Saturday, May 14, 2016

The burn-it-down theory of reform

Inspired by a comment from a former student, let's talk about the possible effects of a Trump presidency.  A liberal might think that a Trump presidency would be so disastrous that the inevitable consequence would be to push the country to the left.  It took the Great Depression to bring about the New Deal, after all.

This possibility relies on a few factors:

First, Trump would have to be so disastrous that major change to the political system would have to occur in his wake.  I don't talk much about my personal beliefs here, but I have an education.  I can't pretend to respect Trump.  As I have written before, I see him more as a Jimmy Carter than as a Mussolini (also, Tony Clifton).  One might take that as an indication that the League of Assassins theory could work.  (Sorry, "League of Shadows."  C'mon, Nolan...).  Carter's presidency was mediocre at best, resulting in Reagan's sweeping victory, which pushed the country to the right.

Of course, Carter's presidency was also beset by the oil crisis of the time (we seem to have the reverse going on now...), the revolution in Iran, the hostages, stag-flation (the unusual combination of high inflation and high unemployment).  A lot of that was out of Carter's hands, and by the same token, blind luck could make a Trump presidency look "successful."

What would really happen to the country with a President Trump?  Paul Ryan would effectively run the country.  Say what you will about the man, but he's a hell of a lot smarter than Trump.

The other factor that the Ra's al Ghul theory requires is that the effect is to push the Democratic Party to the left.  One could imagine that happening in a disastrous Trump administration, but what else could happen?  My student suggests that liberals should vote for a third party, handing the country to Trump, and using the disaster to sweep in a Democrat further to the left than Hillary in 2020.  Now, think about 2000.  The Naderites claimed that there wasn't "a dime's worth of difference" between Bush and Gore.  Yeah, that was wrong.  So, when the Naderites handed the presidency to Bush 43 (and yes, Nader did give Florida to Bush), that led to some very different policies than a Gore presidency would have pursued.  The most obvious examples are the Iraq War and the 2001 tax cuts.  That is Nader's legacy.

And whether you think those policies were disastrous or not, they did not push the Democratic Party to the left.  Instead, they made Nader a pariah to most Democrats, Kerry ran as a slightly-left-of-DLC Democrat and Obama's healthcare policy was essentially the Republicans' response to HillaryCare from 1994.  The only issue on which the Democrats have moved left since 2000 has been gay marriage, and most of the country has moved left on that.  In fact, Obama was slower than Dick Cheney to move left on that one.

So, if liberals give the White House to Trump by voting Green, that could result in a reverse-Reagan, Ra's al Ghul-style.  Or, it could lead to a bunch of policies that, while liberals dislike, don't plunge the country into a post-apocalyptic wasteland.  And, instead of turning left, the Democrats might turn so strongly against the Greens (or whichever other third party attracts the "Bernie or bust" crowd) out of spite that the effect is to revitalize the DLC (Democratic Leadership Council), which is the center-leaning wing of the party that produced Bill Clinton.  You know, the guy who signed the welfare reform bill and DOMA into law.

What happens with a Trump presidency?  I really don't know.  We've never had a president like that.  My reference point is Carter.  That could push the country to the left, in a reverse-Reagan.

Trump could also get lucky with economic and geopolitical events outside the president's control.

A Trump presidency could fail to turn the Democratic Party to the left, just as Nader handing the White House to Bush 43 failed to turn the party left.

Trump could die or be forced from office, hand the presidency to a VP who is just a normal politician, and the whole system reverts to regular politics.

And then there's the question of what happens to the Republican Party.  Even if Trump is a disastrous president, the Republican Party could decide that the problem is that he wasn't a true conservative.  And they'd be right!  Trump isn't a conservative. That doesn't mean that moving further right is necessarily the best course, but much of the party is primed to react that way anyway.  (See my paper on how Republicans view electoral politics, available here).

Could Trump push the country to the left in a reverse-Reagan scenario?  Maybe, but there are plenty of other possibilities.


  1. Good post, I'm an optimist, so I think it will move the country and the Dems more left, but you're right, anything could happen.

    I say let's test it ;)