America is fed up, we are told. The country is weary of the Obama years, weary of a dysfunctional Congress, of stagnant wages, of wars that never seem to end, and of an unfair economy where the rich keep getting richer and everyone else struggles. We are also told that America is fearful. We are fearful of the changing complexion of the American population, of a world where America’s role is diminishing and we are losing respect, and of an economy where more jobs are shipped off shore. While probably the majority of people in the U.S. do not subscribe to this doomsday scenario and while the performance of the economy in 2015 shows rather extraordinary progress on employment and wages, enough people do feel this way so that Donald Trump can say almost anything he wants —regardless of how outrageous or outright wrong it is—and still remain the darling of the disaffected. He is for many the agent of change.
I believe that this is an important factor that gives Trump his appeal. “He is different.” “He is a business man, not a politician.” “He tells it like it is.” “He will make America great again.” “He is the one who will bring about real change.” We hear this from man-in-the-street news interviews all the time.
But the question is what might this change look like and how might it affect ordinary people, our country and the world? We have seen “real change” before. We saw it in Russia about 100 years ago, in Germany and Italy starting in the 1930s and China in the 1940s. Change is not always for the better. What might change look like under a Trump administration?
Of course, it is impossible to answer this question definitively since Trump is prone to saying anything that comes to his mind and because he does not appear to have any carefully conceived policy initiatives. But let’s pause for a moment and look at what he has said. Assuming he could actually pull off what he says he is going to do, this is what change in America would look like under a Trump presidency:
- We will get the Trump wall. There is no way Trump could backtrack on this since he champions building a huge, “beautiful,” wall at the Mexican border at virtually every rally. The cost would run about $50 billion we are told by experts and would be paid for entirely by Mexico we are told by Trump, who has implied that he has a secret method for getting Mexico to pay. Really? Some believe that this will involve freezing the assets and bank accounts of all people of Mexican descent and preventing anyone from sending money to family members in Mexico, an action that would tank their economy and force them to capitulate. Such action, of course, would probably require congressional approval and would set a dangerous precedent. If Mexico stands firm, what next? War? The likely scenario would be to add another $50 billion to the budget. Where are the dollars going to come from to cover that?
- The big roundup will begin. Trump continues to make this another centerpiece of his rallies. There are supposedly between 11 million and 13 million undocumented residents living in the United States. Trump has stated repeatedly that about half—six million people—will be booted out of the country “immediately.” Trump will establish a “Deportation Force” to find them, capture them, jail them and then send them back to where they came from. If children are separated from their parents or husbands from wives, so be it. The targets will mainly be the “bad apples,” and after they go, he will reconsider what happens to the rest. It is uncertain how long it will take, how many new prisons or “temporary holding grounds” will have to be constructed or how large the Deportation Force will have to be, but experts have estimated a minimum cost of another $50 billion. He has not yet suggested that Mexico will pay for this. But the cost is not the most troubling issue. It is the human suffering and the upsetting of the U.S. economy. If the deportation of six million people is accomplished in the first two years of his presidency, this translates to about 8,200 people being rounded up every day. A massive, forced relocation like this has not happened on this scale anywhere. How will this be accomplished? By road blocks and searches, raids on business establishments, knocks on the doors of ordinary people in the middle of the night with Deportation Forces storming in and ransacking every room and looking under beds and in basements? And where does the business community stand on this? How will hotels, restaurants, landscapers, service and health care providers, and construction companies—virtually all businesses– handle a work force where anyone speaking Spanish may disappear overnight? Six million jobs – and the vast majority of those to be deported have jobs –are a lot to fill. Does Trump think that able bodied, “true Americans” are waiting in the wings for an $8.00/hour job?
