No matter the length of the Donald Trump era, four years or eight, the next Democrat – or even Republican – who ultimately lands in the Oval Office will begin his or her administration under the heavy shadow of the deliberately disruptive, history-altering 45th president. This will force, front and center, not only decisions far more vexing than those which ordinarily occur in a change of administrations, but the incorporation of a political culture radically different than that of November 7, 2016 – the eve of Trump’s election.
In 2016, voters were presented with the first presidential nominee in their lifetimes who could credibly claim not to be controlled by lobbyists and Washington power brokers due to his own wealth and the genuinely independent, insurgent, and populist nature of his candidacy. Will the whole issue of party loyalty and special interests be prominent in future presidential campaigns, or will we return to political races replete with candidates at the mercy of the same forces we came to loathe in the pre-Trump era?
After the permanent D.C. bureaucracy was persistently and irreversibly labeled by Trump as the deep state, or the Swamp, will civil servants from bottom to top ever again command true respect among everyday citizens? Will they be viewed as an impediment to progress, or can they restore their reputation – if they ever had one – as servants of the people?
Will the elite “fake news” media ever be held in nearly the same regard after sacrificing their last vestiges of credibility at the altar of removing Trump by whatever means avail themselves? Has the media’s now-open alliance with the left forever damaged the very notion of journalistic integrity? Must the protections afforded the press in the first amendment – for the purpose of holding the entire political class accountable – now be seen in a whole new light? Has a mass of people permanently shunted aside big corporate media in favor of boutique operations such as LibertyNation.com?
The changed dynamic of the presidency under Trump is manifested in radical shifts in policy, not just from the Obama era, but from the entire long march of establishment rule. If Joe Biden wins the presidency this year, or another chief executive is elected in 2024, he will be faced with either affirming or reversing multiple explosively controversial, game-changing decisions made by President Trump.
Exhibit A is the ultimate disposition of the partially built Wall on our southern border, which will be viewed as much a symbol of Trump’s successor as it was of Trump. Would the next Democratic president tear down the Wall, continue building it, or pretend it’s not there? In light of Trump’s unprecedented rhetoric on the subject and the present pandemic, are attitudes about immigration likely to change or evolve? Will America turn further inward, protecting its own after the reign of terror from a virus carried here from overseas? Or will Americans separate the fate of illegal immigrants from the broader issue of international policy?
After Trump finally challenged the world’s second largest nation – and largest communist state – with a full resolve previously thought inconceivable through tortuous trade negotiations, public admonition, and labeling of the pandemic as the China virus, can our relationship with the Chinese ever be the same? Will we make a hard turn away from the shame of the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations standing idly by as China ravaged our intellectual property, seduced American consumers, and partnered with titans of American industry, constructing a world economic and military powerhouse – and then let the COVID-19 plague loose on the world?
After the last three administrations failed in their every effort to tame the totalitarian Kim Jong-Un in North Korea and reduce if not eliminate one of the world’s most present nuclear threats, will the now-discredited approach of multilateral negotiations be allowed to resume and replace the brash personal diplomacy of this president? After Trump famously stepped over that line into North Korea and shook hands with the despised dictator, will the restored image of state department types and European diplomats sitting around a table using traditional diplomacy ever regain currency? Will Trump’s approach in the fullness of time be viewed as wise or dangerous?
Would President Obama’s Iran nuclear deal, unilaterally canceled by Trump, be put back in play by a President Biden or President Kamala Harris? Would the notion of squelching the short-term nuclear threat of Iranians openly proclaiming their hatred of America in return for setting them free from constraints after a few years be considered acceptable by the American people?
Would reversing Trump’s equally outspoken withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord be viewed with favorability in a nation increasingly given over to fear of climate change yet unaware, until Trump lent his loud voice, of the dire consequences to their way of life inherent in the solutions proposed by the left?
After being upbraided by Trump for the refusal of several of their members to honor their agreements to fund the common defense of the 30-member alliance, leading to billions of dollars more in commitments, will NATO ever again be able to quietly overlook the free-loading nations drafting off America’s largesse?
On the central matter of war and peace, if his administration ended today, Trump would be the first president since the end of the cold war to claim less military involvement in foreign conflicts than when he entered office. Peace is a commodity greatly valued by the American people, and Trump’s willingness to do the unthinkable, criticize a president of his own party over the Iraq War while he was seeking the 2016 GOP nomination, set a new standard of independence attractive to a broad mass of voters. Would Mike Pence, Tim Scott, or Nikki Haley be forced into displaying a similar distance from the accepted dictates of party politics? Would Democrats be willing to do the same?
After exceeding even his own ambitious goals for deregulating the economy and setting loose an economic revival which even Trump-deranged Democrats could not deny before the onset of the plague, could the next president turn around and decouple a vibrant economy from the historically aggressive deregulation by Trump? Could we expect the many job-creating small businesses who have testified to the financial benefits of deregulation to represent the genie escaping the bottle? Could adding back many of the thousands of regulations cancelled by this administration actually be a live option for the next person in the Oval Office?
Are the Trump-era tax cuts, proven by the hard numbers, percentage-wise, to benefit working class Americans more than the “rich,” be comfortably reversed with tax hikes, especially given the job losses and trillions added to the national debt in fighting the virus? Could the state of virtual full employment reached before the coronavirus continue if the corporate tax cuts in the 2018 bill were weakened or cancelled?
After delivering on so much of what he so boldly promised as a candidate, whether you love or loathe him, Donald Trump has undoubtedly exceeded even his own lofty ambitions as one man trying to overtake an entire power structure. Despite unrelenting opposition from entrenched forces larger than him, he has single handedly created a broad and sweeping movement representing a significant portion of the population – more than a third, less than a half – which no matter the outcome of this election will leave an indelible imprint on our political culture. The only question now is whether, or to what degree, the Trump era will produce a future with a new standard for politics itself.
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