Because some people just read the headline, let me be clear: I loathe Trump’s politics. I’m completely against him.
That out of way, let’s deepen our analysis.
Imagine if the next president, when he takes office, immediately makes history as the most unpopular president ever, not just in the US but all over the entire world. Imagine 90% of the world’s population allied against the world’s most powerful man. That could make an impression.
Imagine that very election was a fluke, a result of a divided opposition and a unified but fanatical minority, paired against a deeply unpopular establishment opponent, at a time of economic and imperial decline.
As a result, his every policy is questioned. Every failure of government is blamed on him. Every war gone wrong, every policy screw up, every late check, every infringement on rights and liberties, falls squarely at his feet. Every inefficiency, bad deal, waste, abuse, fraud, and foul up has a name written on it: TRUMP.
Just like his tower. Just like his steaks. Just like his golf clubs. Just like his “university.” The whole of the world’s largest and most intrusive government is now branded with his name. Trump Government. Instead of an amorphous bureaucracy catching blame, instead of the diffusion of responsibility to Congress or some legacy from the past, every single problem in people’s lives that results from government is now personified.
Sounds delicious, doesn’t it? Absolutely.
Now compare it with the alternative of a Hillary Clinton victory. She will continue politics as we know them, the very politics that gave rise to the Trump movement in the first place. Trump supporters will seethe as never before. They will demand the wall, protectionism, prohibition on immigration, an intensified drug war, more surveillance.
If we think this brown-tinged movement is scary now, imagine what it will look like after four years of a Clinton presidency! That’s a terrifying prospect. This could build a culture of revenge and build a blowback like we’ve never seen before. And it will not be friendly to liberty.
On the other hand, a Trump victory would give this crowd the red meat they demand, and then the problems start. Having achieved their dream of power, they now bear responsibility for the results.
Let’s just rule out right now that Trump’s hope of personally making America great is achievable. In fact, the illusion that it could happen is ridiculous. Societies become great only through the diffusion of action among millions and billions of people, one decision at a time. It is the absence of power, not its presence, that builds nations. It does not result from the authoritarian dictate from some great man.
Plus, not even the world’s most powerful and intelligent person is capable of managing such a sprawling apparatus as a central state, especially not one with millions of employees and tens of thousands of agencies and sub-agencies, plus 200 years of embedded legal and regulatory cruft gumming up the works. The whole of the modern state in developed democracies is structured to make them impossible to manage.
Presidents often talk about the vision they will impart to the country and the world but this is so much campaign blather. The remarkable thing about Donald Trump is that he might — in fact, he certainly does — believe his own rhetoric. He is in for a rude awakening from his first day in office. As Khrushchev discovered when he became the Soviet ruler, the bureaucracy does not obey you; controlling it is like controlling a “tub of dough.”
Just imagine how the bureaucratic class is going to treat his ruling pretensions! They will want nothing more than to humble him and take him down. He starts his job with zero credibility and loads of loathing. He is the last person that the permanent class of the deep state will obey. They will resist his every dictate.
He says he is a natural negotiator but business and government are very different things. He can’t count on profit and loss statements. He can’t count on people’s sense of what good business is. With the state, it’s all about maintaining status and power. To discombobulate people in high places takes a lot more than fear of a declining stock price. This is why there are such things as professional politicians and why business people are so often flummoxed by the world of politics.
Still, by the then, the entire Leviathan state will be branded with his name. He might start attempting to do things, some of them good, such as throwing monkey wrenches into the Pentagon spending gears. He might demand changes in the healthcare system. He might turn on the bureaucracy generally, in education, transportation, and even national security. He will try to cause chaos through scapegoating.
All of this can be good. The establishment in shambles, he will not be able to count on the old guard to put the pieces back together again. He will have to go it alone, while everyone who is anyone will work against his success. There are grave dangers to this approach. He could manage to wreck trading relationships, impose terrible tariffs, intensify the police state, use regulatory agencies to punish political enemies, and so on.
But remember that the resistance this time has tools at its disposal. We have social media. We have access to a gigantic publishing system. We have the world’s most efficient communications system. Combine that with a presumption of moral outrage at the “commander in chief” of the country and you have the makings of a serious and unignorable opposition.
And who will be the resistance? Think of everyone who has been criticizing Trump in the last six months. We are talking about the whole of the educated opinion classes: left, right, and center. Trump might moderate his tone. He might try to mainstream himself, and even attempt to ingratiate himself into the culture of the ruling elite. But it won’t work. He will never be forgiven for gaining power without their permission. He will never be forgiven for his long string of insults. He will be opposed at every step.
We need Trumpism now, if only to discover that Trumpism is a fake. We need to know this before it is too late.