“President Trump.” I’m sure I’m not the only one who thought we’d never hear those words spoken together outside of a Simpsons episode. But here we are, and we may as well take stock of our situation.
This was not a victory of conservatism over liberalism. Besides, I said here in 2008 that Hillary was basically a Republican and I don’t feel any differently today. And Trump is hardly a paragon of the “family values” that evangelicals like to yammer on about.
No, this was a rejection of the political establishment; a revolt that was brewing on both sides. Many of us on the left felt it as well, and thought we might capitalize on it with a true progressive candidate like Bernie Sanders. But Bernie was squeezed out by establishment Democrats, leaving Trump as the only viable protest candidate.
Just like those of us who supported Obama in 2008, Trump’s supporters expect him to be a transformative president, an agent of real change. And they are going to be as disappointed as we were – likely more so.
All through Donald Trump’s campaign, there was talk of the candidate “tacking to the center,” as conventional wisdom dictates one must do to win a general election. But conventional wisdom flew out the window early in the cycle. Trump did not shift away from his inflammatory rhetoric until after the election was decided, in his acceptance speech.
The stock market futures, which had been in turmoil most of election night with the uncertainty of the outcome, shifted positive in a big way as Donald’s speech was digested. That tells you everything you need to know about how a Trump administration will operate. He will make peace with the GOP establishment, which will coalesce around him. And the outrageous promises he made about mass deportations and the Wall and trade wars will evaporate.
There will certainly be momentous change. There will be a systematic dismantling of everything Obama put in place and a significant regression on social policies. Obamacare is toast. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will go pffft. If you think you hate your cable and wireless companies now, wait until the new Republican FCC commissioner is installed and guts Net Neutrality.
Wall Street is celebrating because they can expect financial and environmental regulations to be decimated. The EPA will be crippled if not eliminated outright. There will be no checks on price gouging by pharmaceutical companies. But these are not Trump-driven changes – these have been GOP objectives since Obama was first elected, ready to roll the second they got back into the White House. Donald Trump was merely their admission ticket. He will now serve as the public face of the party, a figurehead, much as Reagan did, while the real business of governing is executed silently in the background.
With control of the White House and both houses of Congress, the GOP has run the table and their ambitions will be almost entirely unchecked. Sarah Freakin’ Palin is being trial-ballooned for a cabinet post. In a fair world, that would at least draw a flag for excessive celebration in the end zone.
The flipside is that with full control of the government, the GOP should have to fully own the consequences of their actions, with no more bogeyman Obama to simultaneously block and blame. (I say “should” only because the Republicans have a real knack for shamelessly blaming their failures on others, logic be damned.)
But, as I say, this has nothing to do with Donald Trump. The “anti-establishment” vote merely succeeded in swapping one establishment for another. Time will tell if the Trump true believers make the GOP pay for the betrayal.
The only lasting change that can be credited to Donald J. Trump has already occurred. It’s in the campaign process, and it is not a change for the better. Trump demonstrated that the traditional standards regarding a candidate’s fitness for office no longer apply. Blatant lying, resistance to transparency, and petty insults would have surely sunk one’s aspirations for political office in the not-so-distant past. Not any more.
No future candidate will feel any compulsion to release tax returns or emails or any personal information. These disclosures were never compelled by law; they were simply customary, which is why Trump was able to disregard them with no consequences besides Democratic grumbling.
There was certainly backlash to his rhetoric. He was called a racist, a sexual predator, and an idiot when, in fact, he is none of those things.
Remember that Trump’s greatest skills are persuasion and self-promotion. Being openly racist would be damaging to his brand. A sexual predator? Doubtful. He is a player, like many wealthy and famous men (and I will include Bill Clinton among them). He has treated women poorly, no doubt, but no one (so far) has been able to pin a rape charge on him. (This is not to excuse his behavior but merely to put it in perspective.)
But he realized that spouting racism and sexism would gain him the support of the “deplorables.” Trump recognized that a vast number of these people were out there, just begging for a catalyst that would let them spew all that pent-up hatred out into the open, instead of hiding behind anonymous social media accounts. Everyone seeks catharsis, even the worst among us. Marginalized by polite society and invisible to pollsters, these are the people who put Trump over the top. He saw them for what they were and used them as a resource. In hindsight, it was brilliant. So he’s not an idiot either.
Even the valid criticisms of Trump had no effect. Based on what we know about his business record, his Twitter behavior, and testimony from past employees who were stiffed by him, he is a vain, petty, ungenerous, and pompous man. In other words, he is an asshole. The reason this did not disqualify him in the eyes of his fans is because an asshole is exactly who they wanted to elect. Trump’s remark, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters” was remarkably insightful and just barely an exaggeration.
When one looks at the world through fearful eyes, the idea of having an asshole as your leader is quite appealing. Who better to protect us from terrorists who want to blow us up, and immigrants who want to suck up our resources without contributing, than President John Wayne with blazing six-shooters and a take-no-shit attitude? Diplomacy is for liberal pussies. The only way to really deal with other countries is force and bluster and a hair-trigger finger on the nuke button. Let them know who’s boss and what will happen if they screw around with us.
But the grown-ups are in charge, and they know that getting the country blown to bits would preclude their continued exploitation of its citizens and resources for ever-increasing amounts of wealth and power. So they will let you have your fantasies, and condescendingly pat you on the head, and use the gift you have given them with your vote to continue to take what they want. And they know that they don’t even have to throw you a bone because your satisfaction will come just from seeing them punish people you don’t like; the immigrants, the gays, the poors. You’ll savor it even more knowing that it’s extra cruel this time around because the poor saps actually got a little hope for the last few years, so crushing them all over again will be that much more delicious.