By W. Timothy Sutton
I did not support Donald Trump for president of the United States. I did not vote for Donald Trump to become president of the United States. I voted for John Kasich in the primary. I gave money to Rand Paul, Ted Cruz & Marco Rubio to prevent Donald Trump from becoming the Republican nominee for president. Part of that was my incredibly incorrect belief that Donald Trump had absolutely no shot at winning the presidency which would then result in Hillary Clinton ascending to the highest post in the land if not the world. Hillary Clinton as president meant an activist Supreme Court, a complete takeover by the federal government of many aspects of American life, and would not have resulted in a less aggressive foreign policy and may have actually increased America’s war posture. I believed Donald Trump was too undisciplined and too vulgar and lacked any kind of organizational ability to beat her. He lacked policy knowledge or ideals. He was a bigot and a misogynist. He was and still is unfit for the presidency. But a combination of RNC ground game, white voter backlash, black voter apathy, an ill timed letter from the director of the FBI, and Clinton overconfidence have conspired to make Donald J. Trump the 45th president of the United States. So where do we go from here?
Now, first it kind of seems silly for me to be suggesting where we go from here. No one was more wrong about what would happen over the course of this election than I was. I predicted a Rubio nomination in March of 2015 and as recently as September 10th would have pegged the chances of a Clinton win at 100%. But in order for me to make sense of what just happened and what will happen here goes.
The first thing to realize is that Barack Obama is a transcendent figure in American history. It should go without saying that the first black president would be, but it really seems that everyone forgot it. As someone who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and then did not vote for Hillary Clinton, I should have seen that. Clinton will finish with something like 8 million less votes than Obama got in 2008 and 4 million less votes than 2012. Trump may barely top McCain and should come just short of Romney. He will be massively short of Bush in 2004. The Obama vote not showing up may not completely explain the victory as the location of those votes matter, but it goes a long way. Hillary lost Michigan both because of the “white working class” and because Detroit and Flint did not show up at the polls. Milwaukee not showing up in Wisconsin cost her that state as well. But in reality Wisconsin should have been close. Bush barely lost there twice and Scott Walker has been elected there 3 times in the last 6 years. The Obama results there in 2008 and 2012 obscured that. They were the outlier, not this year. Romney nearly won Florida, a Democrat not named Obama loses there in 2012. The polls were wrong (and to be fair they weren’t that wrong, they generally were within the margin of error) because they assumed a 2012 electorate that just didn’t show up.
The thing about Barack Obama being a transcendent figure in American history is important. He is not going away. He is highly popular. He commands huge constituencies. He commands attention. Presidents have gone away after their presidencies recently. There is no real reason to think President Obama will. If President Trump steps outside the norms of the presidency, President Obama will be there to call him on it.
Another thing to realize is that to win the presidency, you must have a positive message. President Obama was hope & change. President Bush was compassionate conservatism. President Clinton was the man from Hope who didn’t stop thinking about tomorrow. President Bush had a thousand points of light and President Reagan promised morning in America. President Trump promised to Make America Great again. Say what you want about it, but it is a positive message. My last post went deep into whether America is great or ever was, but the message is strong and simple. What was Hillary Clinton’s message? I’m with her? Seriously, if that is not it I don’t know. And if I’m with her was the message than where is the hope in that? Where is the positivity in that? It wasn’t a message as much as bullying. Oh, you’re not with her? You must hate women. A certain amount of introspection must be had by her supporters. Did they support the idea of Hillary Clinton, a woman the perception of whom was as cold and calculating and secretive, becoming president? Or did they support the idea of a woman becoming president period? In the end she had no message and the enthusiasm gap was real. You simply cannot win by being against something instead of for something. In the end Hillary’s message was, “I’m not Trump.” That doesn’t work. It didn’t work in local elections I have been a part of and it doesn’t work in national elections.
But that’s looking back, what comes next? Honestly, I think Donald Trump generally governs like a generic Republican president. The possibility of his cast of clowns attaining positions of power does frighten the hell out of me though. David Clarke or Rudy Giuliani as the head of Homeland Security should frighten everyone. Giuliani as Attorney General will mean that civil rights and criminal rights will need to be guarded much more vigorously. Mike Rogers in any position of power in national security requires vigilance on domestic surveillance and Fourth Amendment issues. John Bolton is the neocon of all neocons and the possibility of him becoming Secretary of State should terrify everyone.
But in reality Trump will push for lower taxes. He may push for greater infrastructure spending. Federal funding for Planned Parenthood may disappear but abortion won’t. The Supreme Court will remain in stasis and Breyer & Ginsburg will be there until 2020 unless they pass away. Gay marriage will remain the law of the land and will fade from view as an issue. No one will care about the debt or the deficit. The one large policy issue will be Obamacare. It will be reformed but I highly doubt that any of the currently covered 20 million will lose their policies. Federal spending will go up and the debt will rise. No wall will be built. We will not withdraw from NATO or the UN. There may be lots of EPA and SEC regulations that get repealed, but NAFTA will not be renegotiated.
While the impact of the Trump administration will not be that much different than a typical Republican. Hillary and the Democrats wanted more change. They wanted more federal oversight. There will not be more of those types of things and a limited amount of protections now in place may be taken back, churches will not have to pay for abortifacients and places will not have to bake cakes for gay weddings but the Voting Rights Act will not be repealed in its entirety and 42 USC 1983 will remain the law of the land even if enforcement under a Giuliani Department of Justice is different.
Elections have consequences, I said that when people were acting as though Obama was doing illegitimate things. He could do those things because he won the election. I thought procedurally Merrick Garland should have been appointed to the Supreme Court. I am now glad that he was not but that doesn’t mean that the process was correct. Hopefully the process gets respected again though I doubt it will.
The real impact of a Trump presidency will be in the culture. I do not know what the impact will be. I pray that it does not lead to more accommodation of racist and bigoted views. I pray that it does not lead to discrimination against Muslims and Hispanics or acts of violence against them. I pray that antisemitism does not rise. I pray that it does not lead to weekly riots from the left because they did not get their way or that he is not their president. He is their president. He, like Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H. W. Bush, Ronald Reagan & Jimmy Carter before him, is my president. Let us act like it.
I hope he succeeds. If he fails, we all fail. We can disagree. We can protest. We can petition the government for redress of our grievances. We must do those things. We must act as a watchdog for abuses of power and authority. The Constitution is the ultimate authority on government not the whims of the people or the president. If we do not put our faith in princes we will rise to the moment. America is the same country it was Monday. We have the same faults and problems and fault lines. We face a rapidly changing world, both technologically and ideologically. But we have the same heroic people living here. We have the same love. We have the same courage & genius.
The thing to remember is that America is better today than it was four years ago. It was better four years ago than it was eight years ago. We are, in fact, more tolerant, more prosperous, healthier, and safer as a whole than any people have ever been in history. I would be willing to bet that we are more of all of those things in four years. I would have made that bet no matter who had won Tuesday. Because the person who is president does not define us. Now let us meet the ambitions of our nation. Let us fulfill the glorious promise that our founders gave in those magnificent documents. The world is turned upside down but our ambitions and our nation are made of sterner stuff.