The Future of US Politics

The first week of Trump’s presidency was not surprising. We didn’t know specifically what narcissistic, attention seeking behavior Donald Trump would engage in, but we knew that he would continue to do and say outrageous things. Every week, he will find a way to trash conventions. What we don’t know is how long it will take his supporters to tire of his ego-driven, childish behavior. Nor do we know how politicians will react to his behaviors as Trump continues to undermine principles the country stands for.

Trump created a powerful brand. We choose brands, not products, without much thought. We don’t have time to do scientific comparisons of the things we purchase. Instead, we buy products with an appealing image. Are Nike shoes better than everyone else’s? Maybe. Who knows besides Consumer Reports? Just do it. We live increasingly in a world where the power of the image supersedes reality.

Trump’s slogan was Make America Great Again. His messaging was consistent and simple. America was a disastrous country. It was in a horrible condition. His evidence was not statistical or factual. He used emotion-evoking words and phrases like crime, rape, murder, political correctness, job loss, radical Islamic terrorists, NAFTA, trade imbalance, and government regulation. His description of America as a whole was not accurate, but that did not make any difference to some segments of the population. Trump’s brand also involved him being a man who said exactly what was on his mind. This appealed to people who were tired of politicians lying or flip-flopping. It allowed him to be forgiven when he said things that went too far because even when he said vulgar or racist things, people admired him for saying what he felt (being authentic). Brands are powerful. When we identify with a brand, we don’t lose faith in it easily because it becomes a part of who we see ourselves to be. Trump cast himself as the answer to America’s problems. He was the candidate who would shake things up in Washington. That was a fact, not an alternative fact. The shake up appealed to many people. Hillary’s brand did not include being a change agent; her appeal was more intellectual. Stronger together. She pledged to carry on the good work of President Obama. Her themes were women, families, and equality. Her brand was powerful too, but it provided no defense against a supposed e-mail scandal, and her product was not perceived as being anything new. In contrast, Trump could fix anything, so any problem that arose could be resolved (even if he caused the problem in the first place). The press was against him, so any damaging reporting could be said to be the result of its lies. Trump’s team was poor at planning and there were internal squabbles, firings, gaffes and confusions. However, given his brand or how the product was framed, the ineptness was not seen to be the result of incompetence, but was seen as part of the messy reinvention of politics that Trump was bringing about. Trump’s brand suggested he was powerful. He is emphasizing this now. In his inaugural address and in speeches afterwards he began associating himself with God. The rain, he claimed, stopped soon after he started speaking. God had anointed him. A common element of a dictator’s brand is being divinely ordained. Will some now believe his judgement is infallible?

How will Congress react? The Democrats seem torn between opposing Trump on everything, like the Republicans did against Obama, or trying to work with him on some issues where their interests align. Trump, Democrats realize, is not really a Republican. He is a party of one whose decisions do not arise out of loyalty to the Republican agenda. While I would normally recommend that the opposition party try to work with a new president, given the potential for destruction in Trump’s presidency, opposing him respectfully on everything that harms people, the environment, and our Republic is called for. In addition, it’s not wise to vote to confirm Cabinet nominees who will cause harm or who know nothing about the department they were chosen to lead. The excuse Democrats are making for voting in favor of these nominees is that Trump’s picks could have been worse. This makes no sense when the nominees will be confirmed anyway and lacks political savvy to be proven when these goof balls screw up.

The Republicans are having a bit of a honeymoon. For eight years they have been united by their opposition to Barack Obama. The mantra was don’t give Obama any victories. If Obama put forth a proposal for expanding health care, even if it was similar to Republican proposals, go around the country to talk about death panels. Even if the ACA slowed down the rate of spending on health care, provided millions of people the opportunity to purchase health care, eliminated the pre-existing conditions exceptions, and allowed young adults to stay on their parent’s insurance, the Republicans needed to attack “Obamacare” relentlessly. Don’t let him win. That strategy of virtually total opposition damaged the Republican brand and harmed the country, but it also succeeded in making the Democrats look ineffectual and encouraged the public’s demand for change (which was part of Trump’s brand). But soon, Republicans will run out if things to oppose that Obama created. They will no longer be able to unite in their desire to upend everything he stood for. In the short term, they can roll back much of the progress Obama made and get some of their easy-to-do policies passed. Republicans will work with Trump, and they will do all they can to look like a unified party. But, Trump’s marriage to Republicans won’t remain so close. He’ll soon leave governing to others, putting Pence and his new Cabinet in charge. But, while they do the work, he won’t shut up. Trump will probably find an excuse to travel around the country giving speeches, so he can get the attention he desperately needs, but people will tire of the spectacle. Without leadership at the top, the divisions in the Republican party will become more apparent. They will begin fighting amongst themselves. Members of his administration will quit, leaving chaos behind. When a calamity occurs, it will become apparent that the Trump team and the Republican party are ill equipped to deal with it and the blame they became so adept at placing on others outside the Republican party will be placed on other Republicans factions. The dysfunction will be monumental. More people will regret voting for Trump.

What will be the net result? I used to go to the horse races, but I haven’t placed a bet in years. But, I’ll give you the odds. Trump has a 25% chance of being impeached. He has a 30% chance of requiring hospitalization for mental issues. His chances of starting a war and/or leading the way toward a global economic recession or worse is about 40%. The odds of him quitting, I’d put at 10%. The odds of him making lots more money by being president, I’d put at 90%. The chances of the American people finding out exactly how much more money he will be worth, I’d put at 10% unless WikiLeaks gets its hands on his tax returns. The odds of him improving the political process and making America great for anyone other than the wealthy, I’d put at 5% or less.

The odds of the Democrats picking up seats in Congress in the next election, even though there are more Democrat seats up for reelection, I’d put at 80%. The chance of the Republican party splitting into two or three parties in four years time, I’d put at 50/50. Democrats will unite in their opposition to Donald Trump. They are the party of the majority of the American people. They will take back the White House and Senate in four years. How will Trump react to losing his reelection if he lasts that long? The odds of that presidential transition being scary are 99%.

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