- The trade wars will start. Trump says he will grow the economy at 4 percent a year (about twice what it is now) by creating jobs. He will create jobs by bringing them back to the U.S. and is targeting China as the main culprit since so many manufacturing jobs have migrated there. His solution is to impose a 45% tariff on all Chinese exports to the U.S., which Trump believes will close the factories there and bring the jobs back here. China, of course, will reciprocate by putting high tariffs on our exports. Goods shipped to the U.S. from China will skyrocket in price, and U.S. shipments to China will shrink sharply. And China is just one country. Presumably it is just the start. NAFTA will be rewritten in our favor and the Pacific Trade Agreement killed. And where does the business community stand on this? The vast majority of economists see international trade as essential to our economic health and increased global prosperity. It has been a centerpiece of what used to Republican orthodoxy. Most economists believe that trade wars and restrictions would trigger a world-wide recession.
- Muslims will be targeted as second class citizens. New restrictions will go into effect severely limiting entry to the U.S. of Muslims and people from countries affected by terrorism. It is not clear if Muslims already living here legally will become part of the deportation plan or if mosques will be under surveillance, but Muslims will be singled out as a hostile group to be feared.
- Environmental protections will be relaxed. If you do not believe that global warming exists or that humans have any role in a changing climate, then why bother with limiting carbon emissions or reducing the human carbon footprint? Trump pledges to get the U.S. out of the world global anti-warming initiative that Obama got us into and free up the oil industry to move forward aggressively on extractions. The EPA will be limited as to what it can do and will shrink.
- Millions will lose health insurance. At long last Obama Care will be eliminated, forcing nine million people off health insurance. That a better plan will replace it any time soon is unlikely.
- The Supreme Court will move more to the right. Trump will have one appointment for certain and possibly one or two others. He has promised his supporters to put in a pro life conservative. A second, similar appointment could result in abortion becoming illegal in America.
- The rich will get richer. Though he has softened a bit on this recently, the bulk of his proposed tax cuts will go to the rich and to businesses. Trickle down economics yet again. Trump’s position on a national minimum wage seems to change weekly. At one point in the campaign he advocated for eliminating all laws requiring a minimum wage.
- The deficits will grow. Trump has proposed massive tax cuts while at the same time promising not to touch Medicare, Social Security and other entitlements. Projections by independent experts project significantly higher deficits down the road if his policies are implemented. Economists and others also have been warning for some time that the deficit issue must be addressed, which must involve some restructuring of entitlements. Trump is also promising a few new programs such as support for child care and paid parental leave. All this costs money with no taxes to offset the new expenditures.
- Divisions and tensions in the U.S. will heighted. Trump talks about making America great again but makes no effort to unite the country. He is combative and belligerent toward anyone who does not go along with him. He vows to punish his opponents. Class and racial divisions are likely to worsen. Free speech could be constrained such as allowing reporters who write unflattering articles about people to be sued for liable.
- The world will become a more dangerous place. Trump has no foreign policy experience and admires strongmen like Putin. He has advocated for killing the families of suspected terrorists. He is not sure if he thinks NATO is worth preserving or if the U.S. should oppose Russian expansion into the Baltic countries. He has already asked why if we have nuclear weapons we just don’t use them. Newt Gingrich or Chris Christy or Rudy Giuliani could wind up in cabinet positions affecting war and peace. His history is hitting back hard against anyone who crosses or disrespects him. He has denounced global warming as a hoax. He is the proverbial loose cannon. This actually may be the scariest of all the transformational changes that are likely to happen under a Trump presidency.
While many will admit that Trump has said he will do these things, they add that perhaps he really does not mean it; and that once president, he will act more presidential. History suggests otherwise. It actually gets worse. Many in the U.S. and around the world gave people like Hitler, Stalin and Mao the benefit of a doubt in the early days before they showed all their cards. I am not suggesting that Trump fits into that category—at least not yet. But there is no question that his persona is that of a strongman. But you say, even if he is a strong man, in the U.S, we have checks and balances and a constitution. He can’t do all that he wants to.
Perhaps not all, but he can do a lot that will in fact make him a transformational president and an agent of change. The question that every voter should ask is this: is this the kind of change that we want for America.
September 17, 2016