It’s been over five weeks since the unthinkable happened, and sadly, there is no reason at this point to think that our worst fears were less than justified. In my first post-election post, I predicted that Trump’s victory would embolden racist hate groups of all stripes, and that the legitimation of bigotry would be reflected in behavior. That was not a hard prediction to make, and it has come to pass. The Southern Poverty Law Center has reported a huge spike in hate-related incidents—anti-immigrant, anti-black and anti Muslim especially–immediately following the election, with Trump’s name explicitly invoked by the offenders in over one-third of the cases. Even in cosmopolitan New York City, the police have reported a doubling of hate crimes since the election over the same period last year. The white nationalist Richard Spencer is jubilant: he thinks that the election result has put him in the mainstream. After greeting a rally of his followers with a Nazi salute and “Hail Trump,” he explained to a television interviewer that he was just being “naughty.”
Policy prospects under a Trump administration are no more encouraging. Trump was something of an enigma during the campaign because, given his opportunistic malleability on the issues, it was never possible to be sure what he really believes. A past occasional campaign contributor to Democrats, Trump had once declared himself a centrist who was put off by both the extremes, left and right, of the Democrats and Republicans. So, it was possible to suspect that beneath the bluster and hate-mongering, and setting aside his pet issue of international trade, Trump was a non-ideological pragmatist, rather than a conventional reactionary Republican. That optimistic view is now clearly untenable. Trump is no ideologue (he doesn’t read books) but he may as well be. Trump’s cabinet choices by and large are no less radically right-wing than what could have been expected from Ted Cruz. We have an administration populated in large part by people dedicated to destroying the work of the agencies they head.
It turns out that the Great Populist is a convinced plutocrat. Trump evidently believes that billionaires (or near-billionaires) know best, and that government should just step aside and let billionaires do their thing. (The ideologues call that “free market-oriented.”) Having promised to drain the Washington swamp, Trump has instead filled it with alligators representing the fossil fuel industries and Wall Street. Oh, yes, Trump also likes generals, a lot. His most defensible cabinet choice, James Mattis for Defense, was apparently based heavily on Trump’s delight in Mattis’ nickname, “Mad Dog,” which Trump gleefully repeats practically every time he mentions Mattis’ name.
It now seems very likely that we can thank James Comey for the dark chapter in American history that we are entering. Princeton’s Sam Wang has estimated, based on the timing of the Comey letter in relation to poll trends, that the FBI director’s intervention depressed Clinton’s vote by about 2% nationwide. Trump carried two decisive swing states—Michigan and Wisconsin—by less than one per cent. He carried Pennsylvania by a little more than one per cent. Assuming that those three states would have followeded national trends, Clinton would now be president-elect if Comey had followed the traditional practice of his agency and profession and refrained from reporting on an ongoing investigation. An investigation which, it turned out, was all about nothing. Democrats have every right to demand Comey’s resignation; chances are they’re not doing so because they know that Trump would replace him with someone worse.
It’s harder to say how much Vladimir Putin’s efforts affected the election, since they were somewhat spread out over time. Putin was almost surely less impactful than Comey, but Putin’s mischief is garnering a lot more attention, because interference by an adversarial foreign power naturally arouses more outrage, and raises broader issues, than malfeasance by a US government official. Taking together Putin, Comey and the decisive loss of the popular vote, it is fair to say that Trump’s election is tainted unlike any US election since 1876.
I just became aware of a very powerful and appropriate letter Sen. Harry Reid sent Comey shortly before the election, accusing Comey of partisanship. Excerpts follow. I’ve said it before: Good ol’ Harry!