Well, this Oughta’ be Interesting…

by Dwayne Holmes

On the night of the election, I went to bed thinking Hillary Clinton was going to win (though it might be a close shave electorally), Democrats could regain control of the Senate, and a third party (if lucky) might get the numbers needed for national success in future elections.

I was in for a rude awakening.

By morning, not only had everything I’d expected or wanted not come true, the very worst had happened (from my political perspective). Donald Trump had been elected, Republicans kept their hold on both houses of Congress, while third parties remained locked out (a near miss).

Staring at the news on my computer screen, my brain barely out of sleep mode, I smiled and thought to myself  “Well, this oughta’ be interesting.” Not interesting in a good way, but interesting in the mythical “Chinese curse” way.  You know. When someone says, “May you live in interesting times.” [1]

Without question, the results I was looking at meant a lot of things were going to change and more than likely not in a direction I would like.  So yeah, the world was about to get seriously “interesting” and stay that way for some time to come.

I wondered how all those people who’d made apocalyptic predictions about a Trump victory were going to handle the news.  Not being in that camp, I was buffered from extreme shock, horror, or despair. [2] It was likely we’d live through this, just as we’d survived Bush Jr’s two terms in office (even if we’d be better off without it). My biggest concern was that with the Republicans controlling both Congress and the White House, the Supreme Court was as good as theirs too. A single party had gained a monopoly on federal power, and that’s never good.

Still, one fact gave me a little hope. Trump was neither a career politician, nor a stereotypical republican. He’s different from a Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, or Rick Santorum, whose actions would run pretty much by the Republican playbook.  While I can’t expect much to go the way I like, I suspect at times things may get equally “interesting” for Republicans.  That is, to for those Republicans who aren’t a bit flexible with their ideology.

While many on the left compared Trump to Hitler and other dictators, my main complaint was that he seemed like a clown.  He certainly talked like a clownish doofus: tactless, lacking foresight and with a limited, childlike vocabulary. Unlike the well-known strongmen of history, I hadn’t seen any solid goals or ideologies being touted.  It was just a lot of talking and talking, with no closure. He flipped and flopped.  Words spraying in every direction.  Pure braggadocio. [3]

Of course, for all I considered him a clown, I guess the joke is on me. He won. But the laugh might also be on hardcore, conservative Republicans. Trump has already made clear that he doesn’t have to do what the establishment wants, and what exactly he wants is unclear. If he was their trump card (no pun intended) in winning the White House, he was hardly an Ace in the hole, but more like a Joker … a wildcard.

In victory — at least so far — Trump has been magnanimous, neither gloating nor boastful beyond reason. Post-election, he’s seemed (almost) presidential. While that comes as a surprise to many on the Left (including me), it seems to be equally surprising to some on the Right. I’ve seen Trump supporters who are upset that he praised Clinton in his victory speech and that his meeting with Obama went off smoothly (and Trump even praised him too). Uh-oh.

Do you know what’s coming next?  I don’t.

What I can do is set out my limited expectations for the Trump administration, as well as the kinds of developments in light of which I’d have to admit I was wrong — that Trump was either a decent president (to those on the Right), or that he was in fact the Clown Prince of Evil (to those on the hyperbolic Left).

The reasonably good.  If at the end of four years he manages to avoid major wars (and other acts of state violence), the economy stays about where it is, US infrastructure is (somewhat) improved, healthcare gets no worse than it is now, and minority rights stay about the same I’d say he did well enough as could be expected. [4]  While I doubt this will happen, it’s not impossible, and I’d be willing to admit I was wrong and give him full credit.

