I don’t have any illusion that anybody cares what I expect of Donald Trump’s presidency. I don’t think I have any special knowledge. If anybody reads this, it won’t give them tips on how to prevent the impending damage, or improve their own position. In short, this post serves only one purpose: it allows me to put my markers down, so if I happen to be proven right, I’ll be able to point to it. (Or, more literally, send out emails with the link, saying “I told you so!”)
Trump is so far from our national experience that it’s dangerous to make predictions based on similar candidates in the past – there just aren’t any good models. As he has proven again and again, he’s willing to do things that nobody else has ever gotten away with, and that nobody thinks he can get away with either – until he does.
But we shouldn’t confuse his breaking our expectations with his ability to transcend physical or mathematical laws. His businesses may have used bizarre tactics, but none of them have been particularly successful or profitable. And he shows few signs (none, really) of maturing over time, so we can assume his future actions will be re-enactments of the things he believes worked for him in the past. He’s not likely to try anything truly against type, such as honesty, dependability, or trustworthiness.
So here are a few predictions:
- Over the next six months or so, he’ll enjoy the honeymoon period every new administration is granted, as people who were on the fence give him the benefit of the doubt. Because he starts out far less popular than any newly elected president in modern history, his honeymoon won’t take him to the soaring heights; there are just too many people who are already on to him. But his favorable numbers, which are now 45-50% will rise to something like 60 or even 65%. The opposition will become distraught as the Republican majorities appear to be enjoying a sort of public mandate for all the crazy and destructive things they’ll be working on.
- Trump will have no real problem with Congress. Both houses are controlled by right-wing extremists, who will quickly assemble legislation which will shock even the people who think they’re prepared for what will come. Abortion rights, voting rights, union rights, free speech, academic independence – they’ll all find themselves beleaguered and desperate for support. Trump won’t be a problem for this agenda, not because he agrees with it – he doesn’t actually have any fixed political views at all. But he will quickly discover the Republican leaders in Congress will give him any symbolic victory he wants, in exchange for his signing off on their (non-symbolic) power grab.
- This will all proceed for at least six months, with only an occasional hiccup. But Trump’s continued incontinence, combined with Republican overreach, will begin to create problems for themselves. Public support will peak, and then begin to slacken, as the Republicans are seen undermining popular programs and positions. That doesn’t mean they won’t be successful, but only that each success will cost them.
- Pretty soon, we’ll see the first glimmerings of evidence that Trump can’t repeal the fundamental laws that govern public administration. In particular, Trump has always shown that he’s completely incapable of genuinely delegating authority to autonomous subordinates. If somebody isn’t family, and they begin to show independent judgment, Trump turns on them. His businesses, like his presidential campaign, have always been hollow structures that simply echoed his personality. He can’t trust outsiders, and he can’t keep his hands off the controls. The result – in every century and every society – is an inefficient and corrupt mess. The Federal government in 2017 is WAY too large for Trump’s personal deal-making to be effective.
- For a while, each cabinet department can coast on inertia. But in one case after another, major problems will arise due to the incompetence, inexperience, and fanaticism of the people Trump has selected, both at the Secretary level and one or two levels below that. At first, the public won’t perceive a pattern, and will give Trump some slack. But as the honeymoon period wanes, public tolerance for wackiness and dysfunction will wear very thin.
- Sometime about a year from now, the first glimmerings of investigations and even prosecutions will emerge. One result of putting outsiders with no experience in control is that hundreds of tempting financial opportunities will be left unguarded. People who until now have been running scams of a few thousand dollars at a time will suddenly realize there are opportunities in the million and billion dollar range, if only they find the courage to grab for them. Purchasing, hiring, grant evaluation – they total in the TRILLIONS of dollars. As Ronald Reagan’s administration demonstrated, a few dozen petty crooks can create a cesspool that encompasses the entire Federal government and every department of the cabinet.
- Trump’s reaction to the relative acclaim and calm of the honeymoon period has already proven to be brittle and hyper-reactive, in keeping with his character. As public support drops into the forties, and then the thirties, various investigators will feel free to pursue the infinite number of loose ends Trump always leaves. Criminal investigations. Civil suits. Journalists. Leakers. Political opponents and opportunists. Pretty soon, Trump will find himself surrounded by critics, and – once his popularity drops – he won’t have the firepower to keep them at bay.
- Eventually, this is going to cause a terrible problem for the Republican Party, much like the anguish we saw during both the campaign for the nomination and again in the general election. Republican office-holders will realize they have to either be WITH Trump or AGAINST him. They either have to assist those who are undermining him, or they have to circle the wagons and threaten the heretics with burning. My guess is that – even as Trump loses public sympathy – the Republican hierarchy will keep making the decision to draw together in his support. This would be very similar to the Republican experience in 1974 with Nixon, where a few took well-remembered positions of courageous opposition, while the overwhelming majority stood silently with him until the end. (And were routed in the 1974 elections, as a result.)
- I see one large dark cloud on this scene, which might allow Trump to continue his scams for several additional years – conceivably even long enough to be reelected in 2020. All he would need would be some sort of violent threat, to cause the public in its simpleminded patriotism, so rally around him. Either a foreign war (See: Grenada) or domestic terrorist incident (See: September 11) could do the trick. In the past, I would have taken for granted that such events would have been governed by the random forces of history. But both Trump and his Russian friends have made clear that they’d be perfectly willing to fabricate whatever incident would allow Trump to continue his depredations. The impact on world history (and less important, on the Republican Party) would be incalculable, and not in a good way.