Monday, December 12, 2016

About a month ago, a few...

...days after the election, I wrote a post on how I was feeling about Donald Trump's astonishing upset of Hillary Clinton. As of today, after seeing the kind of people he's picked for his administration so far and hearing the latest news about Russia's meddling in our election, I'm far less sanguine. In fact, I had a hard time getting to sleep last night. (Or was is just Sunday-itis?)

First, did Vladimir Putin try to swing the election for Trump? At this date it sure seems like it. (When I check in with you in another month or so we should know a lot more.) But unlike many of my liberal brethren I don't believe Russia -- or the infamous Comey letter -- made the difference. (Hillary was just a piss-poor candidate and Trump was "lightning in a bottle.") And, unlike the "hard" sciences, we can't test the counterfactual in a lab; we just get to argue about it for the rest of our lives. But here's the big question I have about "Russia"? Why did they want Trump to win the election? Oh, sure, Putin hates Hillary, but I wonder if there's more to the story than just that. I think we'll find out eventually, but in the meantime, I'll leave you with this one thought on the subject: there is something very, very weird about Donald Trump and Russia. (Is he in hock to their banks or something? What is it?) Again, I don't know yet, but Trump's selection of Rex Tillerson for secretary of state -- a guy with absolutely no experience for the job whatsoever -- just makes things seem "curiouser and curiouser."

Second, there's Trump's White House staff and Cabinet. Talk about a "basket of deplorables"! Good God, where do you begin? Steve Bannon, Jeff Sessions, Steve Mnuchin, Andy Puzder, Ben Carson, Michael Flynn, Betsy DeVos, Tom Price, Scott Pruitt -- this has to be the most extreme Cabinet ever! Seriously. Saint Ronald Reagan would be jealous. Is Donald Trump really a closet ideologue? Has he been fooling us all this time? Or did he just sub out the job to Mike Pence, Reince Priebus and Paul Ryan? Sure looks like it. The question now is, will he also sub out policy to his Cabinet or just ignore them and continue being bombastic Donald Trump? (I guess that question answers itself.)

Next we have Trump's ongoing habit of outright lying (in practically every sentence), his violation of norms (and the media's "normalizing" of him and his administration) and the conflicts of interest with his business holdings. Aye Yai Yai! (I'll let other, smarter people deal with those topics.)

But let's game out the next four years (with an extreme amount of humility, especially after this election). How do I think it will play out?

Well, if you'll recall, I was worried that a Hillary Clinton election would be incredibly poorly timed with the business cycle. Notwithstanding this recent stock market rally (which I do not at all trust, by the way), the economic expansion since the spring of 2009 is getting a little long in the tooth. Just like George H. W. Bush, I thought Mrs. Clinton would have the misfortune of getting elected just in time for a recession and have to run for reelection with that as a backdrop (with the same results as Bush 41). Couple that with the absolutely horrendous midterm map in 2018 and the Democrats could have lost even more seats in the House and Senate and things would have looked even rosier for a President Marco Rubio, say, in 2020. Then, he would have appointed a far-right Cabinet much like Trump's but would have definitely taken the country in an extreme libertarian direction. Agita!

But Hillary didn't win, remember? Trump did.

So what happens now? Well, again, predictions are tricky, especially with Trump, but I'm fairly confident that the white working class that so loyally supported him will end up sadly disappointed. Let's face it, Trump isn't going to bring back their jobs, he's not going to build that wall and he's not going to deport 11 million people. And that trillion-dollar infrastructure project? Please. Do you really think Paul Ryan and the Republican Congress is going to go for that? No; technology, trade and globalization will continue on as before and the WWC will continue to suffer. What's more, if his Cabinet choices are any indication, they will also have less in the way of a safety net, so they'll get hit from both sides. Trump's crew is bound and determined to not only repeal the Affordable Care Act (which they will be in no hurry to replace, by the way), but also severely cut Social Security and Medicare.* The only things we can be absolutely sure of with Trump (beyond metaphysical certitude, as John McLaughlin used to say) is that he'll cut regulations and slash taxes -- dramatically -- for the one percent. So here's my other Big Question of the day: What happens when Trump's voters find out they've been had?

But, again, it remains to be seen how Trump will actually govern. Does he follow his Cabinet choices down the Ryan road to dystopia, or does he govern as a pragmatist? Either way, if we get that recession in the next two to four years those 2018 midterms may surprise everyone and actually be good for Democrats (anything's possible nowadays). And, if Trump does let the ideologues in his party run wild, we could end up with a younger, more charismatic version of Bernie Sanders in 2020 -- one that could actually win. (Who, exactly, would that individual be? How should I know? Did anyone see the coming of Barack Obama in 2008 or take Trump seriously in 2015? No and no.) So if the Republicans actually do repeal the ACA (and that's not a slam dunk) don't be too surprised if the next Democratic administration passes Medicare-for-all. (And a whole lot of other progressive legislation.)

So those are the keys, I think, for the next four years: how does Trump actually govern and in what economic environment? He's been a political genius so far, but what happens if he doesn't "deliver the goods" and his supporters turn on him? No one is bullet-proof forever -- no one. Then what? The other 99 percent of us could turn to a real populist next time -- that younger version of Bernie Sanders I was talking about -- and the country could veer sharply left. Could happen.

* A little free advice for Republicans which I'm sure they won't take: Beware of overreaching.

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