No one deplores Donald Trump’s election more than I do, but I’m no longer so afraid of him as I was a few months ago. So long as he does not initiate nuclear holocaust, he will be more nuisance than serious force of destruction. And – hello – no one since FDR will have done as much to foster progressivism.
He’s not likely to change. He will give his followers permission to act out their worst prejudices. He will demean the office of the Presidency and public service. He will push alternative facts. He will debase America’s standing among nations. But he will have no great or permanent success with any of his dark efforts.
He has showed us what it’s like to have an unsmiling, wacky tyro in charge, but he will not prevail. Our institutions are too strong, we’ve been working on democracy too long, for that to happen.
More to the point, he will make America great in a way he did not foresee.
One. Trump’s election and the Freedom Caucus lockdown of the House of Representatives have caused progressive forces and dormant Democrats to become active in ways and to an extent unseen since the civil rights movement. A critical mass of resistance has been reached, and it can no more be stopped than women’s suffrage can be repealed or de jure segregation re-inflicted.
A prime example is the attempt to repeal Obamacare. The people have risen up and made it clear to Republicans in a significant number of districts that voting to do that was a political kamikaze mission.
More such legislative rejections are waiting in the wings.
Two. Democratic office holders have emerged from what seemed to be a persistent vegetative state. Did anyone other than Congressman Swalwell’s mother know who he was a few months back? Congressman Schiff, an able legislator but maybe too nice a man in the past, has become quite assertive. A little-known Texas Democratic Congressman with the catchy name of Beto O’Rourke is taking on the nastiest man in the Senate, Ted Cruz. First, though, he may have to defeat Congressman Joaquin Castro in the Democratic primary.
Only a short while back, I had difficulty thinking of anyone other than Sherrod Brown and Elizabeth Warren who might be a viable Democratic candidate for President or Vice President. But now it seems like every time Trump sends another absurd tweet, some Democrat appears on television who seems worth considering, viz Senators Murphy, Warner, Whitehouse, Klobuchar, Franken. As Trump and Congressional Republicans become increasingly outrageous, more Democrats will look viable and more will be eager to have a go at unseating the man who rules from Mar-a-Lago.
Three. So far, Trump and the House of Representatives are – thank you, God – no damn good at governing. It’s theoretically possible that they will get the hang of it. But nothing in recent history suggests that the House of Representatives is going to abandon their fealty to “no.” And Trump’s tenuous grasp on reality, his unquenchable need for adulation, and his remarkable ignorance of issues and the mechanisms of legislation make it most unlikely that he will learn how to govern. So, he’ll have to rely on radical executive orders announced with bombast and a tough-guy scowl.
Four. Such executive orders will have limited effect. Trump can undo Obama’s environmental regulations regarding coal mining, but that won’t make coal preferable to cheaper and cleaner natural gas. He can try to ban Muslims from entering the country but the courts will have the final say on that, and at the moment they are disinclined to allow it.
Five. Coal miners and unemployed factory workers will discover at some point that Trump’s braying about creating jobs was just the same noise any jackass makes; it didn’t create new jobs. A majority of the unemployed and barely employed probably won’t vote Democratic in the next election, but surely a consequential portion of them will be less gullible. That will make a difference.
Six. Approval ratings indicate that disillusion with Trump and his way is already settling in. He simply cannot deliver on all his angry campaign promises, and day by day he acts less Presidential. His venality and dependence on lies and squinty expressions of meanness will accumulate so that more and more people will see him for the bizarre and inept authoritarian that he is.
Seven. The media is doing a better job of calling out Trump and his people when they lie, obfuscate, and exaggerate. The false-equivalency habit seems to be less prominent now than it was during the campaign. Even the Conservative media is making noise about being more responsible. National Review, for example, has criticized the online lunacy of the alt-right.
Eight. [With certain notable exceptions] the people Trump has appointed to help him make America great again are earnest and right wing, but by and large, they are inexperienced and not at all able. Betsy de Vos? Ben Carson? Rick Perry? Oh come on. Right out of the chute, Attorney General Sessions had to be schooled in the meaning of conflict of interest. National Security Adviser Flynn, who led the Republican convention in chants of “lock her up,” was fired. Now he’s asking for immunity from prosecution (and possibly being locked up himself) in exchange for answering the questions of Senate and House Intelligence Committees.
Nine. At some point – perhaps fairly soon – this administration is going to lose an odd bit of protective cover it has been enjoying. Just now there are so many places where it faces trouble – possible collusion with the Russians in the election, the emolument controversy, having the kids living down the hall in the Whitehouse and attending whatever meetings they like – it’s hard for the country to prioritize and focus. In time, one or two of the most egregious offenses will come center-stage, and then this understaffed administration will have a struggle just getting from one day to the next, never mind achieving any program goals. My bet is the Russian issue will be first in line and most momentous. As we learned from Watergate, once covering up starts, the game is over. And there is a truckload of covering up going on about who said what to which oligarch and what Russian intelligence agent.
Ten. Trump’s conflicts of interest, self dealing, steadily dwindling number of political allies, and unhinged hubris will render him impotent or perhaps impeached.
Trump became President despite losing the election, and even though he’s ineffective, he’s doing his best to take care of rich white men at the expense of everyone else. Reaction to these two elements will return the country to the progressive path it was on before he became President. At that point Trump will have made America great again.
Postscript: I will point out that I predicted that reaction to the Reagan presidency would result in social democracy such we had never seen.