It is hard to believe. The White House will soon be home to a hatemongering, chronically mendacious caricature of a textbook narcissist, a con man who is totally unfit for the presidency. I’m glad that I don’t have any small children. I wouldn’t want to have to explain how such a man can be elected President of the United States. (I do have a grandson who, at 16 months, is blissfully far from wondering what is happening to our country.) How can anybody—even the most ardent Trump supporter—hold this man up to his children as a role model?
People will tell you that now you have to respect the man because you have to respect the office he will hold. Bull. Yes, we respect our constitutional procedures and the peaceful transfer of power that they provide for. So, the result of this election must be respected, but that doesn’t require personal respect for the victor. Trump is a genuinely odious human being. He is no less odious for having won the support of 47.5% of American voters. And the shock of his upset win shouldn’t cause us to overlook the fact that he won by an exceedingly close margin—as of this moment he seems to have very narrowly lost the popular vote to Clinton. The last time a Republican was elected to the White House with fewer popular votes than his opponent (2000), the Democrats, in a gracious spirit of misguided patriotism, generally allowed the public to forget the tenuousness of Bush’s dubious victory. This time, they had better remind people constantly that Trump didn’t even win a plurality of the electorate in a low-turnout election. The idea that elections confer mandates is always suspect, but it needs to be made clear that Trump has no mandate.
I’m going to devote a post or two to trying to understand how we came to this, but right now I just want to sketch out some of the likely consequences of this disastrous election.
To start, we don’t even need to ask what Trump will actually do in the White House. His campaign has already done serious damage to American politics and society, and his victory multiplies the damage. Every hate group in the country—the KKK, the white nationalists, the closeted anti-semites–is now feeling legitimated and empowered. Bigotry has a new respectability, and that change will surely be reflected in behavior. Lying in politics also has a new legitimacy. The most shameless habitual liar in American public life made it to the White House. Why should any politician feel constrained by a need to tell the truth, ever?
Trump’s victory is a boon to terrorists. Jihadists the world over have been enjoying the propaganda benefits of Trump’s ascendance, and are now surely giddy with joy at the electorate’s confirmation that America is at war with the Muslim world. American muslims, in understandable defensive fear, may well become less inclined to cooperate with law enforcement to identify suspected jihadists in their midst.
As to what Trump will actually do as president, much of it is not particularly worse than what we could have expected with any other Republican president elected in 2016. Start with the Supreme Court and the rest of the federal judiciary. There is no reason to doubt that Trump will keep his campaign promise to appoint justices congenial to the radical right. So, forget about campaign finance reform: Citizen’s United is here to stay. For all his inveighing against the corrupt culture of Washington, Trump’s court appointments will ensure that the place of money in politics is secure and that corporate special interests will generally prevail over the pubic good. And, while it will take some time, we can expect Roe vs. Wade to fall.
A perverse benefit of Trump’s election is that we can expect gridlock in Washington to end. With his party in control of both houses of Congress along with the White House, Trump will have no problem getting the legislation he wants, if he knows what he wants. The one thing that we can be confident of is that taxes on the wealthy will be cut, as per the Great Populist’s campaign pledge. Trump also promised to repeal and replace Obamacare, but that is more problematic, since neither he nor for that matter the congressional Republicans over the past seven hears have ever hinted at what they will put in its place. We can be sure that whatever changes are coming in our health care system, the biggest beneficiaries will be the insurance companies. That’s where the influence is in Washington, and Trump isn’t going to change that.
Climate change? It’s all a hoax, so expect four years of inaction by the United States, which largely precludes decisive action by the rest of the world. Trump might even abrogate US participation in the international climate agreement that Obama worked hard to achieve. The Trump administration will slash environmental and other regulation of business. Do any of his supporters really take seriously Trump’s promise to bring mining jobs back to coal country?
Trump won’t build that wall, but by way of compensation he will very likely inflict serious hardships on millions of undocumented immigrants.
What about foreign policy? There are some potential silver linings here, which I’ll discuss in my next post. For now, suffice it to say that Hillary Clinton’s oft-repeated warning to keep Trump away from the nuclear codes has plenty of merit. Trump’s emotional immaturity—his petulance, his quickness to take personal offense, his penchant for revenge, his obsession with dominance—are worrying. Hopefully the people around him (who unfortunately don’t inspire great confidence) will be able to restrain his worst impulses, but that is just a hope. Trump has promised to trash the valuable Iran nuclear agreement, a promise from which maybe we can hope he could be dissuaded by his friend Vladimir Putin. You know we’re in trouble when you have to look to Putin as a voice of reason.
There are other less tangible but still reasonable bases for concern about a Trump presidency. He truly seems to have a penchant for authoritarian rule, reflected in his positive comments about Putin and Saddam Hussein, his threats to prosecute his political opponent and to take various actions against insufficiently sympathetic journalists, his suggestion that American Muslims might need to be registered in a database, and his willingness to cast doubt on the legitimacy of our electoral system. The United States isn’t the Weimar Republic; democratic institutions are too long-established here to be easily uprooted. But Trump gives the distinct impression that he would happily dispense with some of the bothersome limitations that liberal democratic government sets up to guard against abuses of power. It’s an overstatement to call him a fascist, but he has the whiff of fascism about him. Call it incipient proto-fascism.
Is there anything positive in prospect? Actually, yes, but this post is already too long, so I’ll sign off for now and devote my next post to looking for silver linings.