By Chris Jennewein
For many, perhaps most Americans, the first month of the drama-filled Donald Trump presidency has been a case of imagining the worst and hoping for the best.
America is a uniquely practical country. We haven’t been fond of political ideologies like communism, socialism, populism and fascism. We think only crazies overseas really believe in those things.
So when Trump tells Republicans they’re part of “a movement the likes of which, actually, the world has never seen before” and his Rasputin-like chief strategist Steve Bannon vows “deconstruction of the administrative state,” it sounds an awful lot lot like an ideology. And not a good one.
Amid that ominous backdrop, here’s a list of the worst-case and best-case scenarios in six important areas:
Trump’s election ushered in a new bull market in stocks. The Dow Jones Industrial Average burst through 20,000, and Trump hired the co-author of “Dow 36,000” to lead his Council of Economic Advisers. Ford, Boeing, General Motors, Carrier and other companies are promising new investment. It looks good now, but much could go wrong.
- Worst Case — Trump’s “economic nationalism” leads to trade wars, causing millions to lose their jobs, and the market to plunge, in a sequel to the 1930s-era Smoot-Hawley Tariff experience.
- Best Case — Trump and the Republican-led Congress make significant reforms in corporate taxes, while ending onerous regulations, leading to massive new hiring and investment. A major investment in infrastructure rebuilds America’s roads, bridges and airports.
Opposition to immigration, particularly from Mexico, and a vow to build a wall along the border were perhaps the signature positions of the Trump campaign. Never mind that more Mexicans are leaving than arriving, and most immigrants now are Asians entering through airports, Trump is nevertheless moving ahead on a “great, great wall” and promising to make Mexico pay.
- Worst Case — Annual deportations increase to the millions, an expensive 30-foot-high wall causes environmental ruin across the southwest, ICE agents pull Dreamers from college classes and Mexico militarizes its side of the border.
- Best Case — Deportations of criminal aliens increase, and the border becomes more secure through a practical combination of walls, fences and high-tech surveillance. With security established, Congress takes advantage of a political opening to finally create a path to citizenship for law-abiding undocumented immigrants.
On the campaign trail Trump called climate change a hoax perpetrated by China to hamstring American industry. He promised to put coal miners back to work and picked a fossil-fuel supporter to head the Environment Protection Agency. But he told the Conservative Political Action Committee on Thursday that “I want regulation. I want to protect our environment.”
- Worst Case — The United States drops out of the Paris Agreement on climate change, the government supports coal while renewable energy dwindles, and the nascent electric vehicle market collapses.
- Best Case — Unnecessary environmental regulations are eliminated and the long-term switch from coal to much-cleaner natural gas continues. Carbon-free nuclear power makes a comeback. Trump criticizes the Paris Agreement, but keeps the United State involved.
Whether he’s calling NATO “obsolete,” hanging up on Australia’s prime minister or praising Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Trump’s foreign policy seems the most out-of-control aspect of the new administration. Does “America First” mean isolationism, anti-global bluster or a more nuanced change in our relationship with the rest of the world?
- Worst Case — A humiliated Mexico turns to the left and militarizes its border. China and the U.S. get into a shooting war over the tiny islands in the South China Sea. We get bogged down fighting ISIS — and Iran — in the Mideast. The U.S. pulls back from NATO as Russia seizes all of the Ukraine.
- Best Case — Trump’s top-notch secretarial team (see below) steers the President to a more moderate course, perhaps acting as a collective “good cop” to their boss’ “bad cop” bluster.
Trump may be a political insurgent, but his team is mostly from the Washington-Wall Street establishment. Defense Secretary James Mattis, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelley and Labor Secretary-nominee Alexander Acosta have won Democratic acclaim. Goldman Sachs-alum Steven Mnuchin at the Treasury is unlikely to want to preside over a worldwide financial crash. The rest of the world has breathed a sigh of relief at choices like these.
- Worst Case — Trump ignores the advice of his team, making decisions in a vacuum. One by one they resign and are replaced by ideological Trump supporters.
- Best Case — Trump thrives amid the competing views and gradually moves to the center, with Bannon becoming less and less influential.
The elephant in the room is whether “Trumpism” is an ideology and what it means for America.
- Worst Case — Populist economic nationalism brings to an end the liberal, American-led world order that has prevailed since World War II. The economy collapses and America begins to look a little like Argentina under Juan Peron.
- Best Case — Trump gives a bloated, unresponsive Washington bureaucracy a needed shakeup, but his populism is constrained by the Constitution’s checks and balances. In the end, he looks increasingly like conservative Republican, perhaps a bit like Ronald Reagan.
For many Americans, it’s a scary time right now. Let’s hope for the best.
Chris Jennewein is editor and publisher of Times of San Diego.
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