The highly uncertain future facing us with the Trump administration


The incoming Donald Trump administration is taking shape and the invaluable site ProPublica has compiled a continuously updated list with brief backgrounds of what we know about the people being proposed so far for cabinet and cabinet-rank posts. It seems to be a mix of bankers, corporate executives, political hacks, and military people, plus one nutty person (Ben Carson) to liven things up at cabinet meetings when he is not spaced out. None of them has a background that suggests that they are likely to work for the benefit of many of the less-well-off Trump voters. So the betrayal of the working and middle classes, many of whom voted for Trump because of his grandiose promises to solve all their problems, is well under way.

What is also going to be interesting to see is the dynamic of how this set of people work together. Although the US president has a lot of executive power, the government is simply too big and unwieldy for one person to run and it depends on a lot of people working in concert. Trump’s autocratic style was developed in a business where he was able to hire and fire people at will and everyone had to be obsequious to him and he clearly revels in that milieu. Technically he can still do that since cabinet level appointees serve at the will of the president, but many of the people he has chosen are also used to autocratic systems in which they call the shots. It is inevitable that at some point, sooner rather than later, Trump will be displeased with something they do or that they are getting more attention than him or even (gasp!) more praise than him. How will a narcissist whose style is to humiliate those who displease him, react? And how will these people who are not used to being belittled, react in turn?

Another thing to watch for are the inevitable lawsuits that are going to be filed as the Trump administration takes actions that are of dubious legality. Autocrats are used to thinking that their word is law and although US presidents have got used to thinking that they can bend the law to their will, Trump is likely to take that approach well beyond even what Obama and Bush and their predecessors did. Trump has been a magnet for lawsuits in the past and there is no reason to think that he will be less so as president. How will he react when a court rules against him?

A third thing to watch is what happens when Trump’s business interests around the globe are targeted by those forces like al Qaeda, ISIS, and al Shabaab who see in them much softer targets of emblematic US power than military bases, US embassies, and consulates. You can be sure that those groups are going to target them. Is the US military going to be deployed as a security and retaliatory force for his private business interests?

It also seems likely that we are definitely going to see, at least initially, a tilt away from China and in favor of Russia. But China is a bigger economic power in the world than Russia. It has for a long time been building up alliances around the world by providing economic support to nations, especially in Asia and Africa, the new emerging markets. How will China react to any attempts by Trump to ‘punish’ that nation for its monetary and trade policies? And what will happen when US and Russian interests collide over some future issue? There are already strains over Syria and Iran policy and you can be sure that there will be more to come. Russia has its own global agenda and its president Vladimir Putin has ambitions of increasing and extending Russian power and is no fool.

Another big unknown so far is what a Trump administration will do concerning Israel and Palestine. Trump has been pandering to Israeli extremists by promising to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, a step that will be bound to inflame tensions in the region because it will be seen as a further step in Israel’s illegal annexation of Palestinian land and the continuation of the apartheid state that exists in the Occupied Territories.

We are entering an uncertain period because the US government is going to be run by people whose commitment to continuity is highly weak and who seem to believe even more than past administrations that the US really is the ruler of the world and can impose its will on it despite any opposition. That kind of hubris is what leads to trouble.

Comments

  1. Siobhan says

    whose commitment to continuity is highly weak

    That’s a polite way of calling them knuckle-dragging neanderthals.

  2. brucegee1962 says

    We are entering an uncertain period because the US government is going to be run by people whose commitment to continuity is highly weak and who seem to believe even more than past administrations that the US really is the ruler of the world and can impose its will on it despite any opposition.

    We’re starting to get a glimmer of how this is going to be played, I think, with the Taiwan dustup. As you say, Trump seems to think a) that he’s not bound by any agreement or custom or relationship, no matter how longstanding, and b) everything is negotiation for part of a deal. His negotiation tactic seems to be to start off by putting a marker as far down the table as his arm can reach — the equivalent of “I see your $5 opening and raise you your house, your family, your reputation, and all you hold dear.” Then he says “Hey, everything’s negotiable, including that crazy marker I just threw onto the table.” Using his opening bid as collateral, he walks it back until he’s gotten what he wanted in the first place, without having to give up anything to get there.