The reasonably bad.  If asked what I thought was most likely to happen in the next four years it would be this [5]: our economy will proceed back down the toilet (as started with Bush Jr’s firm flush), economic inequality will continue to increase, healthcare will get worse (except for the wealthy), lobbying and control by special interests (and particularly the financial sector) will increase and become more entrenched, US infrastructure will continue to deteriorate, education costs will continue to rise, with no relief for students (perhaps worsening for those in debt), civil rights in general (from minority rights to general things like freedom of speech) will erode, at least one new violent conflict/war will occur [6], and presidential gaffes will become a “thing” again. If these kinds of things happen, I would say that aside from being a gaffe factory, Trump performed no worse than one might expect from an average republican president (and some democrats). Social and civil rights might have suffered even more under the presidency of a truly ideologically-driven type, like Ted Cruz or Rick Santorum.

The unreasonably ugly.  If, in the midst of a Twitter war, Trump decides to end it all by hitting “send” using the Big Red Button, I will freely admit that his most hyperbolic critics were right.  The same goes if he starts the equivalent of the fourth Reich or engages in Stalinist purges of minorities and political enemies.  In short, if Trump works to destroy the fabric of our democracy and/or manages to wipe out most life on the planet (intentionally or otherwise), I’ll admit he was the monster some people claimed he was and I probably should have worked a lot harder to keep him out of power. (Obviously, I will have had to survive the cataclysm, in order to make such an observation.)

Anyway, these are my expectations, plus some circumstances, under which I’d admit I was wrong (to either side).  I’m curious if others are willing to put out their own lists and admit their error as the Trump presidency unfolds. That includes Trump supporters.

Well, if I am to be completely honest, I have to mention one other possible outcome.  The excluded fringe possibility. The “exception to all things I could ever imagine.” Omitting this would be arguably unfair to a man who managed to beat the odds (as well as my expectations) all along the way. [7]

What if Trump actually wants to be considered a great president by all US citizens, and so works hard toward that end?  Whether we assume it is out of ego or out of a love for his country, it doesn’t really matter. He did what it took to win the nomination and then the presidency, but he still has to prove that he actually is a great president … in fact, the greatest!

He almost said as much in his acceptance speech.

Donald the Great.  I will happily eat a giant slice of humble pie if, at the end of the next four years: the economy is doing well, there have been no significant wars (or other acts of violence), LGBT rights are at least where they stand now, reproductive choice is still about where it stands now, student debt has been addressed such that college is no longer an undue financial burden, healthcare is affordable and absent of abuse by insurance companies (in other words no denials for pre-existing conditions and the like), freedom of speech and the press improve (right now they are repressed), government becomes less influenced by special interests (particularly Wall Street and Big Pharma), elections become less dependent on big money in general (plus “rigging” by the two major party system), America’s infrastructure and its standing in the world have both improved.  Heck, if I am going that far what if, just maybe, acting as some crypto-liberal, he manages to slide in Supreme Court justices that are palatable to both sides?

Could this happen?  Well, given everything that has happened up until this point, why not?  It’s a cosmic joke that I would greatly appreciate.

Now here’s the rub.  At this moment we have the power to make any of these outcomes more or less likely. For liberals, the question is this: Is it more important to have one’s deepest fears about Trump proven right (and in our less mature moments hoping to see him tumble and fall like Bush Jr)? Or is it more important to make sure Trump gets as much help and good counsel as he needs to avoid the worst (and preferably attain the best) outcomes for us all, even if it means having to swallow one’s pride (as well as certain, er, aesthetic values)?

As I mentioned earlier, Trump’s acceptance speech was surprisingly magnanimous.  What’s more, he openly invited Democrats and independents to work with his administration. [8] Since then, he has said that he would seek Obama’s counsel in the future, and just this morning while doing last-minute touch-ups on this piece, I see that he has decided to keep in place key provisions (the ones I care about) of so-called Obamacare. [9]

Perhaps it is wise to follow the trend and be equally magnanimous in defeat. It would be a tragic loss if liberals, in expecting and preparing for only the worst from Trump, fail to take advantage of any access Trump grants for shaping his administration’s policies.

Indeed, we might take a cue from the song his campaign mysteriously chose to play directly after Trump’s acceptance speech (no seriously, find the full video for that)…

You can’t always get what you want…

(but if you try sometime,

you might find,

you get what you need)

It’s something to seriously consider, especially when facing a strong, and more ideologically  based Republican Congress. Few “New York values” to be found there for sure.

