After the Trumpocalypse: What should we expect now?
In “After the Trumpocalypse: What Happened?” I attempted to explain–if only to satisfy myself–how Donald Trump won the 2016 US presidential election.
But what happens now?
We have no idea.
Given Donald Trump’s erratic and unprincipled record in his business, public, and private life, there is absolutely no way to predict how he will be or what he will do as president. Following Richard Rorty’s lead, I would invoke two historical precedents.
Quebec in the 1990s
Sometimes the accession to power tames radical politicians. Here in Canada, during the 1990s, Lucien Bouchard emerged as Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s “Quebec lieutenant” and confidante during negotiations towards the proposed Meech Lake constitutional accord, which aimed to decentralize power in Canada in large part to satisfy the demand of Quebec separatists for political autonomy. When the proposed agreement was diluted during negotiations, Bouchard defected from Mulroney, declared his support for the separatist provincial Parti Québécois (PQ), formed a new national party (the Bloc Québécois) and led the narrowly-defeated Yes campaign in the 1995 Quebec referendum on sovereignty. Soon afterwards, he become leader of the PQ and premier of Quebec, fuelling fears that he would launch another bid for Quebec separation. In the end, this did not come to pass. Bouchard was forced to choose between a campaign for political separation and the recovery of the economy. Because a weak economy did not create the “winning conditions” for another referendum on independence, the separatist political agenda was sacrificed for the pursuit of balanced budgets and an expanded social welfare system.
Germany in the 1930s
Sometimes the accession to power unleashes radical politicians. In the 1920s, Adolf Hitler—a young Austrian drifter and failed art student activated by his military experience in the Great War—emerged as a political outsider, refashioning a small conservative party into the mighty National Socialist German Workers Party (Nazi Party). After a failed coup and time in jail, Hitler embraced negative political campaigning, violently attacking the Weimar Republic and its Western democratic values. By 1932, German Nazis and their enemies the Communists—both dedicated to destroying the existing political system—controlled a majority of the seats in the German parliament. Though Hitler had never held political office, his powerful support base put pressure on German President Hindenburg to appoint him to the position of chancellor. Hitler’s enemies in the political establishment believed they could control him by giving him power while placing him in a cabinet numerically dominated by conservative establishment politicians. Within weeks, this strategy had failed. Hitler suspended civil rights, unleashed his politically violent Stormtroopers, won a new election, and convinced the parliament to pass the Enabling Act, giving him four years of emergency dictatorial power. The Weimar Republic was vanquished and the Third Reich created.
A Time for Careful Observation … and Asking Many Questions
If we have no way of predicting the nature or direction of the coming Trump Administration, what should we expect? Rather than concrete predictions, I would suggest we watch closely for short and medium term developments in several areas, with many questions in mind
How will Trump’s first 100 days unfold? Who will serve in his cabinet? What vision will he offer in his inaugural address? What will his first executive and legislative moves be? What priorities will emerge?
Follow the Money
Where will the financial markets go? On the night of his election victory, global financial markets plummeted, then recovered sharply, but unevenly. For instance, the day after the election, early trading in the drug giant Pfizer was up over nine percent, presumably in anticipation of the repeal of Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act and the deregulation of future drug pricing. Along with pharmaceutical companies, private prisons, infrastructure companies (e.g. Caterpillar), and oil companies were the early winners in the post-election market. On the other hand, shares in gun manufacturers were down, as fears of gun regulation and a potential rush on sales subsided. Some analysts are warning of potential declines in the value of companies which rely heavily on export sales, if the new president shakes up regional and global trade agreements. Other analysts expect significant stock market volatility, given uncertainty about the immediate political future. What will the financial markets tell us about the direction of the Trump Administration?
What about foreign policy? Will Donald Trump build a wall and make Mexico pay for it? Will he deport millions of illegal immigrants en masse? Will he ban Muslim immigration altogether for a time? Less obviously, where do Trump’s personal interests lie? So far, he has not made public his tax returns or other documents which would reveal the intersections between his personal financial empire and his foreign and economic policies. For example, will his promised cultivation of improved relations with Russia materialize? If so, will they tell us anything about his style of leadership or his financial interests? And what would a Trump speech to the United Nations sound like? Will he continue with NATO and other conventional institutions and partners in international affairs? Will he compete forcefully with China? Abandon Europe? Return to American isolationism?
Society and Culture
How will cultural policy and social life change under Trump? Will the anger, insults, and threats directed by Trump supporters towards ethnic minorities, non-heterosexuals, and cultural and intellectual elites wax or wane now that their leader holds power? In the two days since the election, numerous expressions of racism have surfaced on social media. What about the status of women after 2016? And will the culture makers of the liberal establishment in Hollywood continue to attack Trump as president? Or with the lid off of the political correctness pressure cooker, will there be new tolerance for honest differences of opinion on cultural issues?
How will American religion emerge from this election cycle? The questions are many, the answers unknown. With Islam under political attack and “Evangelical” Christianity so deeply and controversially tied to Trump’s political agenda, what will be the fate of religion in American life? Will young Christians see in contemporary religious politics more reason to abandon faith altogether? Will evangelicals who dispute the political label “Evangelical” somehow take it back, abandon the word altogether, or continue to be linked to angry Republican religious politics? Will Muslims be persecuted for their faith? Will they be deported, assimilated, radicalized? Will the rise of nativism and xenophobia reignite the latent antisemitism in sectors of American society? And will expressions of civil Christianity increase within a Republican government or decrease under an irreligious president?
What will happen in the realm of the news media? The political campaign created an overdose of news coverage, a deepening partisanship and polarization of coverage, a widespread mistrust of the so-called “mainstream media,” and a frightening ambivalence about the importance of truth in political debate. How will the media and public discourse recover? How will the new president interact with the media? Will the press be able to function effectively as the “fourth estate” and contribute to political transparency and good government?
And what about what Richard Rorty called “real politics”? How will Donald Trump deliver on his promise of fairer trade, massive infrastructure growth, job creation, and reindustrialization? How will unions fare? Will he abandon clean energy and embrace a revival of oil, gas, and coal? What about industrial research and development? How will the environment be impacted? Will he dismantle the Affordable Care Act? What about funding for public education?
Finally, how will both the Republican and Democratic parties react to the 2016 election? What will the Republican control of the presidency and both houses of Congress mean? Will Trump’s opponents in the Republican Party come crawling back to him, seeking favours? Or will they oppose him, or try to tame him? Who will want to work with this president in the Cabinet? Who will emerge to lead the Democratic Party? Will it reengage with the working class, or remain aloof to the labourers and their unions? Who will lead the campaign to unseat Trump in 2020? Will he be challenged within his own party?
The Trump victory in the 2016 US presidential election was a call for systemic change in American politics. The questions I’ve listed are just some among the many that both citizens of the United States and interested observers around the globe will be asking themselves in the coming days, months, and years. For now, the political scientists, economists, psychologists, and sociologists can grapple with the unfolding events. Over time, the historians will try to make sense of it too.