What Just Happened? And What's Next?

          As I drifted off to sleep last night, the voting was slightly in Donald Trump's favor  based on the early counts coming in. I didn't think too much of it, fully aware of how the losers in past presidential elections had often been ahead at this stage.  Nonetheless, a couple of thoughts lurking for months in the back of my mind started inching their way forward. The first was that Trump probably had a large base of silent supporters intimidated by the intense shaming campaign waged by the Democrats throughout this election campaign. Many of these people might not speak honestly to pollsters but could make their feelings known in the privacy of a voting booth.

          My second thought was that the mainstream media in this country can no longer be trusted to provide honest reporting on much of anything. They too often report as news what they themselves want to believe, and it seemed possible that the deafening barrage we had been hearing for months now on the inevitability of Clinton's victory might have been little more than reverberation of the media's private echo chamber.

          These thoughts must have gained subconscious momentum while I slept, because when my wife's alarm clock rang at 6:00 AM, I - contrary to my normal pattern - came wide awake immediately  and grabbed for the TV remote, sensing something amiss. Indeed, something was amiss, because the first image accosting my eyes was a clip of Donald Trump praising Hillary Clinton for her hard-fought campaign and her years of service to our great country. I didn't have to see any vote tallies to know what had transpired overnight.

So Now What?

          I didn't vote for Trump. I voted for the Libertarian candidates at the top of the ticket and the down-ballot Republicans, albeit without enthusiasm in either case. I had disliked Trump for many years because I had no respect for his style as a businessman. My own Republicanism has always stemmed mainly from my belief that the Republicans, more so than the Democrats,  stood for the core business virtues that undergirded American peace and prosperity: pragmatism,  hard work, fair dealings, healthy ambition, and a zest for applied innovation.  I saw none of this in Donald Trump, who always seemed more interested in the glitz of marketing than in the sweaty grind of making things work. It was unsurprising to me when, during the course of his business career,  he revealed a propensity for loading up subsidiaries with debt and then walking away when his grandiose projects failed to yield the return necessary to service it. As they might say in a GEICO commercial, if you're Donald Trump, that's what you do. Now he's leading our country.
                                             Uncharted Waters

          We're deep into uncharted waters at this point and the storm that has been brewing is now upon us. It is therefore impossible to predict with any precision what happens next, but a few things are clear. The first is that America's long-cherished two-party system is fatally disabled and probably soon will die. This problem was imminent even if Clinton had won,  but Trump's victory will trip the fast-forward button. On the surface it might seem somewhat encouraging that all of the official post-election speechmaking so far has followed the traditional American norm of congratulation and conciliation. President Obama gave a particularly gracious talk in the Rose Garden of the White House at noon today, and even Trump managed to sound like he may have meant some of the nice things he had to say about Hillary.

          But none of this will last. Trump has gutted the Republican Party during the course of his scorched-earth march to the pinnacle he just reached. He humiliated both the traditional "establishment" wing, epitomized by Jeb Bush, and the newer supposedly radical "Tea Party" wing, epitomized by "Lyin' Ted Cruz". Most of these people will go through the motions now of trying to come together to govern, but all vestiges of Republican cohesiveness are gone. What remains of the Party is little more than a crude nativist faction with no real program beyond a rush of crony-capitalist infrastructure spending, probably one-upping the Democrats in this regard, and a destructive scaling-back of trade and immigration.  

Democrats Now Must Face A Rising Hard Left

          As for the Democrats, they may now be in still worse trouble. Even had Clinton won the election, she was going to have a hard time controlling the ascendant left wing of her party, energized as it had been by Bernie Sanders before being soon dispirited again by what they regarded as Hillary's theft of the nomination. Sanders was, of course, never going to be anything more than a transitional leader for this faction, which will now make a sharp turn even further to the left and exact revenge on the Clinton faction, which is perceived as having prostituted itself to Wall Street while achieving no gain in return for the sacrifice of principle. There's no telling where all this goes now, although foreshadows of the likely future could be seen already in the early morning hours in the radical fever swamps of Berkeley and Oakland, where gangs of protestors emerged as though on the search for riot police with whom to engage.  The ranks of these people are likely to grow in the months ahead, and it seems only a matter of time before some of the nastier elements among Trump's supporters, themselves also now newly energized, choose to come out of hiding to offer battle.

A Perfect Storm  For Mr. Trump

          The two-party system in this country, designed as it is keep radical elements in the fold and to harness diverse energies, is thus coming apart at the very moment the risk of exogenous challenge is growing. Our overleveraged financial system is poised for another crash, and the federal government is out of ammunition this time with which to fight it. Keynesian economists have sustained the fiction that fiscal policy still has plenty of play in it, but that notion flies out the window immediately upon the arrival of the next recession, already long overdue, which will balloon the budget deficit to unsustainable levels.  Monetary policy is equally exhausted,  with the Federal Reserve having had little choice since the last crash but to hold the short-term interest rate at zero simply to maintain the economy's current limp equilibrium. Other than negative rates - utterly unsustainable for long - the central bank has thus already used up everything it might have had to help us through the next crisis.

          Other countries of the developed world are experiencing their own versions of all these same problems. Much has been made of the parallels between the Trump phenomenon and so-called "Brexit" crisis in Europe.  Trump's victory now will re-intensify that and the other various centrifugal  forces already threatening Europe and  other parts of the world. Multiple crises occurring simultaneously tend to aggravate one another. All of this is waiting for Mr. Trump.
          If he were a great manager and a visionary politician, I might have some hope  that we were approaching one of those great turning point of history at which heroic leadership emerges to turn crisis into opportunity. However, anybody who watched his victory speech this morning would have been quickly disabused of such notions.  While he offered a moment or two of graciousness, and he was trying hard to stay organized with his teleprompter, Trump was clearly no Churchill. He sounded lost and is clearly in over his head with this new job. His evident self-satisfaction with his victory only served to reinforce the perception that he doesn't really understand what he's now up against.

          I found it impressive at first that President Obama appeared so relaxed during his speech in the Rose Garden this morning. Then it occurred to me that his relaxation was probably not an act at all, and that he's bound to be relieved to be finally out from under all this before the bottom drops out. Hillary Clinton, should she be looking for a silver lining to the cloud of her defeat, might find it in the thought that she too is escaping a trap from which she likely could not have otherwise escaped.

          Donald Trump, for his part,  is already looking like the loser at a game of musical chairs.

No comments:

Post a Comment