“The Objects before me are too grand and multifarious for my comprehension. We have not men fit for the times.”
John Adams wrote these words he was discussing the challenge of creating a new nation out of the thirteen American colonies and winning independence. The men he referred to so dismissively turned out to be the Founding Fathers, a group who would shape the course of history and create the most powerful nation in the world.
These words have seemed pertinent this past year. Faced with longstanding racial injustice, seething bipartisan hatred, weaponised social issues, and an economy leaving pockets of decline, one might wonder how this American house divided can stand.
Donald Trump is a man perhaps reflective of the times, for some, but he is in no way fit for the challenges they present.
Regression At Home
Across the spectrum of issues, a Trump presidency threatens the progress made not just under President Obama, but also George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Bush senior. His embrace of far right wing, white nationalist voices like his new strategist Stephen Bannon threatens a tumbling of American values.
The Continued Injustice of Criminal Justice
There will be four more years in which no serious attention is likely to be given to criminal justice reform. In the aftermath of numerous outrages over police killings of young black men, the time for fundamental rethinking of criminal justice and prison policy should absolutely be now. The facts are well known: a young black man has a 30% chance of being arrested; the U.S.A., with 5% of the world’s population, has 20% of global prison population.
On a federal level, mandatory minimum sentences on drug charges do little to contain the drug crisis but lock families into cycles of poverty and criminality. On a local level a minority of racist officers, private prison systems, and police incentives for arrests are pitching communities against their local police.
Progress can be slow, and sometimes feel like a dull trudge rather than a proud march. However, the stage was ready for 2016 to be the year when a Democratic president took an axe to the criminal justice system, lifting up African American communities rather than locking them down to prison and broken homes. While it would be premature to suppose the President elect will take no action on criminal justice, Trump’s campaign was couched in the Nixonian language of ‘law and order’, designed to give no quarter or compromise to ‘the criminal’.
Secretary Clinton took the crisis seriously, and had plans to begin this process of reform. The time was ready; but America will have to wait.
Rolling Back Healthcare
The progress fought for by the Obama administration, painstakingly moved through a hostile Congress inch by inch, may be swept away within Trump’s first hundred days. Trump’s Republican comrades in the Senate and House of Representatives have been chomping at the bit to tear up the Affordable Care Act. The logistics of doing so when over ten million Americans have signed up, and a post-election surge of 100,000 also joined, would be challenging.
Trump himself has said that he likes certain parts of the Affordable Care Act, including preventing insurers from discriminating against individuals with a pre-existing condition or placing children on their parents’ plans. However, without ensuring enrolment, the Affordable Care Act will not longer by affordable. Trump cannot simply pick out the popular parts of the law and ignore those that finance the whole system, unless he can absolute disregard for government spending.
Added to which, Trump will have a cohort of congressional Republicans, some of whom set their sights not only on Obamacare, but also Medicare, and envisage an almost entirely privatised healthcare system. Free market ideology in healthcare has systemically excluded millions of Americans from care for years, and Republicans will need to truly invent something new if they are going to prevent significant regression.
There is an urgent concern for those whom the ‘Again’ part of Trump’s slogan contains a quiet, but menacing, sense of threat. First and foremost is the immigrant, particularly those who are Hispanic or Muslim.
The future is unclear in terms of hard policy. Trump’s deportation plan for undocumented immigrants and ban on Muslim migrants are both floating between Trumpian flip flops. As for the Mexican border wall, the quietness of this proposal given its importance during his campaign serves to muddy the waters of the Trump mandate. The size, nature, and payment of any border construction has sunk into vague talking points.
Meanwhile the post of Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, a position that caters to millions of the urban poor who are disproportionally African American, falls on retired neurosurgeon, former Trump rival Ben Carson. For a select sample of Carson’s take on the world, have a glance at this earlier post on some of his more interesting ideas. He has zero experience in urban affairs, and is symbolic of the contempt Trump feels towards HUB and African Americans as a whole.
