Donald Trump, the media, and Hillary Clinton--in that order--have succeeded in nearly eliminating serious policy discussions from this campaign. Trump fills the airwaves with outrageous statements, Clinton responds with commends on the outrageousness of Trump, and the media breathlessly wonders whether Trump has gone too far. Clinton's emails and her health have also taken up a lot of space, and this week we have been reminded of how easy it is for a terrorist bomb (which did not even kill anyone) or a police shooting to take over the news. But the next President will, in fact, make important decisions on a wide variety of topics. This week, Evan Osnos of the New Yorker has written an article based on months of research detailing exactly what the impact of a possible Trump election might be, and what Trump would do. It is so unusual and so important that I have decided to spend this week's post summarizing it.
Led by Chris Christie, it turns out, Trump's organization is hard at work planning a Trump Administration--just as federal law provides. The government has given them office space on Pennsylvania Avenue and they are making lists of possible appointees and of dramatic steps that Trump might take immediately after taking office. One popular idea, it seems, is to begin by undoing some of President Obama's executive orders or renouncing certain executive agreements with foreign nations, such as the Paris Agreement on climate change. The executive branch has very broad powers pertaining to immigration, and Trump could indeed ban immigrants from certain countries immediately after taking office. But these dramatic steps, it seems, are only the tip of the iceberg. Based on the men whom Trump is talking to--several of whom spoke freely with Osnos--it seems that his Administration would be likely to complete an extreme form of the Reagan revolution, returning yet again to supply-side economics and reducing the role of the federal government.
Specifically, Newt Gingrich--one of Trump's intimates from the political establishment, and perhaps the Baby Boomer who has had the greatest influence on American politics--talks about taking civil service protections away from federal government workers, firing some of them, and provoking a conflict with civil service unions similar to the one that Scott Walker successfully fought out in Wisconsin. President George W. Bush tried to open the door to something similar in 2001 when the Department of Homeland Security was formed, refusing to give full civil service protection to its employees and obviously trying to set a precedent that could be applied more broadly within the federal government. Gingrich apparently believes such measures would unify the Republican Party behind Trump.
On economic policy, Osnos interviewed Stephen Moore, the founder of the Club for Growth and an adviser to Herman Cain in 2012, who is a firm believer in supply side economics. Trump, Moore said, is very interested in cutting taxes on businesses, which Moore claims, once again, will stimulate the economy. This is, of course exactly what both Reagan and Bush II did when they came into office, and some tax cuts would also have probably followed the election of any of the more traditional Republican candidates this year,. Trump, however, has given his ear to one of the most extreme proponents of low taxes, who presumably also believes that new deficits will force new cuts in government spending. The Democrats may control the Senate next year, but Democrats in Congress caved in to both Reagan and Bush II on taxes, and enough of them might easily do the same again if Trump wins. Nor is it clear to me that Democratic Senators would mount a filibuster to stop the repeal of Obamacare.
Osnos spends the biggest part of his article on foreign policy, talking to academics and former policy makers about the potential impact of stands that Trump has taken. His threats to withdraw from various trade agreements, including the TPP (which of course is not yet in effect) and NAFTA, could easily shake world markets. It turns out that his senior adviser on trade and China is a professor named Peter Navarro, who wants somehow to eliminate our trade deficit with China on the spot. Trump's veiled threat to try to renegotiate the terms of the US overseas debt--the same stratagem he has used so often and so successfully with his own enterprises--could have much more serious consequences for markets. More serious, to me, are Trump's repeated calls for a re-evaluation and recasting of America's alliances, including our attitude towards the Baltic States, NATO members whom Vladimir Putin obviously would love to return to the Russian sphere of influence, which included them for most of the last four centuries. Osnos spoke to analysts at the RAND corporation, where recent war games showed that NATO, as presently configured, who have no chance of stopping a sudden Russian armored incursion into those states. It seems most unlikely that Trump would undertake the strengthening of the alliance that would evidently be necessary to deter Putin from taking this step.
On no issue, of course, has Trump made firmer declarations than immigration. Even if he chose to deport only a fraction of the 11 million illegals he has threatened to expel, this would involve a massive expansion of federal police forces, extraordinary hardship for a few million people, and disruption of the American economy. His wall would soak up all the infrastructure money that we desperately need for other purposes. Osnos dos not discuss the possibility that private citizens might be deputized to help round up our intimidate immigrants, or that some might do so on their own in response to a new President's rhetoric.
The Clinton landslide which I, among any others, thought possible just a few weeks ago now seems extremely unlikely. The calculations of fivethirtyeight.com now give Trump a 42% of victory, which is very close to the chance he would have if the election were decided by the flip of a coin. There is no evidence that Trump will become a centrist if elected. On economic policy, in particular, he has surrounded himself with radical elements, and he would have the full cooperation of the Republicans in Congress. This is a critical election, potentially as significant as 1860 or 1932. Both of those, in retrospect, were won by the right candidate, and by an overwhelming electoral majority. That will not happen this time.