On Tuesday, when Donald Trump defied the polls, the Clinton machine and much of his own party establishment to become president-elect of the United States, he also became the closest thing to a black swan event we’ve ever seen in American politics: Statistically unlikely, rationalized only in hindsight—and carrying an impact that could be off the known charts.
On one hand, Trump is a pragmatic businessman with a very flexible ideology and a desire to be seen in a positive light; on the other, he’s a ruthless and often improvisational dealmaker with no allegiance to the norms and institutions that set the boundaries for traditional political power. And in 10 weeks he’ll be commander-in-chief.
What could happen? Here’s where we’re hoping the experts can come in. As the country tries to wrap its head around the election result that surprised (almost) everyone, Politico Magazine asked top national security gurus, economists, immigration and energy experts, and a few historians to game out a Trump presidency. Below, they sketch out their worst-case and best-case scenarios—and then, most important, what it would take to achieve the latter.
‘A best-case scenario for Trump would be for him to rationally pursue his policy objectives.’
Francis Fukuyama is Olivier Nomellini senior fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies
A best-case scenario for Trump would be for him to rationally pursue his policy objectives: controlling illegal immigration, trying to renegotiate trade agreements and pursuing a non-interventionist foreign policy.
A worst-case scenario would be for him to use up a lot of political capital at the start of his administration prosecuting Hillary Clinton, suing women who accused him of harassment and changing the libel laws so that he can sue journalists who write critical stories about him. Oh, and also inviting Russian and Chinese aggression by undermining the U.S. alliance system.
Though he was elected in the end, he did not pursue this goal rationally but rather spent time attacking Miss Universe, the Khan family, etc. To get to the best-case scenario you have to take away his Twitter and force him not to chase his various demons, as was evidently done in the last week of the campaign. And then persuade him that allies are actually useful. This will require having a staff that understands the realities of the exercise of American power internationally, and rebuilding bridges to the foreign policy experts that were so alienated by his pronouncements during the campaign.
‘Worst case: President Trump encounters a foreign policy crisis.’
H.W. Brands is a professor of history at University of Texas at Austin
Worst case: President Trump encounters a foreign policy crisis. Lacking experience, he relies on his gut and makes a bad situation worse. His ego gets involved; he doubles down. The crisis escalates, leading to war (with Russia over the Baltics? China over Taiwan? North Korea? Iran?)
Best case: We discover that he didn’t mean much of what he said as a candidate. Forget the wall. Forget a trade war with China. Forget scuttling NAFTA. Forget deporting 11 million. He recognizes that he needs help and surrounds himself with able advisers. How to avoid the worst and foster the best? I fear this is beyond the control of anyone besides Donald Trump.
‘Building the wall … is not part of a worst-case scenario.’
Alfonso Aquilar is the executive director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles
Worst-case scenario: Trump requires undocumented immigrants without criminal records to leave the country. He doesn’t try to deport them, but puts in place measures to encourage self-deportation. Meanwhile, in the process of deporting criminal undocumented immigrants, many who haven’t committed crimes are also accidentally removed, separating families. Building the wall, contrary to what Democrats would like to make us believe, is not part of a worst-case scenario since every immigration reform package that has been discussed in Congress has included fencing. There is money already appropriated by previous Congresses to expand fencing. The Secure Fence Act, which then Senator Clinton voted for, calls for setting up double-layer fencing along 700 miles of the southern border.
Best-case scenario: Trump builds the wall and reduces considerably the illegal entry of foreign nationals, and works with Congress to pass legislation to mandate E-Verify so employers cannot hire undocumented workers and to set up an Entry-Exit system that identifies visa overstayers so they can be removed immediately. And, after these measures are being executed, he also proposes and passes a bill that provides a path to legal status—not citizenship—to undocumented immigrants without criminal records. He got 29 percent of the Latino vote, more than anyone expected, and outperformed Mitt Romney with Latinos. If he is able to deal with the issue constructively and deal with non-criminal undocumented immigrants in a reasonable way, that number will get close to 40 percent or more in the next election.
