he is facing a looming deadline on must-pass legislation to fund the government and to raise the debt ceiling with no strategy in sight.

At this point the beleaguered Trump, the putative author of the “Art of the Deal,” should take a page from his predecessor, Barack Obama.

Some claimed that President Obama had been “rolled” by Congressional Republicans and cut-throat negotiators from Big Business and overseas interests, but history shows that Obama had proven to be a savvy, shrewd and tough negotiator himself.

Consider that President Obama:

• Engineered the rescue of General Motors and Chrysler, after President Bush failed despite spending much of 2008 trying;

• Got automakers to voluntarily boost fuel standards for cars and trucks;

• Signed a healthcare reform bill — the ACA — that was paid for by progressive taxes and taxes on medical device firms, and which has already reduced the uninsured rate to just nine percent, slowed medical inflation to historic levels, and significantly extended the actuarial life of Medicare;

• Got hospitals, healthcare providers, and private insurers to accept reduced levels of reimbursement and payment as part of healthcare reform;

• Got insurance companies to stop denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions and eliminate annual and lifetime caps;

• Got insurance companies to cover contraception;

• Capped profits for health insurance companies;

• Got 31 states and the District of Columbia to expand Medicaid under the ACA — after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down mandatory expansion — and provide coverage to 11 million low-income Americans, including 4.5 millions citizens with a Republican governor;

• Ended the Medicare “Doc Fix” in 2015 with a bipartisan bill passed with comfortable majorities in the Republican-led Congress — after being kicked down the road for more than 15 years;

• Broke Republican opposition to extensions in unemployment insurance and payroll tax cuts, clean energy grants, and $313 billion in new spending, as well as START II, emergency assistance for 9–11 first responders, and the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” in exchange for nothing more than a two-year extension of the Bush tax cuts for upper-bracket income — in effect, an $858 billion stimulus package;

• Secured a multi-billion dollar damage pool from British Petroleum after the disastrous Gulf of Mexico oil spill, avoiding the decades-long delay and corrupt low-ball award outcome that followed the Exxon Valdez oil spill;

• Encouraged dozens of cities and several states to raise their minimum wage after Congress refused to raise the federal minimum wage;

• Enacted the most stringent banking regulations in 75 years;

• Got big banks to pay over $100 billion in fines and penalties, undergo annual stress tests, make out a living will to ensure that in the event of their failure they can be dismantled without threatening the financial health of the broader economy, limit their own proprietary trading, and face scrutiny and accountability by a consumer financial protection bureau set up to root out fraud and abuse;

• Got the banks out of the student loan business and freed up billions of dollars for student loans;

• Coordinated with Russia to get Syria to stop using outlawed chemical weapons, a prohibition that lasted more than three years — until Trump took office;

• Convinced an energy-dependent Europe to join in imposing economic sanctions on Russia in the aftermath of its incursion into Ukraine;

• Urged European allies in 2014 to pledge to meet their funding commitments to NATO after years of funding shortfalls;

• Reached a historic climate change agreement with China, the world’s largest carbon polluter, to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions — a first for China — and provide 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2030;

• Got an understanding with India on greenhouse gas emissions;

• Got 190 countries — including China — to reach a historic agreement to address climate change;

• Got Walmart, the nation’s largest private employer, to commit to getting half of its energy from renewable sources;

• Assembled a 65-nation coalition of allies — and adversaries — to combat the ISIS terrorist group and to contain ethnic and regional rivalries in order to stand up a regional fighting force that might one day serve as an ongoing regional peacekeeping force and the foundation of a regional economic development and trade partnership;

• Eased travel restrictions with Cuba and started talks on normalizing relations — marking the end of the Cold War in the West — which promise to relieve isolation for Cuban citizens, strengthen the hand of reformers, and undercut attempts by hardliners allied with Russia and Venezuela to forge wider hemispheric links,

• Initiated negotiations with adversaries Russia, China and the other P5+1 world powers and Iran on a landmark agreement to limit Iran’s nuclear program to peaceful uses — and got it enacted over the objections of the majority of the Republican-led Congress;

• Filed 25 enforcement complaints with the World Trade Organization: 16 trade enforcement challenges against China, three against India, and several others against a series of major economies including Indonesia, Argentina, the Philippines, and the European Union — more than any other WTO member. The U.S. has won every single one of those complaints that have been announced by the WTO so far. To ensure the greatest economic benefits and a level playing field for American workers and exporters, the Obama administration has used trade enforcement actions to emphasize opening these large, strategic markets to which the U.S. exports a diverse array of products and services;

• Got Canada and Mexico to renegotiate NAFTA in exchange for increased access to the Asia-Pacific Rim, the fastest-growing region in the world;

Persuaded protectionist economies to open up their agricultural, automotive, professional services, and financial sectors to foreign competition in order to provide American workers and exporters a level playing field; and

Convinced moderately authoritarian regimes to agree to liberalize their societies and “globalize” human and labor rights by outlawing human trafficking, cracking down on forced and child labor and other human rights violations, by raising environmental and labor standards; and by allowing labor unions and a free, open and unrestricted Internet — in exchange for favorable trade conditions with us;

All as part of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership.

All of this was done in the aftermath of the worst financial collapse of our lifetimes, and the first truly global economic collapse in the world’s history, during which President Obama had to negotiate with the most powerful American banks and the Federal Reserve, as well as other major foreign financial institutions and central banks in an effort to stabilize the financial sector as part of a wider effort to revive the economy.

And President Obama had to do this in a toxic, polarized political atmosphere, without cooperation from Congress for most of his term in office and without the political carrots provided by earmarks.

And yet, even though the Crash of 2008 and Great Recession started here, the U.S. has recovered faster than any other developed nation and has created more jobs than all the others combined.

After inheriting an economic, environmental, fiscal and national security disaster, President Obama handed President Trump a stronger and improving economy, a healthier environment, improved international relations and U.S. moral standing, a united Europe committed to strengthening its military preparedness and upholding the sovereignty of Ukraine and other free states, a reduced annual deficit, and a stronger domestic energy sector more sustainable and independent of foreign suppliers.

President Trump now also has the advantage of a Republican-majority Congress to help implement his agenda.

But with his successes, President Obama has helped set the agenda for the current administration and Congress, and he has prepared and inspired a new generation of leadership and resistance with his management style, which the Republicans derided as “leading from behind” but which is actually a progressive form of leadership that involves a sharing of power that comes from active engagement, mutual respect and empowerment, and a commitment to coexist and resolve problems peacefully without a desire to dominate another people.

It seems that the putative author of the “Art of the Deal” could learn a few things from his predecessor.

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