How a Trump Presidency Could be Good, How a Trump Presidency Could be Bad
Much of the hullabaloo of Trump revolves around various types of clashing “identity politics”. Yes, yes, we have the old favorites of race, gender and sexual orientation. Personally, I’d argue that alignment with “democrat” and “republican” were the most salient identities on display, but whatever. I don’t want to de-legitimize anyone’s emotional attachment to their identity.
I just want to point out, that in this whole mess, we hardly discussed what Obama has called “the defining challenge of our time;” income inequality.
Liberals have re-branded their failure to address income inequality as their failure to appeal to the “white working class” but this is a cop out. This spin doctored phrasing is designed to appeal to stereotype to cast non democrats as white racists while simultaneously denying the democratic role in destroying the working class. Over the past few decades, the democrats have allied themselves with the “professional classes” (lawyers, doctors, engineers, etc.) to the detriment of the “working classes” (construction workers, miners, truck drivers, etc.)
Back in the day, many of these “working class” people belonged to unions, and these unions were powerful organizations within the democratic party. However, ever since the 1970s, the democrats have been cooling on the unions and favoring the interests of the professional classes. This came to a head with the presidency of Bill Clinton, who famously pulled the democratic party far more centrist than it had been, and who created many policies that were bad for the working classes. (From Listen Liberal)
One of these policies, which Trump has labeled “the worst trade deal ever,” was NAFTA or the North American Free Trade Agreement. That was a deal Clinton signed into law, but it was a deal initially backed by republicans and his predecessor George H W Bush. Unions fucking hated NAFTA, and this loss represented a real democratic abandonment of the unions. Democratic support for free trade in spite of union upset was a bit of a reversal of interests (one dems thought would bring them into the future) and one that suited the interests of republicans as well. So, free trade went forward unfettered by both sides for decades, ultimately being followed up with further agreements like (the proposed) Trans Pacific Partnership supported by Obama, and the American working classes had to compete with workers who lived in countries where you could survive on $1 a day.
However, this brought down the price of lattes at Starbucks so it suited the professional classes just fine.
Bill Clinton was responsible for several very un-progressive fiscal decisions (over turning Glass Steagall, cutting welfare, etc.) but because of the tribalism of the two party system, the democrats felt like they were “winning” or something.
The economy grew, but the working classes did not see their standard of living return. “Everything’s better now!” the democrats declared, while income inequality hit a new high since the 1920s. And, this inequality happened under democratic watch. This wasn’t a republican conspiracy, this was democrats abandoning their base and denying them negotiating power.
And now, the democrats are shocked — shocked! — that the people they abandoned have abandoned them back. Because this funny thing happened, the same way Clinton presented himself as sort of “socially progressive, but in some ways fiscally conservative” Trump is saying stuff that makes him sound “socially conservative, but in some ways fiscally progressive.”
Trump, like old school liberal Bernie Sanders, has spoken out against many of America’s trade deals like NAFTA and the TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership.) Trump has also declared that we need a “21st century version of Glass Steagall” (which Sanders also supported.) And it’s like, what’s going on here? Isn’t this some old school democrat shit?
What we’re in the middle of, I think, is a large political realignment. The democrats have become the party of the professional classes, and the republicans have become the party of the very rich and the working classes. Will this last? Is this sustainable — do the very rich and the working classes have enough mutual interests to form a coalition? I don’t know.
What I do know, is that the democrats have taken us for a ride. They have linked ideologically important issues that cannot be compromised on with policies that will benefit the already powerful. If you don’t vote democrat you’re a fucking racist, but now this means to not be racist you need to get on board with unfettered globalism and Wall Street bailouts. So, damn, who the hell should you vote for?
Doesn’t matter! The vote already happened.
And, the dems may be losing their minds, but… some good things may come of this. The same way Bill Clinton was able to pass some conservative policies because of democratic tribalism, Trump may be able to pass some liberal policies because of republican tribalism. Trump’s political alignment is seen to many as something of a mystery, but it doesn’t seem so mysterious to me.