In the end, Trump might be the closest thing liberals have to an ally (with any real power) in the federal government for the next four years.

Interesting times, right?

Notes

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/May_you_live_in_interesting_times
  1. Of course, I did feel a significant level of disgust and disappointment. A reality TV star (whose show I at least had the option of turning off) managed to reach the White House, where he’d basically be unavoidable for at least the next four years of my life? Did a majority of US voters really think this is the best we have to offer? It seemed like a horrible prank gone wrong. Shall I begin preparing myself for Honey Boo-Boo 2032?
  1. But this raises the question of if it is braggadocio, when you actually come through on your claims? Like Muhammad Ali, a master of the big brag, who went on to prove he really was the best after all, Trump has so far made his way past all of his critics to the very top. Did Trump just pull off the greatest rope-a-dope in history?
  1. Regarding minority rights, I understand why people might consider Trump sexist and racist, but I haven’t seen him make overtly homophobic comments, much less call for anti-LGBT laws (beyond anything equally citable for Clinton). This makes me think LGBT rights may be safer than, say, reproductive rights. Yes, I am aware his VP is guilty on all of these counts and Trump has mentioned putting someone like Scalia on the Supreme Court. But I can’t figure out if that is revealing some hidden anti-LGBT feelings and agenda or simple pandering to a socially conservative voter base. I admit, I don’t know. And neither do his supporters. I’ve watched some argue among themselves whether he will be pro- or anti-LGBT.  On the pro- side Trump has said positive things about LGBTs, and managed to put an openly gay man front, center, and proudly “out” about being gay at the Republican National Convention (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UTJB8AkT1dk).  At another event, he even held up a rainbow flag, showing he openly accepts support from the LGBT community.

http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/nov/2/donald-trump-holds-high-flag-gay-equality/

I never expected to see either of these things at Republican events. So while he might slide on other civil rights issues, it seems reasonable he might (which is not to say will) keep anti-LGBT rights issues off his agenda.

  1. This is based mostly on Trump’s having to work on an agenda set by a Republican-led Congress, amplified to some degree by his buffoonish, wealth-centric nature (whether that is just a character he plays on/for TV I don’t know) and lack of experience with government.
  1. Outside of escalation of current conflicts we are already involved with/caused, I tend to think new major conflicts will be initiated by other nations. No matter how hot-headed Trump seems, war is not very good for his kind of business, and currently we don’t have the money for more wars. So I don’t see much incentive there. He definitely doesn’t want to end up like Bush Jr. However, other nations may play upon his needing to look tough or begin wars in in order to suck the US into getting involved.
  1. Seth Meyers put this well, while trying to deal with Trump’s election, in an opening monologue (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bEskg0Z-NAQ).
  1. Did anyone else notice something exceptional about Trump’s acceptance speech? If you haven’t watched, check it out. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V1l7TA6hL4s) It has to be the first time that I can recall a president not mentioning God at all. Not even a “God bless America” at the end. It was a totally secular speech.  This can be compared to Clinton’s concession speech, which ended on a quote from the Bible, and the mandatory God blessing this and that. Now that is a change I can believe in.

9. Again, have we ever seen or heard the real Trump? These seem like the actions of a rational man.  He even cites his conversation with Obama for having convinced him to keep provisions in place. Heh … I’ll bet some on the Right will need to see their doctor if this turns out to be true:  http://www.bbc.com/news/election-us-2016-37953528

6 Comments »

  1. A Reality TV Star?!!!

    Riveting 45 minute discussion below about relativism and reality. If you don’t have time for the whole thing, John Searle’s assertion in the last minute that many of our claims about reality are subject to a CHECK about reality. If you watch enough election post mortem videos and read enough blog entries one gets that this election and Brexit were some type of check about reality. A cruel check indeed by some apocalyptic figure indeed if you are on one side. Politics is full of those truth claims; and I can’t get that image out of my head of Jeb Bush staring at Trump during those endless debates with that vacuous befuddled look on his face along with those smirks as if he were saying, “Donald, Donald, cool it, cool it, it’s not supposed to be like this, you have to be more professional…..”