    That may have gotten him some great deals in the past. As I see it, though, the technique has three big problems. One is that, if a tactic works in business 90% of the time, and 10% you miscalculate and the deal blows up in your face, you’re still making tons of money and it’s no major skin off your nose if you have to declare one of your shell companies bankrupt. But in diplomacy, if you misread your adversary and piss them off enough — particularly if that adversary is China and has access to nukes — the consequences of a mistake are incalculably more dire.

    The second problem is that playing that kind of hardball tends to be a good short-term strategy, but a lousy long-term strategy. There was a board game popular a while ago called Diplomacy, which featured a lot of deal-making and, potentially, backstabbing and betrayal. A friend of mine always played scrupulously honestly, carefully honoring the letter of every agreement. In the short term, this meant he got backstabbed a few times and lost a few games. But when he was playing frequently with the same people, he eventually became unbeatable. Everyone knew he could be trusted, so they were eager to make deals with him. Likewise, the known backstabbers never had a chance, because everyone knew their word was worthless. So trashing our country’s rep for a few short-term deals may get him some amazing concessions, while the price that is being paid for them won’t be obvious until he’s long out of office.

    The third problem is, when Trump says he wants to renegotiate all these deals, is he doing so with the right goals? He says that he has some specific, concrete goals with respect to China, which are perhaps laudable — less protectionism, less currency devaluation, etc. Fine, maybe he’ll make progress in those areas, bully for him. But there are a web of other intangibles in diplomacy that can’t be measured in dollars and cents. America’s greatest strength isn’t our military, its our web of alliances that we’ve built up over decades. Trashing that web for short-term economic gain is NOT going to make us safer. There are intangibles like the good- or ill-will of people abroad, foreign investors’ confidence in our currency and promises and stability, our stance as leaders of the free world. Do all of those get thrown onto the table too?

  3. says

    Is the US military going to be deployed as a security and retaliatory force for his private business interests?

    They’ve overthrown other countries (Haiti, Grenada, Panama, attempted Cuba, Iran) for less.

    brucegee1962@#2:
    But in diplomacy, if you misread your adversary and piss them off enough — particularly if that adversary is China and has access to nukes — the consequences of a mistake are incalculably more dire.

    In other words, Trump’s strategy depends on acting like the crazy person for whom there are no limits, and his counterpart is expected to actually seek a deal, which means they have to play the straight man. As you say, that may work in business – because both parties want to make a deal if it’s mutually beneficial – but in politics that’s not necessarily the situation. While the Chinese probably won’t choose a nuclear war, they certainly wouldn’t have any problem handing the US a painfully hard lesson by selling off US debt (for example) to put the dollar into the same kind of uncontrolled spin that the US did to the ruble by maniupulating the oil market. And the Russians are absolutely no strangers to the “sponsored insurgency” game; they play it better than the CIA does, as they just demonstrated in Syria and Iraq. Trump’s strategy depends on having opponents that are afraid to hurt you. Which is a really bad assumption for the US to make, especially now.

    I think a lot of the international leaders’ reaction to Trump has been to treat him like a child, while waiting to see what he does. It’d be funny, if only it were a movie or a dream inspired by too much mexican food and tequila.

  4. Holms says

    A third thing to watch is what happens when Trump’s business interests around the globe are targeted by those forces like al Qaeda, ISIS, and al Shabaab who see in them much softer targets of emblematic US power than military bases, US embassies, and consulates. You can be sure that those groups are going to target them. Is the US military going to be deployed as a security and retaliatory force for his private business interests?

    There are already people leaning on his business interests as a means of influencing his foreign policy – Turkey for example.

  5. brucegee1962 says

    Oh, another danger is that your negotiating opponent decides to use the same “overreaching marker” strategy for negotiation. “So your opening move is to recognize Taiwan? OK, two can play at that game. Our counter move is to declare possession of the entire South China Sea. Back to you.”

  6. Reginald Selkirk says

    A couple of points:

    Trump has no interest in the hard work of governing. He will do a few big showy things himself. These things may or may not have real effects. Those effects may or may not be good. Everything else he is wiling to turn over to Pence and the Republican establishment. This shows in his appointments to date: a few batshit racists and retired generals; otherwise the usual assortment of theocrats, science-haters and pro-wealthy partisans. The oil industry seems particularly well-represented, which seems almost like a throwback to the W administration.

    Trump does not have a particularly good record of negotiating deals. He got his money by not paying what he has negotiated, rather than by shrewd negotiation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *