Saturday, November 19, 2016

What To Expect From A Trump Presidency

This is going to be bad. Really Bad.
I've noticed that fairly large numbers of people are trying to treat the coming Trump administration as a normal political moment. It's not. What is happening now transcends our normal partisan divides and ideological debates. If our response to this election is no different from how we responded to Romney v Obama or Bush v Kerry, we're seriously misreading the moment.

It is possible that Trump's presidency will not be a disaster. But we should be honest that such a hope is a leap in the dark. It's blind optimism. It is possible that Trump's first 70 years on this earth were the opposite of the coming four years. It is possible that Trump's campaign was a wild ruse telling us nothing about his administration. If, on the other hand, you simply believe that Trump's past behavior and declared intentions are a rough guide to how he will govern, we are entering into the darkest and most dangerous time in modern American history.

In contrast to every other modern American president, Trump's basic instincts are authoritarian. He does not believe in liberal democracy. He is a demagogue willing to stoke the most dangerous fault lines in our society in order to gain power for himself. We now must hope that his foolishness creates a presidency marked more by simple bungling than by a coherent plan of oppression.

If you are a moderate and peaceful soul inclined to say, "Let's give him a chance," you have already been disappointed. After the election, when asked if his rhetoric had gone too far, Trump responded, "No, I won." Perhaps there is no clearer statement of the moral code of this unrepentant man. Strength and winning are good. Weakness and losing are bad. Innocent human beings are fodder for the whims of the strong.

Trump's early appointments demonstrate his sincerity. He ran as an authoritarian white nationalist. Now he has appointed Steve Bannon as his chief strategist, a radical who proudly declared that his loathsome website was a platform for the racist alt-right crowd. He has brought on retired General Michael Flynn as his National Security Advisor, a man who is explicitly Islamaphobic. He named Jeff Sessions as his Attorney General, a man who supports mass incarceration and opposes voting rights.

So what should we expect from a Trump presidency? Start by assuming that Trump has generally been sincere and will try to govern roughly as he campaigned. He will continue to lie with impunity, and will seek to silence and bully the press to make his lies seem normal. He will continue to create a climate of hostility against nearly everyone who isn't Christian, White, heterosexual, and male. Muslims and immigrants are likely to be targeted with special harshness.

Expect some moments of calm. Expect the media to tell us about Trump's surprising moderation. But four years is a long time. If Trump doesn't launch a proactive campaign of oppression beginning January 20, it is likely to be only a matter of time. It's not that Trump will have a coherent plan to subdue the Republic. Indeed, probably his only clear plan so far is to arrange his affairs to allow maximum corruption and profiteering. This he has already begun to do. If nothing else, he and and his children intend to become very rich. But recall, again, that Trump's instincts are authoritarian and demagogic. There are going to be crises, both foreign and domestic, during the next four years. Trump will not respond well to any of them. Trump's mercurial and vindictive character will come through. And the thought of men like Bannon and Sessions whispering in Trump's ear is not comforting.

It is possible things will somehow turn out more or less alright. But the more likely scenario is that we are entering a very dangerous time. Much of the media will continue to follow after the latest shiny object. We must discipline ourselves to pay attention to the big and important questions:

How is Trump subverting democratic norms?

How is he weakening constitutional protections?

Who is he endangering?

We must be aware of the stories that might occur quietly in the background of a Trump administration, from a Justice Department that will actively support white supremacy, to a Trump family that will enrich itself at the public's expense. Depending how much money Trump can persuade the Republican congress to spend, the economy may be booming. If that happens, most Americans will be satisfied and will let oppression and corruption spread. Will you be satisfied?

How are you going to maintain your integrity?

We must resist. Remember how you felt in the summer of 2015 when Trump came down the escalator? It was an entertainment story. Trump as president was too absurd to seriously consider. Keep that feeling. You were right. It's still absurd. It's still a disgrace. If we lose sight of that basic fact we've lost something important, we've lost some of our own decency.

We must be loving, militant, disciplined, and nonviolent in deed and in spirit. We must pray for Donald Trump. Pray that he will repent of his evil designs. During the next four years we are likely going to need to take to the streets in protest. We are going to need to be organized in our communities and ready to act in solidarity with any group Trump targets. We are going to have to put unprecedented pressure on a Republican congress that has few moral scruples but will respond to power. We must treat an attack on Muslims as an attack on us. We must be prepared to protect the DACA kids from deportation.

The fake world Trump and his most ardent supporters are creating is only going to grow stronger. Just as millions of people have been portraying Trump as a decent man, millions of people will stand ready to explain and excuse any oppression during the Trump administration. If a terrorist attack takes place on U.S. soil and Trump begins putting Muslims in detention camps, millions of our fellow Americans will defend him. If Trump begins murdering Muslim Americans, millions of people stand ready to explain how it's really not as bad as the liberal media makes it seem.

We must engage Trump supporters with undiminished love and decency. Love is resistance. We must be open-hearted, lacking bitterness or animosity. We cannot rely on the usual norms of respectability that help us be kind to each other. We must love not because Trumpism is reasonable, but because the people who have put their faith in it are human beings made by God, and are infinitely valuable. And so, too, are all the people Trumpism will hurt. In the dark era we are entering, affirming the sacred worth of every person we encounter is an act of resistance.


  1. Jesse, this is one of your better posts, if not the best. I keep hoping you are seeing this all wrong or even somewhat wrong. But as I hear each new appointment by Trump, I fear you are right. Will I have the courage to stand by my convictions? We will see.