I published the essay at 3 Quarks Daily as well as here. Particularly at 3QD, which has a much larger readership than my site, I got a lot of interesting and robust feedback in the Comments section. Really good dialog from smart people on all sides of the issue.
It now occurs to me that while I touched on a lot of good points in my effort to engage Trump supporters, I actually failed to address the one issue that will resonate most with many of them.
And I’m not talking about the racist and xenophobic Trump supporters. I’m talking about the people who don’t like that about him, but are unfortunately willing to look past it because he offers the one thing they really want: a chance to severely disrupt the system.
I too want to severely disrupt the system. How much? For starters, I’m a longtime registered Green who’s never voted for a major party presidential candidate. So I understand the urge.
In that context, one might be tempted to lecture Trump supporters that their man offers the wrong kind of disruption. And while I think that’s true, taking that line of reasoning would largely be a waste of time. At this point, Trump supporters have either rejected that conclusion, or have made peace with the notion that any disruption is preferable to business as usual.
Much more disconcerting to many Trump supporters, and the point I failed to make, is that a Trump presidency will not actually be very disruptive to the status quo.
Trump won’t really be the anti-establishment monkey wrench as his supporters hope. Indeed, he will largely be co-opted by the system and do very little to change it.
Why? Several reasons, some of which I discussed in the original essay.
- His lack of political experience and skill will marginalize his ability to bring about fundamental changes to the system.
- While Trump might have started as an outsider candidate, and still presents himself as such by using unorthodox rhetoric, he’s actually on his way to becoming an insider. After all, he’s not running on a third party ticket or as an independent. Rather, he’s running as a major party candidate. The GOP is a large, powerful institution, and it will absorb him, just like the Democratic Party has begun to absorb Bernie Sanders.
- It’s almost certain that if Trump wins the presidency, his party will also firmly control both house of Congress. And they are not nearly as beholden to him as they would be to a more conventional candidate who raised money for them and has a long history of working and building alliances within the party.
Take all of these factors together, and then ask yourself: What would a Trump presidency actually look like?
Any effort Trump makes to disrupt the Republican Party will be countered by the party’s attempts to co-opt him. He will be under constant pressure to conform, and if he want’s to get much of anything done, he’ll have to.
Because passing legislation isn’t like winning a TV debate. Words don’t get it done. You actually have to pull the levers of power. The office of the president is very powerful, but Trump lacks the experience and skills to use it effectively vis a vis Congress. He can’t write or pass laws; he needs Congress to do that for him. But the party is large, well funded, and very powerful. Furthermore, Congress doesn’t really care what you think (which is part of everyone’s frustrations). If he doesn’t substantially bend to their will, their continue to flash their calling card: Inaction.
Historically, it has proven easier for hundreds of Congressman and senators to sidestep or even cripple a president than for a president to bring hundreds of congressmen and senators to heel, which is what he needs to do to pass legislation. Specifically, relative outsiders like Andrew Johnson and Jimmy Carter who scoffed at becoming insiders have stumbled badly. Carter even had trouble advancing bills when his own party controlled Congress. And Trump is much more of an outsider than either one of them.
If Trump wins, the Republican Party will have majorities in both houses, and probably some seething resentment at how The Donald made a shambles of their campaign season; indeed, most of the party is already in a cold war with him. They will owe Trump no political favors and, after a brief honeymoon period, will feel no need to honor whatever popular mandate he has mustered.
So how would it play out?
President Trump will probably push one or two signature issues, such as the wall (which will really be just a ceremonial fence accomplishing nothing). But he will probably not radically alter the larger Republican agenda. He simply won’t have the leverage to force those changes.
Beyond that, since Trump doesn’t actually show much interest in most issues, it seems likely that he will largely sign off on most of the bills they put in front of him.
Trump supporters should realize that if they succeed in electing him, mostly they’ll end up getting what the GOP wants, not the major disruptions that Trump has promised. A lot of it will actually be business as usual.
So in the end, they’ll have the frustration of seeing the revolution fizzle, and the embarrassment of having voted for a genuine racist.