How does he accomplish the best-case scenario? By ensuring that influential leaders who have strongly supported him and who are trusted by members of Congress who oppose comprehensive immigration reform like Senator Sessions, help him get all of these measures—including the path-to-legal status component—through both chambers, persuading more conservative members that these pieces of legislation are consistent with conservative principles. Trump will also need the support of Latino leaders to sell his immigration agenda to the general pubic and the Latino community.
‘A Trump presidency may give the legislature the chance to restore some of its long-lost luster.’
John McLaughlin was deputy director of Central Intelligence from 2000-2004 and acting director in 2004
The worst-case scenario would come about in the Trump presidency if he simply turns out to be who he says he is. Just tick through the list of things he’s promised and you end up with nuclear weapons spreading, trade wars with countries in Asia and the Western Hemisphere, a Russia freer to meddle in the affairs of neighbors, and allies doubting America’s fidelity to treaty commitments. Yet if he walks away from these positions, he starts to look to his hard core supporters like just another politician who says things only to get elected—leading to still more cynicism among American voters.
The best case is one in which, through some combination of input from his advisers, intelligence briefings, and Trump’s own business-related intuition, he comes to understand the complexities of the current international environment—and, importantly, is able to avoid the decisional paralysis that sometimes results from such an understanding. In other words, he sorts through international issues with the pragmatism you would expect from someone with a previous history of managing a bottom line in a business environment. He’s given no public evidence that this is his likely approach, so it’s wait-and-see time.
The chances of Trump avoiding major errors in security policy would be enhanced if the Congress, and especially the Senate, more effectively played its constitutional role as a check against excessive presidential power, in addition to challenging foolish ideas. With a president-elect who has spoken only in the broadest generalities about his policies, it’s vital that someone in addition to the White House weigh proposals carefully. Congress’ standing with the public is very low, but a Trump presidency may give the legislature the chance to restore some of its long-lost luster.
Trump should focus on campaign policies ‘that can command significant Democratic support.’
Alice M. Rivlin is a senior fellow in Economic Studies at the Brookings Institution and a former director of the Office of Management and Budget
The economic challenge is the same whether you say, “Let’s make America great again,” or “Let’s make a great economy work better for those who have been left behind.” Either way, we need to speed up economic growth, create more middle class jobs, and open opportunities for those stuck in low-wage jobs with little future or in isolated areas with few jobs at all. The best-case scenario starts with the new administration focusing on a handful of important initiatives that Donald Trump emphasized in his campaign that can command significant Democratic support, and then working hard to get them passed quickly with substantial bipartisan majorities. My favorites would be a major multi-year effort to modernize American infrastructure, corporate tax reform that broadens the base and lowers the rates, and replacing Obamacare with Trumpcare that preserves the parts of the Affordable Care Act that are working well, fixes the parts that are not, and moves toward making quality health care accessible to more people with minimal hardship for people relying on current programs.
The infrastructure package should be designed to maximize future productivity growth not just to create more jobs quickly, but there is such a backlog of unmet needs that it should not be hard to put together package of worthy projects. There have also been serious bipartisan proposals on corporate tax changes that could bring the United States more in line with the rest of the world and reduce incentives of U.S. companies to move operations abroad and stash profits in other venues to avoid U.S. taxes. Health care is harder because Republican demonization of Obamacare has hidden the fact that much of the act is working well and many of its provisions (such as not denying affordable coverage to people with preexisting conditions, allowing adult children to stay on parental plans, and subsidies to make care more affordable) are popular with the very voters who brought candidate Trump to the White House.
The worst-case scenario is that Republicans keep campaigning against real and imagined failures of the Democrats, and Democrats respond in kind. If the Trump administration leads with policies only Republicans can support, excludes Democrats from crafting proposals, and rams them through with gimmicky rule changes, we will be in for more Washington dysfunction and justifiable voter disgust. Leading with hot button issues like defunding Planned Parenthood or rolling back environmental regulations would be a tactical mistake. Proposing big cuts in individual income taxes designed to benefit the wealthy would be a very bad start—not only because it would be fiscally irresponsible, but because it would betray Trump’s repeated promise to be the voice of those left behind.
