Why America could (probably) survive a President Trump

March 9, 2016
Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump smiles as protestors hold up a sign reading "No Place for Hate in Maine" during a campaign rally in Portland, Maine March 3, 2016. REUTERS/Joel Page TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RTS96PL

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump smiles as protestors hold up a sign reading “No Place for Hate in Maine” during a campaign rally in Portland, Maine March 3, 2016. REUTERS/Joel Page

One of the more fascinating things this election has been watching it dawn far too late on many pundits and the political establishment that Donald Trump might actually win the Republican nomination. Now, of course, the question is rather starker — could he win the presidency, and what happens if he does?

The conclusion, in my experience talking to many Washington policy types of both political persuasions, frequently includes a swear word. Foreign diplomats, officials and policy experts often take a similar view.

For sure, Trump is like no politician in recent American history. For now, I don’t necessarily expect him to win — his supporters might be enthusiastic, but he could be even more effective at getting his opponents out to vote against him.

Still, there are routes by which he could win, particularly if Democrats fail to come out for Hillary Clinton as expected.

Even if that doesn’t happen, the Trump phenomenon is part of a much wider — perhaps even global — political trend. That could have implications well beyond the United States.

Indeed, America is one of the few countries in the world that could actually withstand a Trump-type presidency.

For all his rhetoric, a President Trump would, like all other occupants of the Oval Office, find himself constrained by the Constitution, judiciary and Congress. Even if the Republicans do retain control of the House and Senate, many members of Congress are already voicing their opposition. And if a Trump presidency proves as contentious as many expect, it could easily deliver the Democrats control of Congress in 2018.

Earlier this month, I took a shot at imagining in more detail what future historians might make of a Trump presidency. My conclusion was that he might last one term, achieve much less than he initially expected and quite possibly exert considerable energy on minor changes to real estate laws.

That doesn’t mean he wouldn’t have an effect, particularly on perceptions of the United States in the rest of the world. The optics of his rhetoric on Islam is already playing badly in the Middle East. As president, that — particularly if tied to more indiscriminate military action — could prove disastrous.

Still, overall he would be restrained. And, just like the current incumbent of the White House, would probably leave largely frustrated by what he had failed to do.

While Trump is a unique political creature, the forces he is riding go much deeper and wider — and have been growing for a while. Ultimately, what he is really taking on is much deeper societal frustration — particularly with political elites on both sides. His strength is that he looks authentic, and he has successfully used both social and traditional media to persuade huge swathes of supporters that he is the candidate most like them and most in tune with their — not always politically correct — instincts.

On the left in the United States, we have simultaneously seen Bernie Sanders harnessing some of the same frustrations to mount a credible challenge to Hillary Clinton. In Europe, we’ve seen the rise of both non-traditional left and right parties.

We’ve also seen unexpectedly left-wing leaders in particular — for example, Britain’s opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn — seize control of what had been much more moderate mainstream political parties.

In most cases, those elected so far have remained relatively committed to operating within established political systems. Some of the more radical groups — such as Marine Le Pen’s far right in France — have performed worse than many expected. (France is, after all, a country that endured Nazi occupation in relatively recent history.)

That may not always be the case, though — none of these frustrations are going away and in Europe, the migrant crisis may yet fuel a further move either to the extremes or to more generic authoritarianism. The chaos of the 1990s in Russia, after all, helped set the scene for the rise of Vladimir Putin.

Already, some Europe experts talk of a rise in authoritarianism, particularly in the communist states of the former Eastern Bloc. Hungary has seen the rise of Viktor Orban and his far-right Jobbik party. Poland has seen something similar, while this month’s elections in Slovakia saw a much-better-than-expected performance by the very far right.

Like Trump, these leaders are invariably nationalist, more isolationist, anti-globalization in general and anti-migrant in particular.

That’s when political systems become really important. In the United Kingdom, the parliamentary system usually keeps the fringe parties — such as the anti-EU UK Independence Party — almost entirely sidelined from elected office. (Although the rise of the Scottish National Party, which now controls most parliamentary seats in Scotland, is probably another sign of this trend.)

In Germany, however, a much more proportional representation-based system means that a radical Trump-type figure could make himself a kingmaker in German politics with a small share of votes, say 25 percent. In the 1930s, Adolf Hitler and the Nazis were able to use that kind of platform to take control of the entire country.

The United States isn’t Weimar Germany, and Donald Trump isn’t Hitler (despite the words of comedian Louis C.K.) But it says a lot about the United States’ founders and system of government that it could likely survive a politician worse than The Donald.


