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We Will Survive a Trump Administration

Nov. 15, 2016
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Since the election, I have received more than 60 phone calls and a few hundred emails from wonderful and patriotic individuals who are simply devastated by the election of Donald Trump. One woman ended her email by saying, “I’m inconsolable.” Many of these people who contacted me wanted the Shepherd to try to help them understand what happened and where America goes from here. 

Obviously, we vigorously opposed Donald Trump and were appalled that someone who had no history of serving the public in any form, who showed absolutely no knowledge of public policy or foreign affairs and who used some of the most hateful and demeaning language toward Latinos, women, immigrants, Muslims and disabled individuals could win a presidential election.

I have personally described the election of Trump as similar to having a family member die. I had these very similar feelings when my brother died a number of years ago. You wake up in the middle of the night and you immediately get the feeling that something terrible has just happened. Years ago, it was my brother’s death. Last week, unfortunately for America and, actually, the entire world, something really bad happened. 

When you have strong feelings and care deeply about something, such as our country’s future, or someone, perhaps a dear friend or family member, and you lose them, you need to mourn in whatever way you do that. It’s necessary and healthy to mourn. There are peaceful demonstrations in many of our major cities against the election of Donald Trump. That is the protesters’ constitutional right and we applaud their patriotism. For many, demonstrating is probably also a necessary stage of their mourning process before they can move forward. 

After a mourning period, we will all need to get ready to roll up our sleeves, get more involved and organize a strong opposition to any and all of Trump’s extreme actions and policies. That is how democracy works. Trump is going to learn that democracy is very different from business. Even on a much smaller level, I run the Shepherd and a business in Madison, and I also served three terms in the Wisconsin Legislature. I can assure you that being a successful businessperson is a hell of a lot easier than being an effective lawmaker, even when we were the majority party and I was chairing a committee.

So there are many avenues for people to get involved in our democratic process and now, especially under a Trump administration, it is really important to make a commitment to help bring the nation together and make it more fair and just for every individual. Donald Trump now claims that he wants to be the president for every American. We need to hold him to his words. 

For many of the people I heard from, there were feelings of guilt that they should have done more or that they were responsible for Trump’s victory. If Trump had won the election by seven or eight Electoral College votes and won Wisconsin by less than 10,000 votes, then those feelings might be very warranted. But no matter what we would have done in Wisconsin and how large a victory we might have had in Wisconsin, Trump would still be president-elect. So please let those feelings go.

The real issue is that we lost the election, and elections have consequences. Whether you blame FBI Director James Comey’s extraordinary and very partisan actions of taking something that was a non-issue—finding more emails, most of which were already examined—and going public 11 days before the election when he knew it was totally unprofessional, or whether you blame the various voter suppression laws that the Republicans passed to make voting more difficult for traditional Democratic voters, both of which have had a serious impact, those were unfortunately the conditions under which this election took place, and as a result, we lost and we believe America and the world were also losers.

So what does this mean for forward-looking people who believe in social justice and who don’t want to see our great country move backward and become a disgrace on the world scene?

How Did This All Happen? 

First of all, how did this happen? Trump certainly seemed to have his finger correctly on the pulse of a significant segment of Americans. Voters truly feel that the whole system is “rigged.” Exit polling showed that 72% of voters feel the U.S. economy is rigged in favor of the rich and powerful. When voters listened to Trump, we believe that they heard what they wanted to hear in one of the nastiest elections in our country’s history. Many felt they knew him over the years from his reality TV show, so he wasn’t a complete stranger. If a candidate is going to go negative in a political campaign, it is far more effective if the voter feels that he or she personally knows the candidate. Voters seemed willing to set aside most of his racist and sexist comments and instead heard that he was willing to take on the rich: a rich guy calling the whole system rigged and willing to take on the Wall Street crowd. 

Trump said that he would close Wall Street’s favorite tax loophole, the carried interest loophole that saves hedge fund managers billions of dollars each year in tax liabilities. He said he would support a new Glass-Steagall law that would prevent commercial banks from also being investment banks, a law that the big Wall Street banks hated. He also sounded very progressive at times, saying that he would protect Social Security and work to make college affordable for all families. 

The local economies have become an integral part of the world economy and workers are getting seriously hurt by forces far beyond them so they are confused, frightened and angry. Unfortunately, they are right that all this rapid change in the growth of the world economy was destroying their traditional livelihoods. There are definitely no easy solutions. Donald Trump pandered to that fear and anger. He provided simplistic and totally unrealistic solutions and also used various scapegoats to stoke that fear and anger.