Trump’s overriding theme is his desire to be loved and admired. That’s it. Trump is a perfect populist in that he is willing to do whatever people respond to. Consider this description from The Economist of how Trump came to favor the phrase “Drain the Swamp:”
Those parsing Mr Trump’s “Drain the Swamp” slogan for clues to his opinions about government reform should have been with Lexington at a rally in Kinston, North Carolina, on October 26th. Freshly disembarked from his Boeing 757, Mr Trump had just begun a thunderous attack on Hillary Clinton’s health policies when he was distracted by a “Drain the Swamp” sign. “Look at that,” he marvelled. When his team had coined the phrase three days earlier he had disliked it, he confided. But then he used it and “the place went crazy.” Now, he beamed, “It’s the hottest, it’s like, trending all over the world…So we like that expression.”
Trump is basically willing to do whatever people will go crazy for, whatever will bring him applause, whatever will trend on twitter. And, there are upsides and downsides to that. The downside is that a lot of people applaud for racism.
The upside is that Trump is highly likely to be swung by the views of the American population and that likely includes previous democrats. If democrats are willing to put pressure on him, if they are willing to applaud for him when he does something they like, they may get what they want. Does the idea of ever applauding for Trump turn your stomach?
Well, what turns your stomach more applauding Trump or lynchings?
Unlike, say, Hitler, Trump doesn’t seem to have an underlying philosophy (except possibly to make himself richer and more powerful.) I don’t think he has a vendetta against latinos or women the same way Hitler had a vendetta against Jews — and I really hope I’m right about that. The democrats aren’t going to get everything they want, not in this climate, not with this congress. They have to pick their battles. This is what I think they need to fight for:
- Get Trump to condemn racist action from his followers. He already started doing this — applause! applause!
- Apply pressure on Trump to abandon the registry of muslims.
- Apply pressure on Trump to save Obamacare, and if we can’t get that, at least get him to stop fucking Paul Ryan from killing Medicare.
- Apply pressure on Trump to acknowledge climate change.
- Keep an eye on how things with immigration go. There are no specifics on this yet (I don’t think the wall is happening) but, you know, apply pressure if it looks like any atrocities are going down.
These things will likely not interfere with the popularity of his base *if* some of his trade deals end up pumping life back into the working classes.
How could a Trump presidency become legendary?
If he stops with the race and gender bating, if he succeeds where the democrats have failed in returning economic power to the working classes, and if he lets Ivanka do some climate preservation shit in her weird first-daughter-lady position, he could succeed in completely re-orienting the priorities of the republicans and democrats. He could leave a mark on America that would last for generations.
How could a Trump presidency be absolutely terrible?
If, like the democrats’, his commitment to the working classes turns out to be a lie, it would be bad. He could easily pursue policies that benefit big businesses at the cost of the working classes while pursuing high profile cases that make it look like he’s on the side of the working class.
There’s some danger here, as it sort of looks like Trump may favor this approach. Before even taking office, Trump has started applying personal pressure to individual companies to bring their jobs back to the US. This seems like a good thing, but what this would really entail is a few high profile cases he would tweet about while the situation for the vast majority of people would continue to deteriorate.
I worry about this in particular, because this method is likely to bring maximum applause (which he likes) without the systematic improvements that would solidify economic improvements for the working class.
Even worse, he could do this while slashing taxes that help solidify the positions of the wealthy (which he is already set to do) making the situation even more dire, while appearing to improve it with a bunch of populist tweets. This would be very bad, and unfortunately, I don’t think the democrats have the ability to counter this one. The working class Trump voters will need to keep an eye on if he’s really watching out for their interests or if he’s just pretending to.
Additionally, if he’s too aggressive in negotiating his new trade agreements, this could cause damage to larger US companies (causing them to downsize) or start tariff wars with other countries. If US companies start going out of business, they won’t be employing anyone in Mexico or the US.
If the economic position of the working class continues to degrade, things could get very bad very fast. Racial tensions will intensify, class tensions will intensify, and we will have fewer funds available for emergency social programs to bail people out. We could start seeing race riots, or a social push for some very nasty stuff around immigration policies (think internment camps.)
So, uh, here’s hoping it won’t come to that.
Right now, we are in a time with a lot of uncertainty. That’s scary, and I understand why people want to gravitate to strong positions in times of uncertainty. But, truth is, we’re in the middle of a complete political realignment that started with Bill Clinton. It’s not clear what policies Trump will support, because we don’t have a definition of the type of republican he’s going to be.
So, we have to watch and be responsive. If he does bad things, we need to speak out and stop it.
But, if he does good things, we need to give him his credit where it is due. Wouldn’t it be a great irony if this historically unpopular president elect ended up being the bi-partisan unifying force we’ve all been waiting for?
Maybe that’s too optimistic. I’ll wait and see.