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Looks like we are getting past denial phase of the establishment.

Posted by Mottjr | Report as abusive

Wow, a president that thinks outside the box. Why would we want that?

Posted by cheeze | Report as abusive

Forgot to mention: The GOP’s hatred of him and that he’s not one of the good old boys has shaken the rafters of the Republican party powers that be. Made the Democratic candidates think he’s easy pickings, making them a show in.
Trump is putting a scare into the establishment across the board and he has the will and the money to hold them off. He is not beholding to any PACS, or financial institutions – he’s his own man who does’t owe anyone a dime.

Posted by tes1900 | Report as abusive

Pathetic state, that editorial opinion is already talking as to US survivability under Trump(Drumpf)!! Should we even be consider to put ourselves & US in such situation in the first place???

Posted by moriganti | Report as abusive

Mr. T is the the King of Morons. We’ll do their number in November.

Posted by UauS | Report as abusive

I predict Trump presidency = civil unrest like never seen before, crumbling of the international coalition fighting ISIS, and increased terrorist attacks against the US…not to mention a decrease in tourism…

Posted by MiltonBC | Report as abusive

A Trump presidency is not difficult to imagine if you can recall the disaster that America was 2001-2008.

Posted by Calvin2k | Report as abusive

I didn’t fall for the click bait. I only clicked to see how bad the click bait would be relative to the trite title. Title says nothing about what the article will be about, and article is all fluff, so my predictions were confirmed.

Posted by kuronekowa | Report as abusive

“A Trump presidency is not difficult to imagine if you can recall the disaster that America was 2001-2008.”

Or from 2008 to the present. At least with the preceding President, the world didn’t laugh in our face. We’ve lost all credibility in the eyes of the world the last 8 years. Would Putin attempted an invasion of Ukraine/Crimea under any president prior to Obama? Very doubtful, except maybe Carter.

Posted by MEOilMan | Report as abusive

You seem to forget Putin’s invasion of Georgia during Bush’s presidency (April 2008).

“We’ve lost all credibility in the eyes of the world the last 8 years.”
Your “world” seems to include Putin and no one else. You aren’t one of his notorious paid minions are you?

Posted by Calvin2k | Report as abusive

MEOWman writes: At least with [Bush], the world didn’t laugh in our face.”

Incorrect. They laughed at Bush wasting 3 trillion taxpayer dollars and 4,000 U.S. service lives…. to build democracy in Iraq. How did that work out?

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

Trump is Bush Docrtine mixed with brain damaged glue huffer. Trump does not stand a chance in the general election.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

@Meoilman, We barely survived the last republican President, losing 800,000 jobs a month until Obama took over and has given us one of the longest sustained economic growth periods in the history of the country. Maybe you like recessions, crashing markets, sky high gas prices, unnecessary wars, and your neighbors losing their homes, if so, vote republican because that’s what they’re good for. Get a clue.

Posted by Whipsplash | Report as abusive

Meoilman, Your worried about “Ukraine/Crimea”? Really? Have you ever heard of a little thing called 9/11 under Bush? Nice try.

Posted by Whipsplash | Report as abusive

Apps says, “Still, overall he would be restrained. And, just like the current incumbent of the White House, would probably leave largely frustrated by what he had failed to do.”

Having had a negotiator on my staff in a previous job, I can attest that Trump will never be able to conclude useful business because he will negotiate far past the sale, in order to keep the negotiations going and appear useful. Negotiators are almost junkies in my experience.

Posted by hometown | Report as abusive

It looks like we may survive Obama – if still being in existence means we survived – so why wouldn’t we survive Trump? I don’t support him, but the media has everything to blame for his rise. Now you guys are trying to blame him for the violence at his rallies? It’s sadly ironic that people holding signs saying “Trump = Hate” act themselves with utter hate!
Our nation is barely hanging on economically. We don’t look too bad because most other nations are already socialist or communist and fighting to survive. And what are we doing? Trying our hardest to be like them! Obama has made the greatest “strides” in regulation and government control of every facet of our lives. Unfortunately, any candidate that truly could have restored our nation to one of individual responsibility, smaller government, entrepreneurship, and prosperity doesn’t receive the time of day. So, as a nation, we’re getting exactly what we deserve!

Posted by beofaction | Report as abusive

Trump can not handle criticism. He gets too butt-hurt. He is a thin-skinned weenie, unfit for national leadership. If you think people taunt him now…. just wait. It’s too entertaining to watch him cry and get all puffy and pink.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive