Before reading on, I should clarify something. By ‘disaster’, what I am referring to is a ‘major political disaster’ on an international scale. By that I’m eluding specifically to Trump’s major international political decisions. I don’t think he’ll drop any bombs, invade any countries, cause any financial crises or ban entire races from the country. What his rhetoric means for society, however, is as depressing as it sounds. The Trump Presidency will almost certainly see the decline in protection of civil liberties, safety for minority groups and an increase in hate crimes towards them. Even if Trump makes the safest political decisions in the world, his rhetoric has already done lasting damage and welcomed in a new era of ‘acceptable’ behaviour.*
After the election that surprised the world, we’re left with the question of what a Trump Presidency might actually look like. I think there are essentially two scenarios; luckily one is much more likely than the other.
Scenario 1. A dull Presidency that achieves little, but also doesn’t mess much up. A presidency full of rhetoric from Trump that harks on about a few economic successes but crucially for the man himself, leaves him with a celebrity-like status. He’ll be hailed for the rest of his life as the man who became President defying all odds, a hero to anyone who thinks politics doesn’t represent them and a genius for tapping into the American population in a way no politician has done for decades.
Scenario 2. He gets impeached for trying to push through policies that are radical beyond measure. In this situation Trump gets so frustrated by Congress not allowing him to push through the types of policies he’s already mentioned (building the wall, banning Muslims, etc.), he tries to do it using executive powers. In return, he gets impeached but ends up establishing a pseudo-revolution – outside of politics – of angry, disenfranchised white Americans. Once again, and crucially for Trump, he retains a celebrity-like status that sees him through for the rest of his life.
The rationale for making this two-scenario argument is Trump’s end-game. What does he care about? Is it actually about making America great again, or is it his own self promotion?
Let’s look back at his life. He’s had a notable lack of real engagement on political issues up until his presidential campaign (this consists of largely being concerned with growing the Trump Empire and his personal wealth). His previous political leanings are inconsistent by quite some way showing little party-affiliation. He has also shown to be content with changing his beliefs on political issues depending on personal circumstances. Hence, I think it’s fair to say he’s willing to say/advocate pretty much any policy that gets him support and therefore, his main concern is his own self-promotion, rather than making America great. Two responses to that would be a) we already knew that and b) that’s not unlike existing politicians.
But perhaps b) is the answer to why Trump’s presidency will be a dull one and we end with Scenario 1. Yes he’s an egomaniac, yes he’s obsessed with appearing successful and yes he seems willing to say anything to appear popular. But that’s the point, he’ll be so obsessed with not going down as the worst President in history who lived up to how unqualified people said he was, he’ll sacrifice all the policies he promised (the wall, the ban on Muslims, creating the greatest economy in the world etc.). This is because they’re either too costly, risky or literally impossible to accomplish. His advisors will tell him this once he’s actually in power and he’ll listen to them. Why? Because he doesn’t actually care about keeping Mexicans out or America becoming a great nation on the international stage, he cares about not messing up and being known as a failure.
Look at the flexibility he’s given himself on actual policy issues. His campaign was driven by reaching out to American hearts, not to their heads. As a result, he hasn’t actually specified how he’ll make America great again; but that was a deliberate choice. It didn’t play to his strengths as an individual and it wouldn’t charm the American electorate. What it means is that he now has room to push through whatever policies retain his status as a politician, which in reality will largely tow the Republican line. To anyone with liberal values, of course there will be casualties. And saddening ones too. From repealing moves towards a progressive approach on refugees to refusing to tackle climate change head on, this Presidency isn’t going to be a joy to watch. But nor will it be a disaster.
This is all well and good, but won’t there be a herd of angry Americans asking why he hasn’t lived up to his rhetoric? And won’t there be an angry media highlighting all these U-turns and failures? To that I ask, has openly lying and an angry media stopped him before? That’s exactly what he’s just been succeeded in the face of. If they believed his bullshit the first time, they’ll believe it again. The people who voted for Trump couldn’t care less about what he actually does, if he tells them he’s still making America great. It’s precisely the same reason Obama still as devoted Democrat supporters, who love him as much as they did when he first campaigned, despite the fact he was unsuccessful in many of the policies he tried to push through. Obama appeals to their values in exactly the same way Trump does to his supporters, a liberal bias shouldn’t mean you see it any differently.
So what are we left with, Scenario 1 – a dull and unexciting presidency with Trump largely conforming to popular Republican policy. But crucial to Trump’s end game, both during and after his White House tenancy, he retains the celebrity status, the glory of being the man who defied the whole establishment to become the most powerful person in the world.
So what of scenario 2? This is the only other outcome I foresee, which makes room for Trump’s unpredictable side. There’s a chance that in the face of not being able to live up to his own rhetoric, he becomes vastly more radical and essentially says, ‘to be a Presidential legend I will use my executive powers to cause the biggest uproar in history by passing policies that are as mad as the wall between the US and Mexico’. The outcome? He can’t, he’ll be impeached. Congressmen won’t risk their own political careers by supporting him (like classic politicians) and they’ll vote him out.
So initially you’d imagine that being impeached is possibly Mr Trump’s worst nightmare, the most embarrassing of all outcomes and the opposite of why he joined politics in the first place. But Trump is unpredictable; so unpredictable that he might not give up. Wouldn’t be unlike Trump to go to the end of this earth to protect his legacy, would it? In the event he’s impeached, he could then turn to his followers, of which there are many, and establish a movement – outside of Washington – that is made up of racist, sexist, angry white people who hate the establishment. It would be a movement that could lead to violence, disruption and chaos whilst still fulfilling Trump’s end-game of maintaining a celebrity-like hero status.
The most likely scenario? It has to be Scenario 1. Right? It must surely be the most risk-averse way of preserving his status. But Trump hasn’t ever been predictable, so I’m leaving room for it not to happen.
Even if Trump’s Presidency isn’t a disaster and we move forwards without too many scars, what this election has meant for the future of politics, democracy and humanity is unprecedented. The quicker we try to understand what’s going on the better.
* If you’re in any doubt as to why this clarification is necessary, read this.