I. New Business; The first 38 Days of President Trump.
1. The man's brain is addled. I never thought he was especially smart,but the feeble nature of his mental process and communication style is staggering. I first noticed this while listening to the inaugural address in my car. He obviously used professional speechwriters for the address but just couldn't help adding personal flourishes like this one:
"an education system, flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful
students deprived of all knowledge; and the crime and gangs and drugs that
have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized
have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized
Well that is pretty dark. But can you spot the Trump flourishes? I'm pretty sure he added "beautiful" to the description of students. And the phrase "deprived of all knowledge" is really asinine. I just looked at the official transcript ant the word "all" is not there, which means he ad libbed that perfectly pointless adjective.
Every public utterance by him is made in the goofy syntax of a middle school child or a recovering stroke patient. Whenever he is asked a substantive question, he wings it and betrays a lack of knowledge on whatever the issue is at hand. He has demonstrated a complete lack of knowledge with regard to Frederick Douglass, The Two State Solution, and the practicality of repealing and replacing Obamacare. I can't say that his brain has been deprived of all knowledge, but his capacity to think and speak seems to have diminished much more than in a typical man his age.
2. His management style is chaos. Every administration struggles to get their arms around the enormity of the American presidency. Team Trump is further handicapped by an unwillingness to let holdovers stay in important positions and an understandable refusal of many competent Repbulicans to be affiliated with the coming train wreck that this presidency is likely to become. There are hundreds of important jobs now vacant that he has not even nominated a successor. And the horrible execution of his immigration executive order is only the most public display of the disorganized shambles that this administration is.
3. His self-obsession and self-dealing are even greater than imagined. We're about to start the sixth week of his presidency and he still brags about winning a very narrow election as if it was the greatest accomplishment in human history. Even more troubling, he has no regard for the appearance of personal impropriety. He will never disgorge his financial conflicts and he obviously believes that there is no need to be subtle about this practice. He doubled the fees to join his country club, and now spends almost every weekend promoting the place in person. His hotels are profiting from foreign governments and he even landed a very valuable trademark for himself in China. This scam is the essential fact of Trump's presidency: his aim is to finally become the multi-billionaire that he always lied about being.
4. Congressional Republicans still think they can squeeze a conventional Republican agenda out of this shit show. The stock market is performing very well. Wall Street is still optimistic that the GOP will get major tax cuts and substantial reduction of economic regulations. It's very possible that they will, if Trump does not interfere with the process too much. He won't care about blowing a hole in the deficit, because he will declare any such predictions to be fake news. So the GOP can load up on tax cuts for the rich as long as the middle class also see some relief. This sugar rush will probably provide some additional growth this year and the job market might remain strong for the next 18 months or so. If that happens, the midterms will be less disastrous for Republicans than they probably fear now.
5. He is ruthless. His comments about the press and his obfuscations related to the Russian interference with his election are chilling. He obviously intends to obstruct any investigations of his election and to punish anyone who leaks unfavorable information to the media. He seems to believe that the media make an effective enemy for him and his plan to be re-elected is predicated on discrediting the very people tasked with exposing his corruption.
II. Old Business: The State of My Predictions About Trump
1. "The Iran Deal will be torn up."
He has been a bit reticent on this front. He still bad mouths the deal but he has not acted to unilaterally end the agreement. Some of this is due to his administration being bogged down in other fights but I think the greater measure of it can be attributed to the fact that the deal is good for America. The alternative is an Iran that is free to pursue nuclear weapons technology without any real threat of UN sanctions being imposed I will be very happy to be wrong about this prediction, but I will say that he is keeping the option open. If he needs a big, scary enemy for target practice, Iran may be his best option. Put this in the maybe column for now.
2. "Antonin Scalia will be replaced by a conservative rather than by the extremely centrist Merrick Garland."
That nominee is in place and will get his hearing soon. The Democrats will face a lot of pressure to oppose him but they probably can't stop him from being sworn in. By the time I write Volume 2 of this series, he will be on the bench.
3. ISIS has a new propaganda talking point.
Well, this I undersold. Our national reputation has been severely damaged and we are beginning to pay an economic price for that. Travel to the United States has declined and the decline in searches for airfares to the United States have declined even further. Most heartbreaking, we recently had a hate crime murder in Olathe, Kansas. Two Indian nationals were killed by an nationalist terrorist, one fatally. There has also been an uptick in desecration of mosques and synagogues. I really hope that these are isolated incidents, but it does feel like the crazies have been emboldened by having a virulent nationalist in the Oval Office. This will have consequences. We are an embarrassment and the world is keeping its distance.
