A Philosopher's Blog

Trump, Terror and Hope

Posted in Law, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on November 14, 2016

speaking at CPAC in Washington D.C. on Februar...

After Trump’s victory, my friends who backed him rejoiced in their triumph over the liberal elite and look forward in the hope that Trump will do everything he said he would do. Many of my other friends look forward in terror at that same outcome. As one might imagine, Hitler analogies are the order of the day—both for those who love Trump and those who loath him. While my political science studies are years behind me, I thought it would be worthwhile to have a rational discussion about what Trump is likely to do within the limits of his powers. This assumes that he does not hand the office over to Pence and get to work on Trump TV when he finally finds out about what he’ll need to do as President.

One thing that will disappoint his supporters and give hope to his opponents is that politicians rarely keep all their promises. Trump also has quite a track record of failing to follow through on his promises and his ghost-written The Art of the Deal lays out how he regards hyperbole as a useful tactic. As such, his promises should be regarded with skepticism until there is evidence he is trying to keep them. If Trump plans to run in 2020 he will need to work on keeping his promises; but if plans on being a one term president, then this need not concern him very much. Then again, people voted for him once knowing what he is, so they might well do so again even if he delivers little or nothing.

Trump also faces the limits imposed by reality. He will not be able to, for example, get Mexico to pay for the wall. As another example, he will not be able to restore those lost manufacturing jobs. As such, reality will dash the hopes of his supporters in many ways. Assuming, of course, they believed him.

There are also the obvious legal limits on his power as set by the constitution and laws. His supporters will rejoice in the fact that since 9/11 the powers of the presidency have expanded dramatically. While Obama originally expressed concerns about this, he did little or nothing to rein in these powers. For example, he made extensive use of executive powers to conduct drone executions. As such, Trump will be stepping into a very powerful position and will be able to do a great deal using, for example, executive orders. While these powers are not unlimited, they are extensive.

Those who oppose Trump will certainly hope that the legal limits on the office, such as they are, will restrain Trump. They can also hope that the system of checks and balances will keep him in check. Trump’s rhetoric seems to indicate that he thinks he will be able to run the country like he runs his business, which is not the case. The legislative and judicial branches will resist incursions into their power; at least when doing so is in their interest.

There is, however, an obvious concern for those worried about Trump: his party controls the House and Senate. His party will also control the Supreme Court, assuming he appoints a conservative judge. As such, there will be no effective governmental opposition to Trump, as long as he does not interfere with the goals of his fellow Republicans in the House and Senate.

This is where matters get a bit complicated. On the one hand, the Republicans will presumably try to work together, since they are all in the same party and claim to accept the same ideology. On the other hand, Trump has said things that are contrary to traditional Republican ideology, such as his rejection of free trade and his view of American defense commitments to our allies. Trump and the Republican leadership also have had their conflicts during the primary and the campaign; these might flare up again after the honeymoon is over. So, America might see the Republican House or Senate opposing some of President Trump’s plans. This is, of course, not unprecedented in American history. A key question is, of course, how much the Republicans in congress will stick to their professed ideology and how much they will go along with Trump. There is even the possibility that some of what Trump wants to do will be opposed on the grounds of principle.

While Trump ran on the usual bullshit rhetoric of going to Washington to “blow things up” and “drain the swamp”, doing this would involve going hard against congress and the established political elites. As much as I would love to see Trump getting into a death match with Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, I think we can expect Trump to settle into politics as usual. Even if he does get into it with congress, Trump has no real experience in politics and seems to lack even a basic understanding of how the system works. As such, Trump would presumably be at a huge disadvantage. Which could be a good thing for those who oppose him.

While predicting exactly what will happen is not possible, it seems reasonable to expect that the total Republican control will allow them to undo much of what Obama did. Trump can simply undo Obama’s executive orders on his own and Trump will certainly not use his veto to thwart congress to protect Obama’s legacy. So, expect Obamacare to be dismantled and expect changes to how immigration is handled.

The restoration of conservative control of the Supreme court will initially not be much of a change from before; although the advanced age of some of the judges means that Trump is likely to be able to make more appointments. Unlike Obama, he can expect the Senate to hold hearings and probably approve of his choices. That said, the Senate will probably not simply rubber stamp his choice—something that might frustrate him. However, as long the senate remains under Republican control he will have a far easier time getting judges that will rule as he wants them to rule into the court. This is, of course, what the evangelical voters hope for—a supreme court that will overturn Roe v Wade. This is also the nightmare of those who support reproductive rights.

If Trump can shape the court, he can use this court to expand his power and erode rights. Because he is thin skinned and engages in behavior that justly results in condemnation, he wants to loosen up the libel laws so he can sue people. Trump, despite being essentially a product of the media, professes to loath the news media. At least reporters who dare to criticize him. If he had the sort of supreme court he wants, we could see the First Amendment weakened significantly.