More broadly, Trump has unleashed a storm of nativist voices against minority groups. Excused by some as dismantling ‘political correctness’, his campaign revelled in stirring racial anger and fear. In a nation conceived on the idea of individual liberty, equality and freedom from persecution, Trump’s willingness to categorise large groups of citizens as enemies of the republic is disastrous.
He rode a wave of white anger for over a year, and his recent decision to moderate such rhetoric in an effort to appear presidential does not mean this wave will subside in the schools, streets, and homes of ordinary Americans.
Women’s and LGBT Rights Under Threat
Smiling, squinting Vice President elect Mike Pence might appear less ghastly than Trump on the surface, but he is bringing with him deeply regressive views. Conservatives of his ilk will seek to appoint right wing justices to the Supreme Court in the hope of overturning Roe v Wade, the Supreme Court decision that allows women to have control over their bodies and choose to have an abortion. Pence hates this decision, and his conservative cadre will hope to overturn it as soon as possible. Some Republicans will also seek to limit the scope of Planned Parenthood, a service that helps women on a range of health issues, though Barack Obama has attempted to protect Planned Parenthood from defunding in the waning days of his presidency.
More broadly, the national endorsement of an flagrant misogynist, a creaking wreck of a person who brags about assaulting women and who is under investigation for sexual assault, is a terrible signal for gender equality in the twenty first century. How shall young men treat women when their nation has just given its approval of a man who boasts of assaulting women? College campuses might be fulled with Little Trumps for years to come, thanks to the election of 2016.
Gay and transgender rights are also under threat, largely due to the Republican power over all three wings of government. Potential implications of this dominance are the potential overturn of the Supreme Court decision on gay marriage, limitation of transgender access to bathrooms, and the potential use of ‘conversion therapy’ on gay or transgender children. These are the regressive views proudly championed by Mike Pence and his allies. After eight years of tolerance and respect, the Trump years threaten to undo all the good work of Obama and cast LGBT rights into the shadows for years.
The Debt President
As a businessman he has capitalised on forgiving bankruptcy and debt regulations, but as the president he may simply be passing an economic nightmare onto his successor at the cost of his own popularity.
One of Trump’s early actions is likely to be a tax reduction, possible in tandem with a infrastructure bill: both are popular measures, so the new president will likely pursue both. The problem with this is that his tax reform, true to Republican orthodoxy, tends to favour the very wealthy over the poor, and that he has no plans to balance the books. His early Tweets griping about certain defence contractors’ prices are meant to distract from his broader increase of the deficit to make him appear tight on federal balances.
Economists across the political spectrum recognised that Trump’s economic plans did not add up, and his tone regarding federal spending suggests he is willing to put his administration on the bank card to prop up his popularity. Some might argue that Democrats have been playing a similar game for years, but surely a candidate sold to the American people as a great businessman should be able to get America out of the red and into the black?
The Question of Jobs
Of course much of Trump’s success will be measured by his ability to bring back jobs, particularly to the Midwest.
So far, Trump has been playing with economic rhetoric, never discussing the realities of national debt or trade policies. Fortunately, rather than do real damage, it appears more likely that Trump will publicise a few meagre victories of ‘keeping factories at home’, meaning his jobs program will be more of a propaganda tool than rejuvenation plan. He has already done so, with his deal with Carrier; but this is stage managed, minuscule change when the country needs broader attention. President Obama’s bailout of the auto industry saved far more jobs than Trump’s individual, ‘dealmaking’ approach with Carrier can ever hope in four years.
More fundamentally, Trump has suggested he will pull out of international trade deals, so whatever deals he manages to renegotiate will be key to his success. The question will be whether he can retrieve some manufacturing jobs in Ohio, while also keeping down the prices of imported consumer goods across the nation, and also enabling the new tech industries to thrive and expand internationally. If he can do all three of these things, he will deserve some credit.
Part 2 will deal with international affairs