As more and more people were getting left behind, they were becoming more and more invisible and more and more angry. Unfortunately, when you are hurting badly, you often strike out at easy targets and much of this anger got directed toward immigrants and racial and religious minorities. The right-wing media—whether it is talk radio, some cable channels or alt-right websites—stoked the anger, the fears and the desperation of these people, who are feeling totally left behind and blaming other victims. Then a presidential candidate came along who validates them and supports this misdirected anger against various minorities. They thought, wow, he’s our man.

A much more accurate target of their anger, for example, would be the Wall Street crowd, who are major players in facilitating and profiting from globalization and were responsible for the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Despite all of the pain they created, no one from Wall Street ended up in prison, which further raised the anger level.  

In addition, over the past couple of decades our country has become more and more divided along new class lines. These right-wing sources have shifted the class lines from the real elite, Wall Street billionaires and predatory capitalists, the Donald Trump types, to the educated, professional, urban, latte-drinking (Shepherd-reading) crowd who understand that we live in a rapidly changing global economy and who try to embrace much of this change and modernity. Most of these individuals vote primarily Democratic or are the remaining “traditional Republicans,” as opposed to the “Fox News Republicans.”

We have become so divided that a recent poll has shown that people are much less concerned about their children marrying outside their religion or race, but are quite concerned about their children marrying someone with very different political views. Actually, many families are holding their breath this election year and worrying about what the discussion over the Thanksgiving dinner table is going to be like when the extended family comes together.

Donald Trump, who has never shown any interest in helping these forgotten individuals, has now become their spokesperson. He promised them things no one could deliver and that is to bring their 1960s world back. For example, there is absolutely no way to rebuild the coal industry, no matter how much you eliminate environmental regulation; it is just not competitive with natural gas. You can perhaps slow the decline, but simple market forces will eventually kill the industry. On the other hand, we could embrace alternative energy and create factory jobs that produce solar panels or windmills for some of the displaced coal miners. These jobs could pay family-supporting wages.

Ironically, these less educated white folks are a segment of the people that progressive individuals, who support social and economic justice, have always championed. Unfortunately, we apparently were not really listening well enough to their concerns and their desperation because many of these Trump supporters were Democrats and should be Democrats and hopefully we can take on the responsibility to win them back to be Democrats again. That is just one of the challenges going forward. 

What Are the Major Fears of a Trump Presidency?

Some of the most common fears are: 

n He doesn’t have the temperament to be president and if another 9/11 happened, he might declare martial law and suspend the Constitution.

n He will appoint a right-wing Supreme Court justice and fill the other federal judicial appointments with extremists.

n He will pull out of a number of our international agreements, like the Paris Climate Agreement.

n He will pull out of some of our longstanding international organizations, such as NATO.

n He will start mass deportations.

n He will set race relations and religious freedom back 30 years with his vulgar rhetoric.

To be blunt, the next four years will probably not be particularly pretty if you want to see America come together and if you believe in fairness, social justice, protecting the planet and, basically, modernity.

We have survived eight years of President Ronald Reagan and another eight years of President George W. Bush, albeit with some serious wounds. We will survive. Reagan and Bush had some policies and actions that really hurt this country. For example, regarding climate change, President Jimmy Carter began to move the country toward more renewable energy. Energy conservation and non-fossil fuel sources were high on the country’s agenda. Manufacturers were making and prominently marketing a variety of new energy-efficient appliances. Carter even took the very important and cutting-edge decision to install solar panels on the roof of the White House.

Had we kept going in that direction and shown this leadership to the rest of the world, our current world climate change forecast would be much less dismal. Instead, after Reagan’s election, he very symbolically removed the solar panels from the White House and appointed an interior secretary who was about as right-wing an enemy of the environment as one could imagine. These actions clearly gave the signal to the fossil fuel energy industry and the world that it was OK to totally ignore environmental concerns. Unfortunately, future generations will suffer for that.

But we do have to remember that history moves forward in a progressive way but definitely not in a linear, smooth pathway. It is always two steps forward, one step back. When you look back at American history, we see very clear and very significant progress that includes emancipation of slaves, African Americans getting the right to vote, women getting the right to vote, the rise of progressive labor unions, the New Deal, Social Security, civil rights legislation, voting rights legislation, Medicare and Medicaid, progress from the women’s movement, the disability rights movement, the LGBT movement, the election of the first black president, Obamacare and marriage equality, to name just few. Every one of these steps forward required a lot of organizing and a lot of struggle and there was massive blowback against every one of these steps forward. 

