In his State of the Union address this week, besides addressing middle-class capitalism President Trump should announce the launch of a new policy focus called “American Families First.”
President Trump should say he is deeply concerned about hurting American families. America is suffering from an epidemic of fatherlessness, and about a third of our youth are being raised without their biological father.
A father residing in the home is a huge indicator of a child’s success later in life, even when controlling for ethnicity, location, and education. Children with a biological father in the home are even at a lower risk of child abuse. And marriage is a necessary ingredient to combat fatherlessness due to the inherent instability of cohabitation.
Parents should have the choice to split up, and single mothers should have the choice to be single mothers, but marriage penalties in our welfare programs have started, promoted, and worsened a trend of fatherlessness. A biological dad in the home is directly penalized by most programs, because a biological dad’s income is counted toward welfare eligibility, but a live-in boyfriend’s income is not.
Where cohabitating biological parents can hide this fact from authorities and receive welfare as if the mother were on her own, the authorities can instantly look up if a beneficiary is married. So the penalties to marrying can be absolutely staggering. One program alone can penalize marriage by $20,000 per year if a couple has two young children, and programs with marriage penalties now reach up well into the working and middle class.
So Let’s Smooth Out These Dropoffs
The president must ask that Congress, right now, provide incentives to states that seek to tackle this problem. Don’t cut benefits for single mothers, but responsibly raise them for poor married couples.
For example, the program with the biggest marriage penalty in most states is the child-care benefit signed into law by George H.W. Bush. The family income level at which the benefit is cut off could be raised for poor married couples, similar to what is done for those who are married filing jointly in the tax code. And the “benefit cliff,” where more than $10,000 in daycare assistance can immediately disappear if someone earns too much or gets married, can be smoothed out.
Although this and other programs are jointly funded by state and federal governments, this would be a state-level fix (this author has written a detailed proposal to do so, beyond the scope of this article). But the federal government can and should play a role in incentivizing states—through matching state spending on reform with federal dollars—toward reducing marriage penalties in welfare. And the Trump administration’s Department of Health and Human Services should immediately give a clear green light to states that wish to experiment with pro-marriage changes to welfare-eligibility.
Let People Discharge College Loans in Bankruptcy
Next, family formation is suffering at least in part due to high student loan debt. President Trump should propose that Congress allow student loan debt to be dischargeable in bankruptcy. Currently it is the only debt you can’t get rid of by declaring bankruptcy. That would both appease over-burdened debtors, and make lenders more careful about lending in the future. And President Trump should ask that Congress increase the tax deduction available for payments of student loan interest and principal.
Finally, a key element toward building the middle class, which affects our shared prosperity and our ability to sustain our entitlement programs, is a culture of life. All subsidies for abortion, even at the state level, should be done away with. Abortionists, who prey on desperate people, should no longer receive your hard-earned tax dollars.
President Trump should also propose proactive policies to stem abortion. The biggest difference-maker would be to remove marriage penalties, as already mentioned. But the president must also ask Congress to support paid family leave and some form of not-too-generous maternity support. In Eastern Europe, these pro-family policies have led to less abortion, and should be considered here.
Finally, and thanks to President Trump’s leadership, America has just passed a historic criminal justice reform bill. This will help stop and even reverse the trend of too many young men being thrown in prison for nonviolent drug offenses.
In a next step, President Trump should ask that states examine their own criminal justice systems. President Trump should ask that Congress acts to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level so states can decide for themselves on the most appropriate drug policy, so parents and children who are suffering with serious or chronic conditions or illnesses are given all the medically approved tools available for relief.
Immigration Needs Attention, Too
We are a nation where the rule of law is honored. Of course, we should never deport good people for minor traffic offenses. The stories in the media lambasting the agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have been incredibly dishonest. Trump needs to point this out.
For example, the man picked up by ICE while bringing his pregnant wife to the hospital was actually wanted for a brutal murder in Mexico; and the man whose arrest by ICE sparked a nationally covered protest turned out to be a human-trafficker.
Honoring the rule of law means deporting foreign citizens who are convicted of rape, murder, domestic violence, or have multiple DUIs. Those are rules Obama’s administration put in place, which the Trump administration has built upon. President Trump needs to absolutely lambast states like California that aren’t reporting even violent criminals to federal immigration authorities. That’s wrong, and it shows how extreme most Democrats have become on illegal immigration.
