One could write volumes about Donald Trump the celebrity, the business mogul, the particularly slimy real estate developer, and so on. I’m giving that a miss. As a public person I find him odious and in business I’d resort to extreme measures to avoid him (I haven’t ruled out self-defenestration). Beyond saying that, it’s entirely immaterial for our purposes. Our subject is Donald Trump as president: the pros and cons of his tenure, his chance at escaping unscathed from impeachment to run again, and his likelihood of winning in 2020 based on the issues. That should be enough for one article.
(What: You didn’t honestly think I would give him a pass just because he’s the Evil One, did you?)
“Donald Trump is a phenomenon that foreign countries haven’t seen. So it is a shocking experience to them that he came in to office.”
Henry Kissinger on Face The Nation, 2016
“[Donald] Trump is a horrific combination of all three: Beast, Smiler and Heller.“
Darick Robertson, “Transmetropolitan” creator, in 2020
“…there is still serious doubt in my mind that he could pass for human…”
Hunter S. Thompson, speaking of Richard Nixon
People love Donald Trump, despise him, even fear him. Of the thousands of people I’ve discussed him with since 2016, I’ve met absolutely nobody who’s ambivalent. Even Hillary Clinton, at once one of the most beloved and hated figures in modern American politics, doesn’t stir the levels of passion that Trump can. This is remarkable, but it’s nothing new; the successful demagogue is a vampire that feasts on the madness of the mob. That’s been true since Cleon of Athens.
Love him or hate him, we need to catalogue his talents. If you’re a supporter, you should be able to do more than echo his rhetoric; you should know his true value. If you oppose him, it’s an error to simply dismiss or vilify the man; you must know your adversary fully, both strengths and weaknesses, in order to be effective in conflict.
And so we first acknowledge Trump’s ability as rabble-rouser and demagogue. He is highly successful in manipulating the media to keep himself in the headlines; simple name recognition alone will grant him a substantial percentage of the vote. He has tens of millions of rabidly loyal followers plus solid appeal even to the anarchists; who better to tear it all down than a man who inspires rage? And we must not forget those who have been well-served by his policies.
The present administration has successfully seated two justices on the Supreme Court. It’s important to understand that the balance in the High Court isn’t so much Republican versus Democrat (though there’s some of that) but rather rights versus law and originalism versus constructionalism. The present Court favors individual freedoms marginally more than the good of society, and prefers to deal with settled law rather than adapting rulings to fit the times. Further appointments will make the Court less of a force for change and more harshly law-and-order. And, while I’m not convinced Roe v Wade will ever be overturned, a vast number of single-issue voters are willing to embrace Trump in the misguided hope that it will be.
We can add to this the Second Amendment crowd; while Trump has waffled on gun control, the crowd of Democratic candidates keeps racing to the left. Of the seven I’ve profiled here, four explicitly endorse bans and mass seizures and two others imply them. Only Bernie Sanders is opposed, and he favors other measures that would be seriously restrictive. Let me be plain: These voters are both fervent and paranoid. Fear will send them to the polls by the millions.
One would think environmentalists and conservationists would share concerns; in this election, one would be mistaken. Between his positions on pipelines, coal mining, and the much-feared revisions to the Stream Protection Rule, Trump has alienated the entire states of California and New York; his withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change cost him most other blue states. Which, to be fair, he wasn’t winning anyway.
(A personal note: I’m sensible of the extreme irony of Democrats, who as a rule choose to live in cities, being rabid environmentalists, while country-dwellers are rather less so. But even such a country-bred cynic as myself balks at the concept of blowing the tops off mountains to get at the rich ores beneath, and then dumping the rubble in nearby stream beds. Which is in fact something mining companies want to do, and Trump doesn’t seem to want to stop them.)
Then there’s economics. While younger voters are usually far too impoverished to care about the markets, retirees live and die by their 401k balances. Donald Trump has worked tirelessly to keep driving stocks to ever-higher records. Analysts are united in their belief that this can’t last forever, but they’ve been predicting the next crash since 2016 and have been wrong every time. So long as that remains true, Trump will probably be safe in Florida.
There are two areas where the Trump Administration doesn’t get enough credit. The first is military; Trump promised to extricate us from foreign wars, and he appears to be working on doing just that in Afghanistan, the Korean Peninsula, and Syria. (He’s not doing a particularly good job, mind; on the other hand, before Trump we had no exit strategy in any of the three places.) The second — and I know I’ll draw hate for saying this — is trade: For decades, our trade imbalance with China has been such that vast parks full of empty shipping containers clog our ports and act as a huge drug on the market.
Let me be clear: I’m not in favor of Trump’s trade policies; neither do I oppose them. I honestly don’t know enough about economics or China either one to predict the outcome. But unlike any of his predecessors since Nixon and Carter, Trump is making a serious effort to address the imbalance. It may fail; it may be disastrous — but the attempt has needed to be made for decades, and putting it off longer would only keep making things worse.
I can’t tell you how these two aspects will influence the election; I honestly don’t know. I doubt Trump’s campaign has much of an idea either. But we would be foolish to neglect them as potential factors.
The Bottom Line
It’s impossible to write impartially about Donald Trump. You can tell I loathe the man, as do most of the people I talk with — including several of his loyal followers. And that’s the great paradox that is Trump: How is it that so many people who hate the man can still vote for him? And more to the point: To what extent will that vast sea of loathing overpower the all-too-reasonable fear of groups like the Floridian 401k crowd and the Second Amendmenters? What are Trump’s putative opponents doing to alleviate that fear and divide his support?
Right now, they appear to be sincerely committed to the foredoomed cause of trying to impeach him.
At the moment of this writing, the Senate trial is underway. There’s about to be a rules debate over calling witnesses, but that’s about the floor show (and, possibly, keeping three candidates away from the Iowa Caucuses). Far more critical to my mind is whether the two charges are handled separately, and whether a guilty verdict is required to assess a penalty. The answer to that second question is what would permit a 51-49 censure vote on the Obstruction count, opening the way for a permanent ban to officeholding under Article II Section 4; the Archbald trial provides precedent.
I know; it seems unlikely. But I’m optimistic.
If for any reason Trump fails to run in 2020, it’s possible — even likely — that a viable Republican candidacy could appear. Perhaps Bill Weld, perhaps even a Pence-Haley ticket; whichever, I believe the results of such a contest would be preferable to either a Trump defeat in November or, as is seeming exceedingly likely to me at this point, the specter of a Trump victory paralleling that of Nixon in 1972.
“Now with another one of these big bogus showdowns looming down on us, I can already pick up the stench of another bummer. I understand, along with a lot of other people, that the big thing this year is Beating Nixon. But that was also the big thing, as I recall, twelve years ago in 1960 – and as far as I can tell, we’ve gone from bad to worse to rotten since then, and the outlook is for more of the same.”
Hunter S. Thompson, “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72”