Imagine President Trump

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What comes after Trump? Don’t count your chickens. Trump could very well win.

Yes, if Clinton survives this election, we desperately need to talk about where we all go next: how to repair all he has damaged, find shared purpose again, and build a country that works for all of us, including those who support him.

But that must wait. Right now the best contribution I can make is to contemplate what America will look like if Mr. Trump becomes President.

I write this to people who want a fairer, more humane country, one where we look for and encourage the best in each other. I write to people who want to lay the groundwork for long-term positive change… especially people who don’t like Hillary Clinton. 

I believe Trump will make it virtually impossible to achieve our shared goals for a long time. Maybe forever, because democracies don’t last forever, and societies can collapse.

Trump has often obscured what he might actually do. He reverses himself constantly. He specializes in telling people just what they want to hear. And he possesses demonic gifts for getting people to imagine that he’ll give him exactly whatever it is they they want.

It’s just the way his Trump University manual taught salespeople what to say to bamboozle their victims: “We will show you how to thrive in real estate and control your own financial destiny, and the best part is: when you double your income from real estate part time, you can quit your job, work twenty five hours a week, and create more wealth than you have ever dreamed of.” Trump has always known how to zero in on people’s hopes, fears, and vulnerabilities, to set up a zero-sum game where he wins at everyone else’s expense.

But we’ve all been watching him closely for 18 months now. (What choice have we had?) So we finally know enough to intelligently assess how he will govern, with — as would be virtually certain — two houses of a Republican Congress supporting him and prodding him forward.

It won’t be pretty.

Everyone knows Trump will quickly make America an even angrier and crazier place. He has spent his entire public life promoting hatred, lies, and unfounded conspiracy theories. He told the lunatic Alex Jones — the guy who claimed the children at Sandy Hook Elementary School were never murdered“Your reputation is amazing. I will not let you down.”

We already know Trump has no problem smearing entire races or ethnic groups at will: Muslim Gold Star parents, courageous judges whose parents happened to be born in Mexico. We’ve seen the impact of Trump’s rhetoric on our streets and in our schools.

Imagine four more years of that.

Imagine waking up every morning and wondering: What has President Donald Trump done today to divide us, frighten us, and convince us to hate each other?

It hardly needs to be said, but I will: Hillary Clinton has never done anything like any of this. And it matters. A lot.

But, even beyond the hatred he unleashes, Trump will also rapidly make America a far more unequal place than it already is.

His April tax plan redistributed $3.2 trillion upwards to millionaires and billionaires. His revised tax plans look even more like those of Paul Ryan and the House Tea Party republicans. Billionaires will get what they want most: no more estate tax: up to $4 billion more for Trump’s own family, $4 billion less for education, health, and other federal programs.

Read Trump’s plans. Then imagine a Republican Congress happily passing them pretty much verbatim. Why wouldn’t they? It’s their plan. Why wouldn’t he sign it? It’s his plan.

If you were ever even slightly sympathetic to Occupy Wall Street, you need to help prevent this, and you have only one chance: this election.

If Trump wins, Obamacare will of course disappear… replaced with… what? Nothing. Because the Republican Congress will get what it wants. People will die, just as conservative economist Tyler Cowen said they should:

We need to accept the principle that sometimes poor people will die just because they are poor. Some of you don’t like the sound of that, but we already let the wealthy enjoy all sorts of other goods — most importantly status — which lengthen their lives and which the poor enjoy to a much lesser degree. We shouldn’t screw up our health care institutions by being determined to fight inegalitarian principles for one very select set of factors which determine health care outcomes.

Trump may not use Cowen’s words. They are far too literate and well-crafted for him, if no less vicious. But that is precisely what Trump and Ryan together will do, and again, we only have one chance to stop them: this election.

After Reagan’s and Bush’s massive tax cuts for the rich went into effect, deficits (predictably) soared. What happened next? The political dynamic shifted to make it even harder to fund even middle-class social programs, much less help the poor.

It’s obvious now that Republicans never really gave a damn about the deficit: Reagan didn’t, Cheney even said he didn’t. But they were thrilled to convince people — through their own financial irresponsibility — that we can’t afford to educate and care for each other. So forget Bernie’s free college if Trump gets elected; forget even Hillary’s partial plan; forget any of that. 

Do you worry about global warming? Do you believe action is urgent? Trump called it a Chinese hoax. He promises to immediately walk away from our international agreements, halt all US contributions to international global warming programs, and quickly reverse Obama executive orders on everything from car emissions to coal to wind power. Remember when people said Keystone XL was “game over” for climate change? Obama finally killed it. Trump, who has personally invested in it, wants to revive and approve it.

Trump will appoint judges who will eagerly permit states and localities to restrict voting by minorities. Black lives are even less likely to matter in a society that has once again disenfranchised them.

Prodded by Republicans to do what he already believes and has done in his own companies, Trump will overturn worker protections and union rights of every kind. With fewer progressive voters and fewer progressive resources, it will become even harder than it already is for progressives to organize and win. 

Don’t think Republicans aren’t thinking strategically about this. Don’t think they aren’t salivating at the thought that some of us might vote for Jill Stein.

