Featured Post

New book available! David Kaiser, A Life in History

Mount Greylock Books LLC has published my autobiography as an historian,  A Life in History.   Long-time readers who want to find out how th...

Thursday, September 22, 2016

President Trump?

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.


Bozon said...

Great summation of the present election situation.

I just want to talk about the foreign policy aspect. My knowledge of it is limited, though.

Some of Trump's planned foreign policy initiatives, it seems to me, are so long overdue, in fact, that implementing them now would only lead to armed aggression at a great military disadvantage.

We and Western Europe chose not to rearm Germany after WWII. The Morgenthau Plan had even been to turn it into farm land; FDR liked the idea, had always hated the Germans, and we almost did it. That would have made it even easier for Russia.

We, the West, had chosen, moreover, to let Russia continue to strengthen from WWI, then again after WWII, and until now.

Rearming Germany, it seems, was perhaps the only practical, non nuclear, way to deter Russia, at least from the West (yet there lingered the risk of an alliance between them as at the outset of WWII). That has basically been the case as far back as the 18th Century I suspect; someone more knowledgeable can correct me. Obviously, I did not get this view from the RAND Corporation, but to me it seems a rather basic fact. An EU army after all is only a concept.

Another basic fact is, as you say, that the Baltic states were part of Russia for most of the last 400 years. Why should they not be again?

Same goes for Ukraine in my view. Those who believes differently, as for example a Democratic human rights hawk, or a hungry market capitalist Right Republican who sees Ukraine as a juicy new market, is still living in the unrealistic liberal international economic order mind set of the 20th Century.

Of course, I don't think the Russians should have been allowed to take or keep Eastern Europe after WWII, or develop nuclear weapons they had stolen plans for from the West, but those are other enormous blunders setting up the current situation...

I hate to monopolize this blog when I can use mine too.

Thanks for this helpful post.

All the best

Patrick Bowman said...

Part of the fun of the generational model is how easily a comparison can be found, going forward or going back.

My mantra for this year has been "1860 all over again" but lately 1688 seems like the proper example to use. There's not enough outrage for it to be 1860, and despite ISIS' atrocities there's no more stomach for getting involved in overseas issues as happened with FDR. There does seem to be disgust with the Establishment, though, that could lead to a re-writing and re-iteration of the rights of the people, and reduction of the rights of the King...er, the federal government, that is.

If so, I'll go out on a limb here and suggest that a Trump administration would bring that about more quickly, that the unavoidable missteps that would follow would wreak such havoc as to force a re-balancing of the powers of government.

Although a Clinton victory would probably only delay the inevitable. (Not that there's anything wrong with that, given the alternative.) A continuation of current long-standing policies could easily result in a desire for real and massive change and then... Crisis of 2020, here we come.

sglover said...

Bozon makes good points. I'd like to add some remarks about these recent, constant assertions about a Russian Anschlus or blitzkrieg in the Baltics. They seem to be all the rage among the geniuses in the DC/NYC corridor, but these assertions say more about the hysteria and dull imagination of American foreign policy "experts" than anything else. Sure, in crude military terms, Putin could roll through Estonia in an afternoon, if he wanted to -- and our Beltway Caesars seem to take it for granted that he does want to. Because he's Hitler, or Stalin, or some such.

What these assertions never bother to answer is why Putin would do such a thing. No doubt he'd like to have compliant Baltic states, but in and of themselves those states aren't much of a prize. What would Moscow gain by a military adventure? A best a few million co-nationals -- and about as many ethnic Balts who might be eager to launch guerilla operations. Crimea is already taxing Russian resources, and most of the people there were happy with annexation. At a time when NATO and the EU are floundering, a Baltic invasion might be the perfect tonic to give those institutions new life, purpose, resolve.

There are many ways, fair and foul, for Moscow to lean on the Baltic states, and recent history shows that it knows how to use them. They all fall well short of direct invasion. Our Beltway Caesars might deign to notice that even after warring with Georgia, Russia didn't occupy it. While Putin's probably happy that the separatist "republics" in Ukraine allow him to make life difficult for Kiev, so far he doesn't seem eager to embrace the "prize" of Donbass.

None of this is meant to suggest that Putin is benevolent or brilliant. (It seems plain that he was at least as blindsided by Maidan as anybody else. And no, Maidan was not a production of CIA puppetmasters. Ukrainians are not mindless zombies.) But he does seem capable of straightforward cost/benefit calculations, and Riga isn't all that much of a prize.

That aside, I'm as horrified as anybody at how good a run Trump is enjoying. A Trump presidency is truly scary. But I live in Maryland, which will vote for the Dem even if the party puts up a cabbage as the nominee (evidence: congressyahoo-for-life Steny Hoyer, Senate space-occupier Ben Cardin, various Baltimore mayors). So in a real sense I don't even have a vote, and I have the luxury of writing in Sanders. As a Sanders guy I just have to point out that aside from the differences in policy, a really compelling argument for him was that HRC is a colossally shitty candidate -- a horrible tactician, a horrible strategist.

So far she's even worse than we imagined. Other than some gestures -- which nobody believes, coming from a Clinton -- she's done little to give younger voters a reason to turn out. Instead, she's opted to (very publicly) court neocons and -- Henry Kissinger!!!! She seems to believe that it's still 1996. It's a weird parallel to her foreign policy judgement: Even with the disasters of Iraq and Libya in recent memory, she still believed that wading into Syria would be just the thing. There are some serious cognitive problems going on with the woman.

Energyflow said...

Making civil servants contract workers, also at state and local level, killing public unions, as private unions were killed by Reagan followers in business world following air traffic controller strike, would be a step to saving governments from bankruptcy. Pensions are killing state and local budgets. This seems to work in Europe. In America corruption at state and local level for cops,, fire fighters, teachers, etc. seems to give them incredible pensions. Only a few elected reps get such pensions in Europe. Cutting taxes to force spending cuts on congress is odd. Congress approves budget from both ends. 2 trillion deficits in Trump's first year to force elimination of all social, military programs, farm subsidies, would be a start to decentralization of federal powers, devolution to states, withdrawal from global military policing. Withdrawal from trade agreements would allow local manufacturing revival with accompanying engineering skills. America is a military power with banking control whose citizenry lives from waiter, cleaning jobs and buy cheap foreign goods from economic colonies made at slave wages. The beneficiaries are .1%. Soviet collapse allowed core Russia with orthodox religious values to reemerge. American core interests have also been destroyed by imperial occupation of their part of Europe with accompanying military costs.Core middle class destruction comes from imperial expansion with accompanying ideology always. Italy, Britain, Spain, France, Russia, Turkey, all went through this phase and came out better for it. Get over it. Don't provoke WWIII. Baltics, spratleys, kurdistan ain't ain't worth it. Who owns America? What is this all about.