So we lost the election and there will be pushback against the progress of the past decade; expect it. There will also be a lot of political awakening and organizing and opportunities to fight to protect the gains already made and openings to move history forward. Trump said he was going to take on Wall Street. Let’s make sure he does. 

How Much Damage Will a President Trump Do? 

Looking at the list of fears, Trump’s temperament was the top fear. What would happen if there was another 9/11? We have seen that Trump quickly loses his temper and attacks at the slightest criticism. Apparently, he believes that that has served him well over the years and that is apparently who he is.

The office of the presidency usually changes behaviors like that. The awesome responsibility of the position that a president-elect is introduced to in his post-election briefings sobers even a very experienced senator, for example, who thought he understood the job of president. For an outsider, it is overwhelming. Fortunately, the generals and the foreign policy professionals will hopefully temper any reactions from Trump. The world is much more complicated than Trump understands and he will quickly learn that. According to those who study the presidency, the tremendous responsibility of the office quickly humbles a person. Also, as silly as this may sound, he is a developer and property owner around the world and he will be concerned about his investments if he begins to get reckless.

Regarding the Supreme Court, Trump will appoint a conservative-to-reactionary Supreme Court justice. Hopefully, New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, who is expected to be minority leader, will make sure the candidate is properly vetted, but don’t expect an appointee who could in any way be described as even moderate. However, the new justice will be replacing perhaps one of the most extreme right-wing justices to serve on the court in the past generation, so not much will change. Justice Anthony Kennedy will continue to be the occasional swing vote. To be clear, since 1971, the U.S. Supreme Court has been dominated by Republican presidential appointments either 5-4 or 6-3, so again, not much will be different. We just lost an opportunity to have a more progressive Supreme Court majority.

Trump said that he will pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement and the Iranian nuclear deal. What Trump will quickly learn is that it isn’t that easy to just pull out of these deals. The U.S. may be the richest, most powerful country in the world and in many ways can do whatever it wants, but there will be real costs to doing this. The Paris Climate Agreement has a four-year withdrawal process. Again, Trump can just walk away, but there are 192 other countries who signed on to this agreement and who care about it. He will quickly learn from our allies that the U.S. needs them much more than Trump seems to understand at this point. George W. Bush learned that lesson. His secretary of defense made fun of France and Germany, calling them “Old Europe” because they didn’t countenance his war in Iraq, but he soon learned he needed their help in the Middle East and changed his attitude.

The same goes for the Iranian nuclear deal. Virtually all of the major industrial powers support the deal, including Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Trump will quickly learn that there is a reason the U.S. spends a lot of time on diplomacy and that the U.S. can’t go it alone. Furthermore, the deal is already in effect and our pulling out now will have less of an impact than a year ago. 

Trump also threatens to pull out of international organizations like NATO. That would be a near impossibility. There is just too much bipartisan support for NATO. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, for example, is very supportive of NATO. That is a total non-starter.

Another fear is that he will start mass deportations. If he would try to massively increase deportations, the business community, including the rural agricultural businesses, would begin to put pressure on him and on their Congressional representatives and senators. The Obama administration has deported a disturbingly large number of people, so we would expect little change.

Finally, there is a fear that his rhetoric brings out racial and religious hatreds. Unfortunately, Trump is emboldening many racists, as we have seen with the increase of racial incidents since his election. That is disgraceful. Trump is bringing this racism out, but unfortunately it was already there just under the surface. We have many active racist hate groups in our country and many silent and passive supporters, and we need to deal with them. If we want to confront these biases and make America the country our school textbooks described, we need these groups out in the open so we can analyze them, discuss them and educate people around them. Otherwise, they aren’t going to disappear, but instead they will just lurk on the Internet. Unfortunately, our country still has a long way to go on the issue of race, and we are still experiencing a lot of pushback from the election of the first black president.

How Much Damage Will a Trump Administration Do?

We assume that Trump will have a combination of some traditional Republicans, such as RNC Chair Reince Priebus as his chief of staff, as well as some extremists, such as the deplorable alt-right leader Steve Bannon. Trump also has a small following of failed politicians who attached themselves to him during the campaign, when traditional Republicans were trying to run away from him.

Trump appears to have some loyalty to those few who stepped out to actively support him. As a result, he will probably have some extremist throwbacks like Newt Gingrich, who left Congress disgraced, and Rudy Giuliani, who was viewed even by New York Republicans as a failed New York City mayor until 9/11 happened on his watch and his popularity rose for simply being there. So be prepared for some real reactionary characters, but we survived them before.

