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Scared of Trump? Me, too. Here's how to be a cautious CEO optimist

President Donald Trump with business leaders at a Strategic and Policy Forum meeting at the White House in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 3, 2017.
Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images
President Donald Trump with business leaders at a Strategic and Policy Forum meeting at the White House in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 3, 2017.

The shock and horror myself and many millions of Americans felt when Donald Trump was elected president can be summed up in one famous quote:

"It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so." — Mark Twain

Based on polls, prediction markets and reams of anecdotal evidence, I knew for sure it was impossible for Trump to win. Obviously, I was dead wrong.

During the campaign, I publicly spoke out against Trump because of his extreme rhetoric on trade, immigration and social issues. But the country has spoken, and I respect the decision. Although I am not supportive of many of President Donald J. Trump's initial actions and Cabinet picks, I am cautiously giving him a chance before agreeing with those who are certain that he is leading the United States off a cliff. Remember what Mark Twain said — none of us know for sure how this is going to play out, and Trump's "economic nationalism" message resonated with many millions of Americans (both Democrats and Republicans) who rightly feel left behind and who are sick and tired of the status quo in Washington.

Am I abandoning my principles and my concerns about President Trump? Not a chance. But some Trump policies will be beneficial to the economy, and it would be disingenuous to ignore these and only focus on the negatives. Thus, in a spirit of much-needed bipartisanship, below are ways the economy might benefit under Trump, with a few significant worries listed as well.

A 5-point checklist for business leaders

1. Taxes

As the founder and CEO of a large business, I know lowering taxes is bullish for American business and job creation. The stock market has responded very well to Trump's election, and animal spirits have been revived. My company, GMM Nonstick Coatings, will be looking for potential acquisitions in 2017 because we are betting on a resurgence of the American consumer. I also hope Trump entices large American corporations to repatriate their overseas cash hoards and invest in the American economy. What's my worry? If Trump doesn't get the economy to grow quickly, his orthodox supply-side tax policy will cause yet another explosion in the national debt that nobody can afford (especially the middle class). We need to close the wealth gap, not increase it.

2. Regulations

Certain parts of the American economy (particularly banking) have been unduly weighed down by regulation, and removing these handcuffs will stimulate economic growth. Small businesses are the engine of the American economy, and cutting superfluous regulations will allow entrepreneurs to create jobs faster, and that will benefit the middle class.

My worry? Trump should not "throw the baby out with the bathwater," gutting crucial regulations. For instance, as a large supplier of nonstick coatings that come into contact with food, the FDA heavily regulates my industry. It would be absurd to cut these regulations, because it would make the 40 million Americans who use my products each day less safe. The recent "2 for 1" executive order on regulations needs to be implemented wisely.

3. Free trade

Despite recent drama with Mexico, Trump has thus far moderated his most extreme trade rhetoric. In fact, 10 days after the election, my company was acquired by SDK, a $7 billion Japanese conglomerate. If the world believed that Trump was serious about starting a crazy trade war, this acquisition would not have closed. Also, Trump is using his personality to cajole American corporations to keep their businesses onshore, or to build new factories domestically. This is positive to the extent that these factories are competitive in the global market.

My huge worry is that Trump might not be able to resist making negotiations of bilateral trade agreements into a reality show that plays out in public. Free trade is essential for a functioning global economy, and Trump must not (intentionally or unintentionally) start a trade war. GMM supplies nonstick coatings to every major American housewares manufacturer, and more than 90 percent of these goods in our $9 billion industry are made overseas due to suffocating pricing pressure from American retailers like Wal-Mart. Capitalism means not interfering with market pricing, and a trade war would be catastrophic to large and small U.S. companies, trade partners and, most importantly, the U.S. middle-class consumer.

4. Infrastructure

Trump is nothing if not an expert in construction, and I applaud his effort to update woefully outdated American roads, bridges and public transport systems. It will be nice to see American dollars being used domestically for services that every community needs. Beyond this, if Trump can avoid misbegotten wars that cost the United States trillions of dollars, maybe we can actually pay for this infrastructure initiative without further pressuring the budget.

5. Term limits

Trump campaigned on setting firm term limits for senators and congressmen, and he really deserves credit for this act of political courage. Given the miserably low approval rating of Congress, is there any sane U.S. citizen who actually would oppose this? The problem is, term limits require a constitutional amendment, and the votes of the very people whose careers will be (hopefully) cut short. I hope there is a groundswell of support for this truly necessary amendment that would reduce corruption and systemic misalignment of interests.

As stated earlier, I harbor massive fears about Trump on many issues (such as health care, education, immigration and science). By the end of 2017, if Trump isn't being a president for all citizens economically and socially, I will happily gear up for the 2018 midterms to try and flip Congress. But at this early stage, I caution those who oppose Trump from protesting too much on every small issue. This behavior can backfire, shielding him from necessary criticism on the large issues, because voters will become desensitized. So for now, I only wish success to our new president, and I remind him that America is great under President Trump, not because of him but because it's always been and always will be.

By Ravin Gandhi, CEO and founder of GMM Nonstick Coatings and a member of the CNBC-YPO Chief Executive Network. Gandhi is also a VC investor and has invested in technology companies KeyMe, Ampsy, Tred, Lettrs and Hester Biosciences. Follow him on Twitter @RavinGandhi1.

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