A friend of mine sort of asked me to speculate on what a Trump Presidency will look like in 2017, presumably so I can be proven right and her catastrophically wrong.
It’s a difficult one, as Trump has no history in politics to look back on. I think we can safely say he won’t be as bad as his detractors are saying he will, because that would involve the skinning of puppies on the White House lawn while simultaneously launching nuclear weapons at China on the orders of Putin and urging his supporters to go out there and grab a woman by the pussy. That isn’t going to happen.
The biggest damage he can do is via the military or the economy. I really don’t think he will do any of what I would call “damage” outside these spheres, and that would include demolishing the UN building with everybody still in it, ignoring the Paris Agreement, sacking a good half of all federal employees, continuing to troll the press, and undoing Obamacare. Others’ views may differ as to what constitutes “damage”, but that’s the gist of mine. In other words, I really don’t care if those who are wringing their hands over Trump’s potential domestic social policies are still wringing their hands, or even hanging themselves from rafters, throughout 2017.
I don’t think there is any risk of Trump going on the warpath, particularly against Russia and thankfully not over Syria. Had Hillary won, we might be looking at a serious confrontation now as shrill voices call for no-fly zones over Aleppo which would involve American jets shooting down Russian ones and Stinger missiles being handed out willy-nilly to jihadist rebels. Trump appears to have more sense than that. That said, Trump knows he has a decent military at his disposal and will certainly be prepared to use it if required. I don’t think he’s going to shy away from potential military confrontation if he believes doing so would make America’s position weaker, and this was demonstrated by his remarks over Taiwan and Israel. There is a chance he could blunder into a military engagement which would prove disastrous, but one would hope that he has appointed General Mattis so that he is properly advised on such matters and can avoid making the mistakes of his predecessors. With Mattis as Secretary of Defence, Trump ought not to be rushing headlong into inadvisable wars. The best outcome that can he hoped for, and I think is achievable, is that the USA uses military force (or the threat of) sparingly in those places where it is needed most, but leaves any potential adversary under no illusions as to what will happen if America is trifled with. This would involve the USA telling Europe it is going to have to have to shoulder much more of the responsibility for its own defence from now on, which will be expensive and require its people to fight occasionally. Good.
On the economy I think Trump is far less certain, mainly because I think he is trying to do the impossible. There have been genuine losers from globalisation, people who saw their jobs disappear to China or Mexico and not replaced, and these made up a large chunk of Trump’s support. He made promises during his election campaign that he would bring jobs back to America, but this would mean either subsidising domestic production, imposing tariffs or a combination of the two, none of which is economically sensible or even possible on the scale required to revitalise America’s rust belt. The best he can do is remove the artificial barriers to American job creation: overly stringent environmental legislation, leaden bureaucracy, Union intransigence, and taxes which are too high. Even if he manages this, and gains a hearty round of applause for me, I don’t think it will make much different to manufacturing and other secondary industries in the United States: the forces of globalisation are too large and the results too beneficial for almost everybody to be reversed. The best that can be said is that at least Trump recognises there is a social problem and wants to do something about it, but it’s way beyond his – or anyone else’s – capacity to do anything about it.
If he wants to improve the nation’s finances he could start by reducing the size of the giant, sprawling bureaucracies that make up the federal government and suck up so many hundreds of billions of dollars, something no other President has managed to do – Reagan included. With a trajectory like this, the best we can hope for is he does enough to slow their growth a bit and puts a tiny dent in the annual deficit.
In summary, and judging by what he’s done so far, I don’t think he will be awful, and nor will he be great, at least by the criteria I’ve laid out here. I think he will be at worst a decidedly average President in 2017, and at best one who surprises us by not being too bad. Of those two options, I’ll go for the latter. I also think he’ll be far better than Hillary would have been, and Obama was.