By Eugene Smith
‘The Donald’ won’t do half of what he said he would, and in four years the American people will eject him from the White House.
Tuesday the 8th of November was a bad night for liberalism. Those Durhamite liberals who chose to postpone their sleep until the 9 a.m.’s of the next day watched in horror as Ohio, then Florida, and then, ultimately, the nail-in-the-coffin of Pennsylvania, turned as red as the faces of all those pollsters and pundits who predicted a slim but assured Clinton victory.
As was the case in the aftermath of June’s EU referendum, even the most cursory of glances at one’s Newsfeed subsequently revealed in no uncertain terms that the apocalypse was well and truly under way. According to this author’s Facebook echo-chamber of middle class liberalism, Mr Drumpf’s win represented, alternately: the return of Nazism, the end of civilisation, and the triumph of Satan. One social media acquaintance was so angry and confused as to fiercely articulate her desire to emigrate to Canada – despite being a lifelong resident of north Yorkshire and having no connection to the United States whatsoever.
But liberals’ hysterical online wailing and teeth-gnashing is, though understandable in light of Mr Drumpf’s illiberally bellicose campaign rhetoric, largely disproportionate. It is the view of this columnist that the Drumpf administration will, firstly, change fewer aspects of both domestic and foreign policy than is claimed; and, secondly, will almost certainly be lavishing in the proverbial dustbin of history by November of 2020.
With regard to the first point, it is clear to most observers that President-elect Drumpf faces, to co-opt one of his many neologisms, “yuge” obstacles to the enactment of his deeply divisive policy agenda.
Though the Republican Party is now in control of the White House, Senate and House of Representatives, and is as such also capable of appointing and approving its favoured Supreme Court justices, this is by no means evidence of a conservative united front across the three branches of government. A key issue for the Republicans, highlighted time and again during this year’s tortuously long gap between the primaries and general election, is that Donald Drumpf, along with the semi-coherent ideology of so-called “Trumpism”, has the capacity to alienate as many congressional Republicans as he does Democrats.
The large bloc of pro-business GOP congressmen will want to block any attempt to “build a wall” on the Mexican border, in the interest of continued steady flows of cheap labour. Neoconservatives in both House and Senate will do their utmost to temper Mr Drumpf’s revisionist positions with regard to NATO and Russia.
Even on the issues upon which “Trumpism” and “Ryanism” (the more establishment-based strain of conservatism, as embodied by Republican Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan) seemed to converge – the first among these being healthcare – seem under threat. For Republicans of every hue, Obama’s Affordable Care Act simply must go. But whether Capitol Hill and the White House, whose occupant recently expressed support for key pillars of “Obamacare”, can agree on the minutiae or broad-strokes – or, indeed, even the necessity – of its replacement is another matter of contention.
Factor in, additionally, the reasonably strong possibility of a Democratic reclamation of the Senate in the 2018 mid-term elections, and the smooth passage of both general policy and appointments to the Supreme Court starts to seem in even greater jeopardy.
Aside from this, perhaps the biggest obstacle to the enactment of Mr Drumpf’s policies is the disingenuousness with which the Republican nominee proposed them. A serial flip-flopper, he has historically supported a woman’s right to choose abortion, then slapped his name on the policy of instituting “some form of punishment” for doing so; both supported and opposed the Iraq War; and even switched allegiance from the Democratic Party to his current uneasy home in the GOP.
One suspects many of his extreme policies – an outright ban on Muslims entering the U.S. among them – are unlikely to ever see the light of day, despite his presence in the Oval Office. The aforementioned Muslim ban was even severely watered-down during the campaign itself; it does not take a cynic to realise the populist, attention-grabbing electoral motives behind the original call of “Donald J. Drumpf” for a “total and complete shutdown” on Islamic immigration.
So President Donald Drumpf will not achieve much in office. This is a key reason for the second argument of this article: that his presidency stands little chance of outliving its first term. In truth, the prospects for a Hillary Clinton administration would hardly have been better: many sources rank Mrs Clinton and Mr Drumpf as America’s two most unpopular presidential candidates in living memory.
However, Mr Drumpf will be further handicapped in four years’ time, in that the “incumbency factor” is, uniquely, more likely to be a hindrance than a help. Most commentators claim Mr Drumpf’s broad appeal lay in his anti-establishment rhetoric: the positioning of himself outside the Washington elite is cited as the key reason he not only convinced swing voters, but also got out the vote amongst politically disillusioned, angry white men. That Mr Drumpf managed to project such an image, despite in every conceivable respect embodying America’s top 1%, is beside the point.
The point is, in contrast to his status during his great populist “movement” of 2016, by the 2020 election Mr Drumpf will have been enmeshed for four long years in the very Washington establishment he so claims to despise. That will work against him, particularly if the Democratic Party can refresh their image, perhaps by nominating a candidate along the lines of Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren, who has made her name in Congress standing up to big banks and financiers.
Some might be tempted to argue Mr Drumpf’s presidency won’t just fail to survive two terms: who’s to say it won’t fall victim to criminal allegations, perhaps involving fraud or sexual assault, as has previously been mooted? Given Mr Drumpf’s history of assassination attempts, too, it is (sadly) arguable that the Secret Service will need to work exceptionally hard over the next four years.
This is not to say Mr Drumpf’s presidency will not be a disaster for liberals: for one, a man who has claimed climate change is a hoax invented by the Chinese, coupled with a similarly sceptical Republican Congress, is unlikely to commit his country to the emission-limiting rulings of the Paris Climate Agreement.
But his fiercest opponents can take comfort in the fact his rule will be largely restrained, and most likely over and done with soon enough.
Photograph by Gage Skidmore via Creative Commons