We are also a compassionate nation, and the Bible talks about how children shouldn’t be punished by the government for their parents’ crimes. That’s why the foreign citizens brought here as children—known as “Dreamers”—should be given legal status if they have no serious criminal record. But these “Dreamers” should not be allowed to bring in relatives through chain migration. That would reward law-breaking.
Care for Refugee Children
Finally, our compassion requires us to actually care about refugee children, and see past the surface of misleading and dishonest headlines. The policy put in place to deal with migrant children before the president took office actually hurt these children.
Here’s why: Many adults caught crossing the border illegally claim asylum. The United States considers these claims seriously, and it takes many months to process and investigate an adult’s asylum claim.
But current law places a 20-day limit on holding children. In order to not separate an adult who claims asylum from the children the adult crossed the border with, the previous administration let the adult into America well before authorities had finished checking out the asylum claim. These adults are supposed to show up in court, but many do not. Meanwhile, adults who didn’t bring children are stuck waiting on the border, and if their asylum claim is rejected, they are immediately deported.
As bad people figured out that children could be used to get into America, bad people started bringing more children from Central America. In other words, some people are using children as get-into-America-free tickets. That’s terrible.
Amnesty International has reported that well more than half of women and girls coming from Central America are sexually assaulted on this dangerous trip (overall, about a third crossing the border illegally are sexually assaulted), and evidence abounds of human trafficking. No matter what, we should want as few women and girls making the trip as possible.
The president should say that he will work tirelessly to make sure that there is no bad incentive to bring children on a terrible and dangerous trip, and that he will work to crack down on human trafficking at the border. He needs to hammer the Democrats, and not be defensive (which we shouldn’t be too worried about, because he’s Trump). The president should look at the Democrats and clearly say that the policies they are pushing encourage bad people to use children as tickets into America. They should be lambasted eternally for that.
Finally, most of the time in America—at least compared to the rest of the world—common sense prevails. Cracking down on human trafficking, drugs, and crime absolutely requires building a wall at the southern border. There is no border security without a wall. Trump should once-again say that he will continue to look out for American workers, and the safety of American families and children, as his highest priority.
Put American Families First on Foreign Policy
We beat ISIS, and the territory it formerly held has been liberated. Some say it isn’t gone, and has gone underground.
But by these metrics we will never leave Syria, and that is unacceptable to the American people. ISIS functions from a radical Sunni Muslim ideology that is all too prominent in the Middle East. You can’t fight an ideology that is widely held by the people you are trying to liberate.
It is now up to moderate Muslims and the local power-brokers in Syria—including our allies Saudi Arabia and Turkey, who have funded radical jihadists—to combat that radical ideology. American should no longer spend our blood and treasure to do the job for them. So Trump should again stress that he will pull us out of Syria.
President Trump also needs to commit to fully removing our forces from Afghanistan. We have been there for 17 years and spent trillions of dollars, and the situation on the ground is little changed. The president should say that he cannot in good conscience continue to ask that our service-members make the ultimate sacrifice when there appears to be no good military solution. We must stop listening to the same voices that have been wrong about so much for decades, and got us into the disaster that was the Iraq War.
Overall, President Trump should say that we will be withdrawing from combat zones where there is no clear, achievable objective. We must ask ourselves: Is intervening in a particular conflict in America’s core interests? Is there an achievable objective, and an exit strategy? How long will it take before we can leave?
All policymakers and prognosticators must ask themselves: Is the fight of such importance that they would be willing to send their own children into it, possibly to die? We must ask ourselves: Is it worth the cost that will inevitably be paid by brave American men and women—our sons and daughters?
America has the strongest fighting force in human history, but our might must be conserved and used wisely. America has spent several trillion dollars on the “War on Terror” in Afghanistan and Iraq, and maybe even $6 trillion. That money would be better spent here at home, paying down our debt or investing in the American people.
The engine of America is its families. And Middle Class Capitalism doesn’t work with weak American families. Too often, politicians have tinkered with the tax code instead of being worried about the health of the American family, which affects our shared prosperity and our happiness.
American Families First means ditching welfare’s marriage penalties, it means life is protected, it means valuing Americans over foreign workers, and it means being careful where we send our sons and daughters who are serving in our military.