As I am sure is no surprise to anyone who knows me, I have been doing rather a lot of thinking in the last week since our electoral college system saddled us with an anti-democratic sexual predator as president-elect.
I am never going to accept that Trump is the legitimate democratic leader of this country. When an elected official loses the popular vote and only wins in the key states due to voter suppression, I do not consider that person to be legitimately elected.
However, the people with the power to contest that result do not seem to be willing to do so, so we need to resign ourselves to living under President Trump. But what does that mean? What should we expect from him?
There have been a slew of articles that assume that now he has won the presidency he will be more moderated. I think this is wishful thinking. He might back off on much of the specifically GOP policy lines, but his core persona does not seem likely to change.
My basic read of Trump is that he is a thin skinned bully who holds grudges and actively seeks to destroy or humiliate anyone who ever wronged him. He equates force with strength and seems to believe wholeheartedly in the Thucydidean principle that “the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.”
This is going to be the strongest person in the entire world in about two months.
So some basic principles that guide what I expect to see from Trump:
- Anyone who crosses him will be suppressed with the full force at his disposal, legal or military. I expect him to use threats of violence both internally and externally. Opposition groups are likely to be targeted for police action as soon as he feels he can get away with it. Foreign countries that do not do what he says are likely to receive threats of violent retribution. The set of tools of force that Trump is being given are incredible and historically unprecedented, so expect him to use them.
- Any constraints on his power will be seen as annoying obstacles to be removed at the first chance. I do not believe that Trump believes rules apply to him. He will inherit an already powerful presidency, and I expect him to work to make it more powerful. He will also inherit a supreme court that is likely to be easy to stuff with justices that will not oppose him. I expect him to take full advantage of both. I do not expect him to take risks with his power at any point.
- Projects that flatter his ego are highest priority. The wall will be built if Trump has any say about it. Paul Ryan won’t like how much it costs, but Trump will not care. He might even risk war with Mexico if they don’t help him pay for it. The man is an egotist who sees his legacy as buildings with his name on them. The Great Wall of the United States will be the ultimate example of his ego at work.
- His political enemies on both sides of the aisle will be targeted for humiliation. I cannot see Trump being magnanimous in victory. I also cannot see his and Paul Ryan’s relationship staying stable unless Ryan brown-noses constantly. I expect there to be an early fight between Trump and the remainder of the GOP over where the party goes from here. We already see the beginning of it with Ryan’s declarations that there won’t be a deportation force.
- He will surround himself with cronies and family. People who have supported him the whole way and who have a relationship of traded favors will be given high power positions. Old enemies will not find their way onto his staff.
- He will attempt to build police and military support. He already seems to have the FBI on his side. He will likely attempt to build forces loyal to him and his ideals. One of the major warning signs to look out for is if he succeeds at building the special deportation force that Ryan has just promised will not happen.
In other words, I think we are looking squarely at a proto-dictator. The question this leaves me is “what can we do?” Much of this depends on the conditions of how exactly Trump acts and what issues confront him early. I can predict that Trump will be bellicose, but he doesn’t have policy, he has gut reactions.
If for the sake of argument, we assume that Trump does attempt to subvert democracy as a would be dictator, then there are two basic ways I see this playing out.
The first is the Dictatorial success scenario: Trump wins against Ryan’s congress. He takes control of sufficient support that he can aggressively pursue any policy he wishes. He rides the good economy he is inheriting and actually becomes more popular among white voters while progressively disenfranchising every type of voter that does not support him. This country becomes a very bad place to live if you do not conform to Trumpism. He packs the courts with supporters and starts removing threats to his rule. Those opposed to him play along until it is far too late and by 2020 he is unable to be removed legally. The US becomes increasingly self reliant and regionally bellicose when it comes to foreign policy and we almost certainly start offensive wars.
The second is a crash and burn: The narratives here are much more divergent than the success narrative. The basic gist is that Trump blows it completely, crashes the system, and someone takes him out of the equation legally or extralegally. Many of these scenarios are outright scary.
If we are lucky, Trump gets caught doing something that causes him to be impeached early while his support is still weak enough that illegal actions on his part matter. He is removed constitutionally and we can then have a nice discussion of how we allowed this to happen in the first place.
If we are extremely unlucky, he is removed by violent means rather than legal ones. A coup or an assassination. Either would likely spark major system failures. The US is so powerful militarily that the only real legitimate threat to our existence as a nation at this point is our own military structures. An illegal removal of a president in that context could set a precedent that might turn that military against itself. Those sorts of scenarios get really complicated and violent very quickly.
Given this thinking, I think the response to Trump needs to be as follows:
- Goad him early and often while his support is weak. These protests are absolutely correct for this. Refuse to call him president. Constantly hit him with his failure to win a democratic mandate. Force him to fight for every piece of legislation he wants. Try to get those tweetstorms to happen. We need him to make mistakes. The window for this is short. We need him to be unstable enough to get himself impeached before he has consolidated power.
- Follow a course of absolute pacifism. Violent responses to Trump are dangerous. If successful they are likely to lead to situations spiraling out of control in unpredictable ways. Violence does not function as an effective method of supporting democracy, rather it tends to usher in autocratic groups. This pacifism needs to be in full expectation that his violence will occur against us and we have to figure out ways to turn that violence to the advantage of democracy. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be disruptive. Just that we need to be as aggressively non-violent in our disruptions as possible.
- Support each other. Do whatever you can to help the people you know that are hurting from this. I do not mean some solidarity symbol, but actively do what you can to help. Don’t just sit by when you see racist or sexist acts, speak up and make a stink about them. Those of us who have unearned privileged need to spend that social capital to draw fire away from those who are in worse shape.
This is going to get worse before it gets better, if it gets better.