The system in Washington is very complicated and it has made itself very entrenched and very difficult to change. At times like this, that is a good thing. Trump has alienated a number of Republican senators such as John McCain, Jeff Flake, Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio and Susan Collins, who in many areas will not necessarily be quick to support his various initiatives.

When the new Senate convenes, the Republicans will probably have 52 seats and the Democrats 46, plus two Independents who vote with the Democrats, for a total of 48. That means that Mitch McConnell can’t lose the votes of more than two of his members. So between the group of these independent senators who are no fans of Trump and also the existence of the filibuster, when McConnell will need eight Democrats to break the filibuster, Trump’s extreme policies will be either stopped in their tracks or radically changed for the better. We assume that the Democrats will stick together when it comes to opposing his extreme legislation and will also use their power of a potential filibuster when they work with their Republican colleagues to help craft more reasonable legislation.

Trump will also have a lot of conflicts with the establishment Republicans, such as House Speaker Paul Ryan, whom he seems to not particularly like. Since Trump made a lot of promises to his poor white and working-class constituency, who are already very cynical about government, he will need to deliver some tangible results. Any kind of policies that may actually help these long-term unemployed or underemployed white workers will probably be at odds with Ryan’s extreme Ayn Rand-inspired free market ideas and solutions. Ryan’s economic philosophy is very extreme. He shared this extreme philosophy with former Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan. However, after the financial meltdown, Greenspan was grilled by Congress and admitted that his Ayn Rand policy ideas that he shares with Paul Ryan were flawed and helped bring on the Great Recession. Amazingly, Paul Ryan still clings to them, even if he has softened his tone. This may cause some real tension between a President Trump if and when he shows a more populist side and supports various social safety net policies or takes on Wall Street and the Republican-controlled House and Senate.

At the end of the day, we assume that Trump’s administration will be somewhat unconventional and maybe even less right-wing than the usual Republican crowd in some areas but more extreme in others. He will, of course, have a number of very conservative traditional Republicans in his administration since Mike Pence, a very extreme right-wing traditional Republican, is leading the transition team. There will be a few of the extreme, out-of-the-mainstream loyalists, such as Gingrich and Giuliani, and perhaps there may even be some odd picks that might even be somewhat acceptable to Democrats.

One area of policy that should be able to be passed very early on in his administration is the massive infrastructure improvement program once they figure out how to pay for it. President Obama, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump all support a major commitment to rebuilding our infrastructure. A President Trump can probably get this passed in a Republican Congress, but he may have difficulty getting the support of many of the Freedom Caucus in the House, the tea party crowd, who are often from the rural areas. They may be resistant because most of the major infrastructure projects will probably be in the more urban areas, infrastructure improvements costs money and, believe it or not, many of these Freedom Caucus members don’t believe that massive government spending creates jobs. 

Like Reagan, Trump will probably not have much interest or ability to govern in a democracy so these cabinet and other high-level appointees will have a lot of discretion, which could be very problematic, but not the end of the world.

Unintended Consequences

Once the dust has settled, the Republican Party will have to decide who they really are and what they want to be. Most of my Republican friends were just hoping that this Trump phenomenon would quickly pass after it appeared that he was on his way to losing the election until the FBI’s Comey intervened. Now, they are now trying to figure out how they, traditional Republicans, especially those with moderate views on social issues, fit into the party of Trump, if at all. They also question whether the party will end up splitting into a more traditional 1950s Republican Party and a Fox News-driven Nationalist Party modeled after the National Front in France, the True Finns in Finland or the Golden Dawn in Greece. Trying to hold these two groups together in one party might well be too difficult a political feat.

Also, the party that wins the White House almost invariably does poorly in the off-year election two years later. Wisconsin has two very important elections coming up in 2018, the re-election of Sen. Tammy Baldwin and the governor’s race. If the Democrats can win the governor’s race in 2018, redistricting after the 2020 census will take place during that four-year term. The Republican-controlled Legislature and a Democratic governor will have to agree on a legislative district map, which I wouldn’t bet on, or the new districts will end up being drawn by the courts. Hopefully a court-drawn map would have honest districts, not like our current gerrymandered map. 

Let’s hope that there isn’t too much damage done in the next four years and that in 2020, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren decides to run for president. So in the meantime, please join me in sending vitamin pills and exercise videos to 83-year-old Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

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