Trump has also made the promise of going up against the elites. While he certainly has a dislike of the elites that look down on him (some have described him as a peasant with lots of gold), he is one of the elites and engaging the systematic advantages of the elites would harm him. Trump does not seem like the sort to engage in an altruistic sacrifice, so this seems unlikely. There is also the fact that the elite excel at staying elite—so he would be hard pressed to defeat the elite should they in battle meet.

Trump is also limited by the people. While the president has great power, he is still just a primate in pants and needs everyone else to make things happen and go along with him. He also might need to be concerned about public opinion and this can put a check on his behavior. Or perhaps not—Trump did not seem overly worried about condemnation of his behavior during the campaign.

Citizens can, of course, oppose Trump in words and deeds. While the next presidential election is in four years, there will be other elections and people can vote for politicians who will resist Trump. Of course, if more people had voted in the actual election, this might not be something that would need doing now.  Those who back him should, of course, vote for those who will do his will.

As a rule, people tend to err significantly in their assessments of politicians—they tend to think they will do far more good or evil than these politicians deliver. For example, some hoped and others feared that Obama would radically change the country. His proponents had glorious dreams of a post-racial America with health care for all and his opponents had feverish dreams of a Muslim-socialist state taking away all their guns. Both proved to be in error: America got a centrist, competent president. In the case of Trump, there are fears and dreams that he will be an American Hitler. The reality is likely to relieve those having nightmares about and disappoint those dreaming of people in white hoods advising Trump in the White House (although the KKK is apparently planning a parade for Trump).

In closing, while I suspect that the Trump presidency will be a burning train wreck that will make America long for the golden years of Obama, it will not be as bad as some fear. That said, history shows that only fools do not keep a wary eye on those in power.

 

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  1. ajmacdonaldjr said, on November 14, 2016 at 8:29 am

  2. WTP said, on November 14, 2016 at 9:00 am

    From ronster’s link on the Acceptance thread. Original from Scott Adams:

    This brings me to the anti-Trump protests. The protesters look as though they are protesting Trump, but they are not. They are locked in an imaginary world and battling their own hallucinations of the future. Here’s the setup that triggered them.

    1. They believe they are smart and well-informed.

    2. Their good judgement told them Trump is OBVIOUSLY the next Hitler, or something similarly bad.

    3. Half of the voters of the United States – including a lot of smart people – voted Trump into office anyway.

    Those “facts” can’t be reconciled in the minds of the anti-Trumpers. Mentally, something has to give. That’s where cognitive dissonance comes in.

    There are two ways for an anti-Trumper to interpret that reality. One option is to accept that if half the public doesn’t see Trump as a dangerous monster, perhaps he isn’t. But that would conflict with a person’s self-image as being smart and well-informed in the first place. When you violate a person’s self-image, it triggers cognitive dissonance to explain-away the discrepancy.

    So how do you explain-away Trump’s election if you think you are smart and you think you are well-informed and you think Trump is OBVIOUSLY a monster?

    You solve for that incongruity by hallucinating – literally – that Trump supporters KNOW Trump is a monster and they PREFER the monster. In this hallucination, the KKK is not a nutty fringe group but rather a symbol of how all Trump supporters must feel. (They don’t. Not even close.)

    In a rational world it would be obvious that Trump supporters include lots of brilliant and well-informed people. That fact – as obvious as it would seem – is invisible to the folks who can’t even imagine a world in which their powers of perception could be so wrong. To reconcile their world, they have to imagine all Trump supporters as defective in some moral or cognitive way, or both.

    As I often tell you, we all live in our own movies inside our heads. Humans did not evolve with the capability to understand their reality because it was not important to survival. Any illusion that keeps us alive long enough to procreate is good enough.

    That’s why the protestors live in a movie in which they are fighting against a monster called Trump and you live in a movie where you got the president you wanted for the changes you prefer. Same planet, different realities.

    #1 being the crux of the matter.

  3. DH said, on November 14, 2016 at 9:57 am

    My daughter is in the Peace Corps in Africa. In the fall, she had some time off and wanted to travel with some friends – but she was unable to leave the country. The reason? So many countries in Africa were having elections – which bore with them the risk of protests, demonstrations and the breakout of violence – that the Peace Corps deemed it too dangerous for the volunteers to travel.

    When she told me this, I was thankful that we live in a country that, no matter how much we disagree, we can hold civil elections and voice our objection through due process and the free election of representatives who will speak for us in Congress.

    I guess I was wrong.

    At 61, I have lived through eleven presidents – and with each new election the opposition predicts doom and gloom, the “end of America” the downfall of the economy, the start of World War III. I speak to “Never Trumpers” who make the obligatory comparisons to Hitler, and refuse to even think about the specific practical things that he might do or be able to do.

    Meanwhile, on college campuses in my area local police are investigating swastikas painted on dorm walls with “Trump” painted alongside, and the college presidents have issued formal emails to international students who fear that they will be targeted and deported and LGBTQ students who are afraid their rights will be trampled.