Of course, most of the judges on Trump’s list share the same hard-core opposition to gay and transgender rights as Mike Pence. You know: the Vice Presidential candidate Trump hand-selected because when it’s really important to getting him elected, or when it’s about issues he really doesn’t care about, Trump’s instincts are to give the far right exactly what it wants.

Oh, and while we’re on the subject of marching backwards into the worst of the past, what exactly do you think he means when he says Clinton doesn’t have a “Presidential look”? The guys buying all that “Trump that b*tch” merch at his rallies know precisely what he means. The question isn’t whether you would choose Hillary Clinton is your imaginary favorite first woman President: it’s whether, in 2017, this man should succeed Barack and Michelle Obama in symbolizing gender relationships in America.

In a world that’s likely to become increasingly unstable no matter who is elected, Trump will promote unpredictability and chaos — all of which risks large-scale war even more than Clinton’s conventional hawkishness will.

As unpleasant as it is to hear graduates of the Bush national security apparatus endorsing Clinton, it’s even more unpleasant to see who’s advising and endorsing Trump. For instance, just today: Lieutenant General Thomas McInerey, who sued to challenge Obama’s citizenship and right to serve as commander-in-chief; and William G. Boykin, who described the war on terror as a battle between a “Christian nation” and the false “idol” of Islam.

I don’t love Clinton’s foreign policy. But the alternative is a candidate who wants to ban all Muslims, torture the innocent families of anyone he suspects of terrorism, and keeps asking why we can’t use our nuclear weapons. Expecting a more peaceful foreign policy from Trump is magical thinking.

For all of Clinton’s flaws, she at least understands that these are hard choices. We are still digging ourselves out from the last incurious President who thought everything was simple. God help us if we get another one.

Even where ideology isn’t at stake, Trump will make decisions based on his gut instincts and “very good brain,” rather than on anything normal people would recognize as “evidence.” Trump’s campaign team even admits they need to make sure he’s never left alone, because they can’t predict what he’ll tweet, insult, or do.

One thing I can’t imagine anyone denying: with Trump in office, the next four years will be about Trump, Trump, and Trump alone. But when politics is only about personality — even personalities that aren’t as narcissistic and sociopathic as Trump’s — progressive, inclusive social change rarely happens. Politics becomes about letting il Duce or der Führer handle it, just like he promised he would.

Last but not least, in the far-from-unlikely event of another economic crisis, Trump and his Republican partners in governance are likely to make the worst possible choices: decisions that could lead to a deep and lengthy depression.

In such an environment — with Trump’s alt-right hatred already mainstreamed and little chance of “lift-all-boats” growth — it’s far easier to imagine true fascism than progressive social change.

We now have 200 years of experience with the notion that “if times get worse, we can heighten the contradictions, and people will move left.” They don’t! “Heightening the contradictions” has repeatedly led to catastrophe — from the anarchist assassination of reformist Czar Alexander II (leading ultimately to Stalin) to the far left’s undermining of the German Weimar Republic and the (leading quickly to Hitler).

Which reminds me of one last thing. Why do you think Trump admires Putin’s leadership so much? Because Putin sees himself unconstrained by all constitutional limits. Putin has, through sheer force of will, essentially destroyed the forces in his society that disagree with him. Here in America, that includes you.

I’m no particular fan of Jeff Bezos, but when Bezos’s Washington Post criticizes Trump, Trump threatens to sic the Justice Department on him. In this post-Snowden era, all that was once arguably theoretical about the domestic abuse of government power will be right on the table if Mr. Trump owns the NSA and CIA. Nixon’s “Enemies List” will look unimaginably quaint. And do you see anything about either the Republican or Democratic Party that tells you they will stand up to him if he has an electoral mandate and the power of the Presidency behind him?

Anyone who thinks my rhetoric is overheated: Why? If you don’t think Trump’s election could well generate outcomes like these, why don’t you think so? Really: please walk me through your reasoning that it “won’t be so bad.” Be specific: give me details. 

I truly believe: if you want progressive social change, please don’t vote for Stein, or Johnson, or stay home. Please vote for Clinton, no matter how you feel about her. Then take whatever progress she is willing to give you. Build coalitions with her when she wants to do the right thing and needs public support. Pressure her where she isn’t already on your side. And build a long-term movement so you’ll have better choices next time. “Our Revolution,” Green, whatever you choose, after the election, but first things first.

Consider that most progressive social change in this country has occurred when a “compromised” progressive (such as FDR, JFK, LBJ, or Obama) has been in office. They were all subject to great criticism in their time for falling short, being insufficiently transformative, too corrupted by economic elites. Their social programs were far from perfect, but they created the basis for greater progress.

Then consider how little progress occurred in the teeth of a Nixon, Reagan, or George W. Bush. Forgive my personal recollection: it was simply exhausting. Whether as activists, citizens, or voters, we used up all our energy every day just struggling to protect the gains of those who’d come before, if we could even accomplish that.

Trump will be far worse.

That’s my message in a nutshell: With Clinton in office, progress will at least be possible on many of the issues we’ve passionately fought for over the past several years. With Trump, we’ll be fighting alone every day to stay afloat against disaster. Après Trump le déluge.

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