    http://www.tvf.co.uk/news/tvf-arts/iai-tv-sparks-philosophy-head-to-head-with-john-searle

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  2. Hi Mark, thanks! One thing you could contribute (I’d definitely be interested to see) are what conditions you would have for a successful/failed Trump presidency. Even if you generally agreed with my lists, maybe you spotted something I didn’t include?

    …………..

    Hi Victor, yes a reality TV star. Note that point mostly points to an aesthetic issue rather than any substantive issue I’d have with Trump.

    It took a bit to figure out what you were arguing, and I didn’t quite see what the video had to do with what I was talking about. But I watched the video anyway. It was interesting on its own and Searle… oddly, with a rifle framed as if floating above his head… wiped the floor with Hilary (not Hillary). Though maybe Dan would disagree. Anyway, now I get what you mean.

    In the end I think the largest reality check was on one single person’s ego trip, as well as that person’s longtime supporters, and it was not Trump’s. But yeah, many in the reps were caught by surprise on their own assumptions of what “closure” to be a presidential candidate would entail.

    As I suggest, I hope some of the beliefs about Trump by the reps will get a reality check, as many of the hyperbolic ones from the left will too.

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  3. “I’d definitely be interested to see what conditions you would have for a successful/failed Trump presidency. Even if you generally agreed with my lists, maybe you spotted something I didn’t include.”

    Monetary and fiscal policy, interest rates, deficits, sovereign debt, consumer debt: these are the sorts of things I am looking at (in addition to foreign policy). The American economy is basically consumer driven, and consumer debt is higher now than it was in 2007-8. The national debt is *much* higher. So the US seems to be in a situation which is impossible to get out of without economic pain (and political pain for the President). Interest rates have to rise if bad inflation is to be avoided down the track, but significantly higher interest rates will lead to asset prices crashing and recession.

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  4. Dwayne,

    It is just this level of anxiety and uncertainty that we developed professional politicians to avoid. It is not the fulfillment of Trump’s open promises we need to fear – even a Republican Congress would be unlikely to appropriate funds for mass deportation or for the wall. The real problem is the continuing degradation of political discourse in America, and the mainstreaming of the extreme Right. This means that the social fabric of our communities will continue to decay and at an accelerated pace, certainly engaging intractable quarreling and possibly violence. Again, the jobs that Trump has promised will not show up. There may be some leveling off of the economy, but there may also be a new recession, since our economy is entangled with the global economy, and efforts to pull out of this would cause serious problems. Dealing with international finance is impossibly more complicated than hiring accounts to jigger one’s tax records.

    Exactly how Trump’s foreign policy plays out is unclear, although his involvement with Russia is disturbing. But of the real hot-spots globally Trump and his advisors have little understanding. Outside of the mess in the Mid-East, keep close attention to the Korean peninsula, which Trump clearly doesn’t get and has little interest in. Just a little reminder: there was never a treaty signed with North Korea, only a truce; technically, Korea is still at war.

    In the long run, I think Trump’s election ends Pax Americana. This is indeed the Chinese century. And they have little interest in military intervention, preferring economic cooperation and leveraging. Perhaps ultimately their form of ‘democracy’ will also prove stronger than ours. They’ve already had their extremists in power, and no Chinese wants to relive the Cultural Revolution.

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  5. Hi EJ, yes for all of Trump’s bashing of China, and people fearing he’d start a war with China, they are already in a sense engaged in a deep competition with the US on the world stage and it is based on something we can’t really “fight” in some aggressive way.

    We went yang they went yin. We’ve expended our resources on control to the point of exhaustion while they have built connections all over the place which redirected flow of resources (and commitment) to themselves.

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