The Trump Presidency: A Worst-Case Scenario
The Oxford professor who correctly predicted the end of the Soviet Union now offers his prognosis of America for the next four years
Prediction is a difficult thing. There are, though, times when it is a bit less difficult, the time when a trend can be recognised. Such was the case of the Soviet Union at the beginning of the 1980s. The trend was economic decline and the inability to adopt new technology. The collapse duly occurred.
Can we make predictions about the Trump presidency? What is the trend from which we can extrapolate? All we have is his past career and his campaign speeches, but they are probably enough to make some predictions. His admiration for President Putin is a good indication of things to come both in foreign and in domestic policy.
Will he build a wall along the Rio Grande against illegal immigrants? That was, after all, his first campaign promise. He will not. It is too expensive and it is not needed anyway. A much cheaper solution is to shoot immigrants who try to enter the country illegally — and it is much more effective.
Will he remove over two million illegal immigrants who have a criminal record? The number is probably not more than a tenth of what he claimed. He will be lucky if he can remove as many as 10,000.
Will he ban Muslims entering the United States? No, he will not. He will create the categories of Good Muslims and Bad Muslims. The former will be allowed in.
Will he lock up Hillary Clinton as he often threatened? No, he will not. It was a boast to show how determined he was, and how brazen he can be when dealing with criminals, however powerful they are. But having won he will regard Hillary as a spent force. She will not even be sent into exile.
What will he do with Obamacare? He might replace it with a cheaper variety but quite likely he will just scrap it.
Will he withdraw from the UN climate change programme? He will.
Will he bomb Raqqa more intensively? He will.
Will he renege on the Iranian nuclear deal? He won’t. It would take too much effort to understand all the implications.
What will he do with the Federal Reserve? Sack its chairwoman and place it under presidential control.
Intimidation will start fairly early, within the first 100 days. It might start with a particularly biting anti-Trump article in one of the liberal newspapers, say the New York Times. What will he do? He will not as yet have the power to put the journalist behind bars, as Turkey’s President Erdogan would do. He will just denounce the article as a foul attack on him by the old and discredited elite. Meanwhile, he will quietly encourage his faithful followers, those who chanted “kill Obama” at one of his rallies, to rid him of that turbulent journalist. They will oblige. They will beat up the journalist, who may or may not survive.
The independence of the judiciary will also be undermined. Nominees to the Supreme Court will be Trump’s cronies. But he will do more. He will interfere with the election of judges. A judge denounced will never have life insurance approved by any insurance company. Freedom of assembly will also be threatened. Consistent anti-Trump rallies will be broken up by thugs while the police will look the other way.
What will be Trump’s foreign policy? He said that he will make Europe pay for American protection. Even if he does not make that immediate claim, he will not be interested in strengthening Nato. He will let Nato wither away. He wants Europe to be weak. He will support all movements which want to break up the European Union. He will support Marine Le Pen in France and the Alternative for Germany (AfD) in Germany. In that he will be in perfect agreement with President Putin. Why have two centres of power in Europe? One is plenty and it is much better for stability.
It is then logical to have an early meeting with Putin. They both think in a similar way. They are both bullies who want to rule the world, but they realise that they are not strong enough to achieve that. They will make a compromise, a historic compromise: divide the world between them as it was once done by Ribbentrop and Molotov. What does Putin want? To restore the Soviet Empire. In particular he wants the annexation of Crimea recognised. He might be willing to compromise on the two rebel-held areas in eastern Ukraine, perhaps keeping one and giving the other back to Ukraine, in exchange for having land access to Crimea. And of course Putin would want to have land access to the Kaliningrad Oblast (once East Prussia) as well. A modest request. Unfortunately the Baltic states are in the way. So the solution is the return of the Baltic states to the bosom of Russia (which thinks they obtained their independence by illegal means, anyway). Of course, this will not be openly said. It might be contained in a secret clause to the joint declaration by Trump and Putin.
On Eastern Europe, Trump will understand Putin’s desire to have some buffer states. He will let the Russians Finlandise the old Soviet satellites, Poland, the Czech Republic, Romania and Hungary. Putin, just to show his moderation, will not claim East Germany in spite of the fact that he had his best years there. The Stasi is one of his fondest memories. Putin will also think of Western Europe. He will offer oil for neutrality, a kind of semi-Finlandisation.
What can Putin offer to Trump? A reversal of the Russian propaganda against the United States. That will be welcome — but what else? He will be willing to respect the Monroe Doctrine brought conveniently up to date: America is for the Americans. He will not mind US military intervention in some of the states in South and Central America that have been hostile to the US: Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador and Nicaragua, just to mention the principal sinners. He would condone American intervention in other Latin American states too, although his advice to President Trump will be not to hurry things. Wait for the right opportunity, he would advise.
Why would all this be acceptable to Trump? It sounds like a bad bargain. Not for him. He would want to weaken Europe anyway. If Putin wants the same thing, that would only help. He did not want those arrogant, college-educated Europeans to have any influence over America. They won’t lecture him on democracy. He heard somewhere the names of Montesquieu and de Tocqueville, but whoever they are, that’s not his concern. He knows very well what democracy is and how to keep it flourishing in the US. The recipe is simple: what is good for President Trump is good for American democracy.
The division of the world between Putin and Trump will leave out China, the world’s second-biggest economy. Trump promised to impose high tariffs on Chinese goods and stop outsourcing. China will respond in kind. Whether it will be good for either of them is doubtful. However, Trump’s protectionism might lead to unexpected consequences. It is likely to initiate an Asia for the Asians movement. There will be a rapprochement between old enemies, China and Japan, an alliance which India might also join.
What about Trump’s economic policies at home? He will reduce income tax for the workers and corporation tax for businesses. He will increase defence spending, and at the same time find those paltry trillion dollars needed to bring American infrastructure up to date. Where will the money come from? Trees on which million-dollar notes grow are notoriously difficult to plant.
The main ingredient of Trump’s economic policy is protectionism. He is against the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta), which has reduced trade barriers between the US, Canada and Mexico. He is against the Trans-Pacific Partnership and vehemently against the deal being negotiated between the US and the EU. Will he do a trade deal with the UK in preference to the EU? He will. He was one of the few Americans who welcomed the result of the Brexit referendum. Was this because of his Scottish origins? Unlikely, considering that Scotland voted to remain in the EU. He will support Brexit in order to show to members of the EU that anyone with an exit policy will be welcomed by the Trump administration.
Will President Trump undermine democracy? He will do his best. His first job will be to purge the ranks of the Republicans. He will paraphrase Cesare Borgia’s motto: Aut Trump, aut nihil. Anyone less than totally loyal will be purged. Members of Congress will be in permanent fear of falling out of favour.
Fortunately the American political system has an antidote to too ambitious presidents: the midterm elections. With the inevitable failure of his policies, his popularity will tumble. There will be a Democratic landslide. Trump will lose both the Senate and the House of Representatives. The president — unused to any constraint and having the backing of a Trumped Supreme Court — will try to rule by executive orders and presidential proclamations. There will be constant conflict with Congress. Impeachment procedures will start in year three. Trump will be impeached in year four.