4. It is now the official policy of the United States government that Climate Change is a hoax perpetrated by China to disrupt American manufacturing.
Still true. And I wrote that before Trump picked the CEO of Exxon to be the Secretary of State.
5. At some point next year the Congress will repeal Obamacare.
This one has been the most interesting development. For six year, vowing to repeal Obamacare was page one of the Republican catechism and Republicans delighted in voting to do so dozens of times. But now that they could actually pass a bill that their president would sign, those same members of congress have lost the appetite. They clearly fear a backlash for getting rid of Obamacare benefits like the expansion of medicaid and mandatory coverage of people with pre-existing conditions. But Obamacare is paid for with taxes on some very rich people and Paul Ryan believes that repealing those taxes is the most important thing he can do as speaker.
I think the Republicans willl move more slowly on this front than I first anticipated. They will probably spend a good chunk of this year gutting the program but they are definitely gun shy about facing voters in a midterm who just lost their benefits. I expect the final litigation package won't be voted on until 2018 and there will be some substantial delays in the expiration of the most popular benefits. If the Republican dodge catasrophe in the midterms, they will come back to gut more of the law in 2019.
6. At some point next year the Congress will pass massive tax cuts and the overwhelming majority of these cuts will benefit very wealthy people.
This will get done.
7. Immigration policy is about to become a lot less thoughtful.
8. There will be a bunch of dumb protectionist policies put in place.
Trump is even worse on free trade than I expected him to be. He seems to believe that the United States should only make bilateral trade agreements rather than regional or global deals. TPP is dead and China will soon fill that vacuum. Instead of trade among nations on the Pacific being regulated by the values of neoliberalism, they will be governed by the whims of waterdowned one-party state pseudo-capitalism. That's terrible news.
One insane little nugget beginning to make the rounds is that Trump wants any trade deals to contain a provision that the United States can automatically back out of the deal if we run a trade deficit with the other country. That's the economic equivalent of a prenuptial agreement that triggers an automatic divorce should one spouse have more orgasms than the other.
9. The implements of the federal government will be used to settle the president's political scores.
We're seeing this mostly in the arena of press access, but believe me this will spread to lots of other places.
10. The new school of political science thought will be personality based
A little too early to tell on that one. I do think that someone will run on the Trump model in the democratic primaries. Mark Cuban is the most likely choice. But if I am encouraged by anything it is the breadth of negative reaction to Trump's style. Even some Fox news types are turned off by Trump's habit of making everything about himself. I think the next president is likely to be a profound reaction to Trump's personality. So I would look for someone sober and unassuming, even modest, to be his toughest challenger.
III. New Business: What to Look For.
Before too long, the government will begin passing substantial legislation on things like taxes and healthcare. There might be a period of relative normalcy as the shock of having a deranged president wears off. But Trump can not help himself in certain arenas. He will fight the press and he will insult his critics at every turn. The leaks will probably continue because people in positions of authority know that their president is not trustworthy. I think the financial conflicts of interest are the area most likely to birth a full blown and sustained political scandal.
I also think Trump's penchant for secrecy is going to do him real damage. He can't keep doing these press conferences where he sounds like a crazy person by denying things that are absolutely true.
IV. The End.
Liberals have been energized by this administration. Yesterday, this mobilization of political goodwill paid its first dividends in Delaware, where a special election was held for a senate seat that determined which party controlled that chamber. The Democrat won by 17 points. buoyed in part by volunteers from neighboring states.
This enthusiasm should not be mistaken for a sign that Trump's presidency is doomed. A lot of liberals on Twitter seem to think that impeachment is imminent. It is not. Both house of congress are Republican and vast majorities of the people who voted for him think he's doing a fine job. So far he hasn't done anything that will hurt those supporters too much. But he also hasn't done anything to win over a single person that voted for Hillary or a third party candidate.
Trump probably needs to win the same states he won last time to be re-elected. He probably needs dramatic economic improvements to hold on to states like Michigan and Wisconsin. Maybe his tax cuts will stimulate enough activity to make that happen, but I still think Trump will be an underdog to win re-election.
V. 2020 Foresight.
Well, I guess these periodic updates on Trumpland will need a hook. So I will conclude with a forecast for how I think this term of the presidency is likely to end.
Death or Incapacity 2% (Not to be morbid, but it happens.)
Completes Term, Gets Re-elected 21%
Completes Term, loses to Democrat 58%
Completes Term, loses nomination 10%
Completes Term but does not run for 2nd term 5%
*Asterisk for the possibility of resigning in order to avoid imminent impeachment. that could happen, but he would never voluntarily give up this kind of power.)