Donald Trump is going to be the next President of the United States.
He didn’t win a majority of the votes; he didn’t even win a plurality. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by a margin of close to three million votes. For the record, the last time a Republican who wasn’t already president or vice president won the popular vote was all the way back in 1980. Claims of a “historic mandate” are not even close to the mark.
But it was enough, and we need to recognize the legitimacy of the result. We owe that to the office of the President and to, you know, reality, even though elements of the Republican party have refused to accept the legitimacy of any president in recent memory, maybe any president since John F. Kennedy. To Donald Trump himself, we owe nothing.
Distressed liberals are offering all sorts of reasons why Trump was elected – voter suppression, media bias, gerrymandering. Trump voters are racist or stupid or insane. Bernie Sanders would have been a better candidate. Anybody else would have been a better candidate. There may be some truth to all of these, but none can explain how almost half of voters could chose such a plainly awful candidate.
The real reason is much simpler. Americans voted to burn down the house.
People are angry at the status quo, and they voted for the opposite of the status quo. They didn’t vote for Trump in spite of the fact that he is an awful human being. They voted for him because he is an awful human being. They voted to tear down all the institutions they feel are rigged against them, and there is no better wrecking ball than Donald Trump. Nobody even comes close. The collateral damage is going to be terrible.
We already know a few things that are going to happen as a result of a Trump administration along with Republican control of Congress. Environmental regulations, especially those targeting climate change, will be rolled back or ignored. Broad immigration enforcement will needlessly ruin the lives of many immigrants and their families. Taxes on the rich and on corporations will go down, without a word spoken about the increased budget deficits that will result. The lives of women, minorities, LGBTQ folks – anybody not a straight white cis male – will get worse, if not because of actual harm from the administration, then at least from indifference to injustice.
The repeal part of the Republican plan to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act will happen very quickly, but the replace part will take much longer, if it happens at all. The Republicans have a few good ideas on health care, like allowing people to buy insurance across state lines, but they have no real plan beyond vague rumblings about “market-based solutions”, which the ACA already was. As a result, ten to fifteen million Americans will likely lose their health insurance in 2018.
And we’ll get at least one new Supreme Court justice. That can’t be good.
Beyond that, though, I’m much less certain what’s going to happen for the simple reason that nobody knows much about what Donald Trump is going to do as President, not even Donald Trump. It’s possible that Republican lawmakers and a cooperative administration will reduce harmful regulation and make the economy more efficient, though I’m skeptical. It’s possible that President Trump will be so preoccupied with settling his personal grudges that he doesn’t pay much attention to the business of governing, and we wind up with a pretty conventional Republican administration.
It’s also possible that President Trump will bumble, completely uninformed, into some issue that piques him and wreck everything in his path. For just one example, he could decide to shred the economy by unilaterally disrupting foreign trade as punishment for companies that have workers outside the US. He can’t generally impose tariffs without help from Congress, but there are plenty of administrative levers he can pull to achieve the same effect.
We really have no idea, because we have no precedent. Most of Trump’s policies are either obviously ludicrous (build a wall and make Mexico pay for it), impossibly vague, or wildly inconsistent. The man has a tendency to contradict himself on issues of substance, sometimes during the same speech.
My biggest worry is foreign policy. Our standing in the world is about to collapse. The world can’t address problems like climate change when the leader of the only superpower (no, China doesn’t count) denies it even exists. And while our role as the world’s policeman has not been especially successful of late, the power vacuum left by American isolationism will be much, much worse. Trump has already jeopardized the legitimacy of NATO’s mutual-defense provisions, maybe even the organization itself, by questioning whether the US should defend NATO members from Russian aggression.
The thought of Donald Trump as commander-in-chief of (by far) the most powerful military in the history of the world is genuinely terrifying. The Trump administration might refrain from intervening in places like Yemen where there’s no possible way to do good, but it could also provoke or even initiate a conflict elsewhere on the flimsiest of pretenses. We know from recent experience that it’s not too hard for a president to take the country into a full-blown war just because he wants to.
Donald Trump is not known for getting along peacefully with others, and he has the potential has the potential to wreak untold death and destruction with the arsenal at his command, even without considering nuclear weapons.
Like the Brexiteers and the Filipinos who elected Rodrigo Duterte (look him up), Americans in their frustration and anger have freely voted to reject institutions, norms, and order.
We have chosen chaos.