Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Ten Quiet Predictions for a Trump Presidency

It’s done: in an upset that should have surprised no one, Donald Trump has been elected President of the United States. As to how this happened and why, the pundit classes have been so busy dissecting the cause and the method that they didn’t look up to see the oncoming train. The train is upon us now, lumbering forward in its orange sputtering of nonsequitur trutherisms.

For the moment, I’m not very interested in how we got here; as an American from the sticks, I accept that he speaks for the majority. Most of that majority really does stand behind him, and a few (like Spineless Paul Ryan, and most of the Religious Right) are mere opportunists who have nonetheless ceded their voice to the Orange King. He is their voice. For real this time.

(I read somewhere that the Republican Party had created the monster that is Trump’s base; and Trump had stolen their monster for his own uses. This is probably true, but it’s also true that this kind of talk inspired the monster to don a Deplorable Me t-shirt and get out to vote.)

It’s early. Hillary has conceded, so there is no second-guessing Trump’s victory. (And in at least one point I’m relieved: I will not have to see a second attempt at dynastic leadership just yet, at least not until Ivanka runs).

The Republican Party – the Trump Party, as it frankly ought to be renamed, its logo painted in gold, with a 5% members’ discount at select properties – will also control both houses of Congress, and most likely the Supreme Court with the ideologue of their choice by mid-January.

That means they will have to govern, or at least try. This will not be easy, especially after so long in cushy obstructionism. The likes of Ryan are a little too used to writing budgets without using math, and taking responsibility will be hard. But I do believe they will take action, because without action the Donald will bore and worry and fear for his popularity; and if there’s one thing we now know for certain, it’s that the Orange King can eat Ryan and his covey of twerps for lunch.

And now to my predictions. Like most predictions, they will most likely not age well. But here we go all the same.

1. Trump will return to a limited pragmatism.

He will certainly remain an oafish, bigoted conspiracy theorist, but as far as he can he will avoid outright confrontation with half the country.

Instead he will try for things he can win without protest, or win despite protest, or look good losing.

Ivanka will be chief of staff and unofficial COO.

2. Environmental protections will be gutted to the point of meaninglessness.

Fracking ho! This will be the price of the Koch brothers’ support, but Trump will pay it gladly as time and again his base has come out in self-defeating opposition to government regulation of industry.

In the short term, the poor will pay the price as they usually do. Long-term this means the worst for climate change, but the worst was coming anyway.

3. Black Lives will Matter Less.

This one is obvious: after all we’re talking about the Birther President.

The government will no longer support any efforts towards racial equality. The Justice Department will no longer pursue vote-suppression investigations. There will be laws against recording police actions on video.

These things will be to the great satisfaction of the white supremacists, but Trump will appoint a few token People of Color in his adminstration and swear he’s not a racist.

4. Assad will win in Syria, with Russia’s help, and with some partition.

Trump will wash his hands of Syria, but look like a statesman of sorts for brokering a deal between Turkey and Russia that will give most of Syria back to Assad while carving out a small zone for the anti-Assad forces loyal to Turkey. The Kurds may or may not be sold out – largely depending on whether Trump learns anything about them before making the deal.

The deal may well be proposed by Russia, but giving Trump credit will be part of the deal.

5. Trump will play chicken with Mexico and Canada on trade, and win.

I think NAFTA will be an easy target for Trump. It’s insanely unpopular with his base, who blame it above all else for the gutting of American factory jobs. And while it certainly benefits the US as such, that benefit accrues mostly to big business.

His argument will be that NAFTA was a lousy deal for the USA, and that Mexico and to a lesser extent Canada are the big winners. He will demand concessions, maybe even a whole new treaty. And he will get his concessions, particularly from Mexico.

The big question is whether they will be symbolic concessions or substantive ones. If they are substantive, we might see it helping agriculture in the US, but I have a hard time picturing it doing anything for manufacturing.

6. Trump will play chicken with China on trade, and lose.

Bolstered by the popularity of his NAFTA re-do, Trump will try to “get a better deal” with China. China will play him like a Guzheng and extract serious political concessions in return for meaningless trade platitudes, then use the cudgel of their dollar reserves to prevent anything substantive changing to their disadvantage.

Trump will find a way to spin this in his favor, but the financial press will give him a very hard time for it.

7. US isolationism will be taken advantage of across the globe.

China, Russia, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, and Poland – just to name a few – will all do things at home and with (or to) their close neighbors that would previously have gotten them in deep trouble with America. Trump will let it slide.

His political intuition on this point will turn out to be right: most Americans will prefer to not care who’s killing whom on the other side of the world.

8. Obamacare will be abolished, but the pre-existing-condition protection will remain.

This point, and the next, are where I see a glimmer of optimisim around the Trump presidency. I think he has enough populist sense to not take away something as important as the pre-existing condition protection. (For any international readers: pre-Obamacare you could not buy individual insurance in America that covered any illness or injury you already had.)

I also think Ivanka will push him to do this, and unlike any pre-Trumpian Republican he will not have any problem sticking it to the (obscenely profitable) insurance industry, nor will Spineless Paul Ryan be able to stand up to him. On anything, really.

9. The tax code will be reformed.

Over the objections of the business elite, and to the consternation of the entrenched Republicans in Congress, Trump will force through a simplified tax code that even he can explain to the people. It won’t be great for anyone but the rich but it will “seem fair” at first glance.

As with the “something better” for Obamacare he will face stiff opposition from his own ranks, but he will bulldoze them, and also get some unexpected support from left-leaning Democrats if the tax is not completely regressive.

This, together with the NAFTA deal, will be his signature achievement.

If he gets the Trump Party in line early, don’t rule out a flat tax on income, possibly with a lower rate for investment income. This kind of regressive tax plays well with the middle class because it “seems fair,” and it also buys a lot of loyalty from the upper-middle class that might not be with you ideologically. It worked in Hungary and I’m sure Orbán will suggest it to Trump at some point.

10. The poor will get poorer, etc; victory will be declared.

Chaos, unpredicatbility, and amateurish mistakes will exacerbate the problems you’d already expect from the normal, growth-killing Republican policies.

The economy won’t tank unless there is a major unforeseen catastrophe, but it will be sluggish at best. That part of Trump’s base that could be called the economic losers of globalization will be even worse off than they are now, and except for the very rich nobody will be much better off.

But Trump will have a few big wins to offset his big losses, and the Democratic Party will be split as usual between the business-establishment wing and the Sanders leftists.

2020 is his to win, looking at it from here. But to do it he has to be a little bit lucky with global events – no new wars, no economic meltdown – and he has to avoid the temptation to stock his administration with characters from the clown car of his recent campaign.

While I’m sure there will be pressure to appoint, say, Rudy Giuliani as Attorney General, I hope that Trump the Opportunist at least recognizes that he’s now the Winner and can choose from a more competent class of sycophants.

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