Hillary Clinton won the presidential election last week. In fact, she will have won it by well over a million votes (when they are all ultimately counted). Donald Trump will be the next president because he prevailed in an archaic and absurdly undemocratic method of selecting the nation’s presidents.
Yes, I know. The rules are the rules, and everyone knew going in that the Electoral College votes (where 270 is the magic number) were the only ones that really counted. Trump’s victory last week in that poll was narrow but decisive. No claim can be advanced, as was the case in 2000, that if all the votes had been accurately counted, he would have lost. So, let’s leave for another day the irony that is apparent to much of the rest of the world, if not to most of us: that our claim to democratic rule is belied by the anti-democratic process that literally ignores the will of the majority of the people who voted in this election.
And, instead, let’s consider the prospects for the country under a Trump administration. From my perspective, three possible views merit mention.
The Hopeful View: This view builds on the thought that President Obama expressed this week in a news conference. He thinks of Trump as being largely without a strong ideological identification, instead seeing him as a pragmatist. And there is ample reason to believe in this perception, since before he became a presidential candidate, Trump was more often seen as a mainstream (dare I say Bill Clinton-style) Democrat. During the just-concluded campaign, he claimed that he just thought it was good business to be supportive of those in power, but back then, when he chose to speak on the issues of the day, he sounded a lot like a Clinton Democrat. So, there’s that.
And there is also the sense that Trump as a candidate was “just a demagogue,” saying what he thought would get him the largest following, and that he isn’t beholden to anyone for the more radical things he said (and proposed) because those lines were campaign fodder not indicative of how he would actually govern. In that regard, does anyone really think he will build that wall or lock up Hillary? He may attempt (or pretend to attempt) to do both, but in terms of actually doing those things, I don’t think many informed voters are expecting them to get done.
And so the hopeful view for the Trump years is that he charts a centrist, maybe slightly right-of- center course that will not, when all is said and done, vary all that much from the course his predecessor has charted. With this view, Obamacare gets tweaked, not repealed; the Paris Climate Accord is honored in spirit, if not in exacting detail; the Iran nuclear deal is respected but more vigorously monitored, and the Supreme Court nominees are judicial conservatives, but not rabid ideologues.
Four years of this kind of a Trump presidency could even lead to another four, as it would probably result of a continuation of the Obama economic recovery, perhaps even with a major infrastructure program that would reduce unemployment, and would very likely leave voters feeling the country was getting progressively better, even if it weren’t yet “great again.”
The Fearful View: This view envisions President Trump seeking to effectuate the policies and programs he enunciated as a candidate. He wouldn’t succeed in implementing all of them (getting Mexico to pay for the wall seems unlikely), but he’d stay committed to them. The result would be a likely repeal of the Affordable Care Act, withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord, rejection of the Iran nuclear deal, and the appointment of one or more Supreme Court Justices who would combine with the current conservatives on the bench to reverse decisions granting women the right to abort fetuses and gays the right to marry.
This view also anticipates an administration that is generally hostile to the press, aggressively seeking to inhibit investigative reporting and critical editorial commentary. It would be heavy on law and order in seeking to restrict lawful protest and in encouraging invasive police procedures like “stop and frisk.” It would be pro-business in its tax and fiscal policies and would exacerbate the significant gap between the very wealthy in the country and those at or below the poverty line. Minority groups would be ignored if not blatantly disfavored in this vision of the Trump presidency.
And then there is the Nightmare View: This view plays out the vision that Trump created throughout his campaign, with his narcissistic personality disorder, and his inability to study the details of the many issues with which he would be confronted, dominating all of his decisions. It assumes all of the things contemplated in the Fearful View but goes much darker. Thus he would react harshly to domestic dissent, increasing government surveillance, perhaps even declaring something akin to martial law in the face of increasingly angry protests. He would establish relocation camps for those deemed “terrorist threats.” He might even suspend habeas corpus rights, invoking the step Abraham Lincoln took during the Civil War.
On the international scene, Trump would react impetuously to perceived slights by foreign leaders, perhaps rescinding diplomatic relations with former long-time allies. He would use military force with minimal regard for long-term consequences. He might even threaten nuclear attacks in the face of increasing terrorist attacks in the U.S.
In the nightmare scenario, co-equal branches would offer little resistance. Congress would accede to his dictatorial actions out of fear of vindictive reprisals. The Supreme Court, controlled by conservative zealots, would refuse to intercede in cases within the broad array of presidential prerogatives. In the Trump administration nightmare scenario, with dissent largely smothered, with the press and responsible journalism cowered into acquiescence, and with Trump’s forces controlling most of social media (where lies are never exposed and truth is never acknowledged), the United States would drift toward fascism, with Trump declared the Supreme Leader in the 2020 elections and the Constitution thereafter amended to give him life-time tenure.
Okay, so the Nightmare View is a little paranoid, but so is the Hopeful View unduly optimistic. So let’s assume we are going to get the Fearful View. Can we live with it? Probably, but just to make sure that view doesn’t slip into the Nightmare View, the best advice from here is to stay vigilant, very vigilant.