    Meanwhile, there are faculty and students who actually voted for Trump, or who support the results of the election, or who voted against Hillary, who experience similar fear – who speak about their support behind closed doors in hushed tones, for fear of being the target of genuine angry mobs who are rising up around the country. This is not much different from 2008, when I learned very quickly that any criticism of the Obama administration in the wrong company would have me labeled as a racist, so I just kept my mouth shut.

    Incidentally, one of these hushed faculty members is a refugee from Syria. For months he refused to comment out loud about American politics, but finally spoke out to me (behind a closed door) about how he feared the American government and was astounded at the support of Hillary Clinton and the anticipated continuation of the individual power and corruption at the top of our government. In this, he likened the current administration to the country from which he escaped.

    If we have anything to fear in this country it is not the incoming administration, it is the violence and anger of the opposition party. New York and Los Angeles are no different from third world cities today.

    So what can we expect from this far-right administration that will be the downfall of our rights?

    1. A repeal and replace of Obamacare. Trump has already said that he intends to keep the guaranteed insurability provision and the extension of parents’ insurance to older children living at home. The rest of it has caused premiums and deductibles to rise beyond affordability, and has caused more damage than good. Part of his promise is to return to more free market options and the ability to take insurance with you across state lines and when you move from job to job, making insurance ownership centered on individuals and families rather than on corporations

    2. Financial reform, including the repeal or reform of Dodd-Frank, which precipitated the mortgage bubble, the artificial inflation of home prices, and the collapse of the mortgage market. Today, over-regulation makes it difficult if not impossible for small businesses to obtain loans; Trump aims to fix that.

    3. Gay marriage? He said that to him that is irrelevant. The Supreme Court already ruled on it, so it is not on his agenda.

    4. Although he probably won’t be able to accomplish this – he is seeking term limits for members of Congress. This goes to the entrenched corruption that is so inherent in our system, and a positive step to the “Drain the Swamp” rhetoric that you make light of. Many lifelong Liberal Democrat friends of mine believe that this corruption is the biggest issue facing America today, and refused to vote for Clinton on that basis alone.

    5. Severe restrictions on lobbying and conflicts of interest regarding foreign entities, American elections, and former White House officials

    Renegotiation of NAFTA, investment in infrastructure, withdrawal from the TPP, tax reform and more. It is an ambitious agenda and definitely right-leaning, but far, far from the fascist takeover that people imagine.

    Read more here – and feel free to compare any one of his points to anything that would “destroy America” or trample on our rights in a way that is remotely similar to Nazi Germany.

    People in this country need to calm down before they destroy it themselves.

    • DH said, on November 14, 2016 at 10:16 am

      I forgot to include the link to the “Read More Here” …

      http://www.npr.org/2016/11/09/501451368/here-is-what-donald-trump-wants-to-do-in-his-first-100-days

    • wtp said, on November 14, 2016 at 1:25 pm

      Meanwhile, on college campuses in my area local police are investigating swastikas painted on dorm walls with “Trump” painted alongside

      Are these messages supposed to have been painted by pro-Trump or anti-Trump people? There seems to be an outbreak of stories, no solid evidence mind you, of a horrible uprising of “alt-right” fascism, antisemitism, KKK activity, etc. being reported, in very left-leaning areas like near colleges and such. Oddly with the many, many reports of such no “alt-right” person seems to have been apprehended. Yet we do have video of Trump supporters being beaten bloodily, anti-Trump rioters destroying property and threatening people, and anti-Trump folks shaming their grammar school age children, throwing them out of the house, for voting for Trump in a mock election in school.

      • DH said, on November 14, 2016 at 2:18 pm

        It is my understanding that these swastikas are being painted by the anti-Trump people. I have not heard of any uprising of the alt-right activities you mention, though I have seen the videos.

        • wtp said, on November 14, 2016 at 5:46 pm

          It’s all unverifiable crap. “Oh, I was in a Chinese restaurant and some old white man told the waitress she should go back to Hong Kong”, “I was riding a bus and a woman in a hijab got yelled at and called a terrorist by some punks”, etc. Seeing a lot of that on a friend’s FB feed. The Chinese restaurant one most amused me. Why would someone that racist go to a Chinese restaurant in the first place?

  4. TJB said, on November 14, 2016 at 12:22 pm

    America got a centrist, competent president.

    Wow. Bill Clinton was a centrist. Obama has rejected everything Clinton stood for.

    Calling Obama a centrist is like calling reduced increases in spending “budget cuts.”

  5. nailheadtom said, on November 14, 2016 at 12:47 pm

    “While Trump ran on the usual bullshit rhetoric of going to Washington to “blow things up” and “drain the swamp”, doing this would involve going hard against congress and the established political elites.”

    The IRS that attempted to give the election to the Dems hasn’t been disbanded and repopulated with non-partisans. It doesn’t matter if Donald Trump or Donald Duck is the president, the federal machinery will keep turning in a process that enhances that same federal machinery. The many federal agencies have their own priorities and constituencies and no president can have a significant effect on them. Bureaucrats run the country.


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