Getting to the best-case scenario will take what may seem like a miracle after this bitter divisive campaign. It will take the president-elect and the Republican leadership realizing the voters gave them a mandate to make Washington work again and Democrats realizing they have a stake in being part of a functioning governing process—no matter what bitter memories they have of Republican efforts to make President Obama fail. If both parties work at finding common ground and start with issues where it is relatively easy to find, they can build the relationships needed for tackling the harder problems later.
‘The way for the best-case scenario to happen is for him to appoint largely non-ideological businesspeople to senior positions’
Alec Ross is author of The Industries of the Future
The worst-case scenario: Women lose their reproductive freedom. There are mass deportations. There is a religious test for entry into America. Denying climate change becomes official policy and we exit our agreements. Our international alliances are effectively terminated. The orientation of economic policy-making is rooted in yesterday’s industries and does not account for the rise of robotics and intelligence. Trump governs as an autocratic strongman instead of the leader of a single branch of government in a democratic state. The Department of Justice and FBI become Trump’s Federal’naya sluzhba bezopasnosti Rossiyskoy Federatsii (FSB). In short, America’s 70 year run as the world’s leader effectively ends.
The best-case scenario is that Trump’s zeal to “win” trumps ideology, and he governs only looking to cut deals where he can declare victory. Trade deals are executed with substantial worker protections. China is bullied into dialing back its mass theft of intellectual property. European states increase their contributions to NATO as a condition of participation. Immigration reform is enacted in a way that allows Republicans to declare victory without victimizing hard-working people who have made America their home.
The way for the best-case scenario to happen is for him to appoint largely non-ideological businesspeople to senior positions and for him to keep the neo-fascists who drove much of his campaign on the sidelines. He’ll view the characters of his recent political past like minor characters on The Apprentice that can be cowed or dismissed.
‘The worse scenario would be if the president-elect were to purse trade protectionist measures.’
Mohamed El-Erian is chief economic adviser at Allianz
From an economic perspective, the worse scenario would be if the president-elect were to purse trade protectionist measures with no due consideration for their anti-growth impulses; and if he were to do so while refraining from implementing the pro-growth measures he has campaigned on, such as improving infrastructure, corporate tax reform, prudent de-regulation and expanded public-private partnerships.
The best case economic scenario is the inverse—that is, the president-elect would move quickly and work with Congress to implement the pro-growth parts of his agenda, including infrastructure and tax reform, while refraining from adopting measures that risk stagflation and that would unsettle financial instability, such as the imposition of large trade tariffs, the dismantling of NAFTA and attacks on the Federal Reserve’s policy independence.
The way to get to the best scenario includes using a structured approach to help in economic decision making—that is, first, to define the over-riding economic objective in terms of promoting higher and more inclusive growth together with genuine financial stability; second, to ensure that each policy measure is subject to a detailed assessment under this criterion; third, to assign ownership of this function to an official with inter-agency influence, and one who is regularly held accountable; and, fourth, to communicate regularly with a view to securing broad-based understanding and buy in, both inside the administration and by the public at large.
‘We need a movement that meets his bad ideas at every turn.’
Bill McKibben is an author, environmentalist and activist
The worst-case scenario is that he goes aggressively after existing climate plans and regulations, and succeeds in derailing the very fragile global turn towards clean energy just at the moment when it was starting to accelerate—and the result of that is measured in degrees of global temperature and meters of sea level rise stretching out over millennia.
The best-case scenario is that he decides—correctly—that the best and probably only way to create lots of jobs in the industrial Midwest where he won his election is to build huge quantities of solar panels and wind turbines.
To get there, we need a movement that meets his bad ideas at every turn, and probably some reinforcing weather provided by Mother Nature to make him focus. But I’m not sanguine, I confess.
‘His advisers need to point out to him that many of his more significant predecessors reneged on their campaign promises, and that had the effect of making America great.’
Larry Korb is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress
When Donald Trump moves into the White House, the worse-case scenario would be for him to implement some of the more controversial policies he espoused during the campaign. For example, he could renege on our treaty commitments to NATO, South Korea and Japan if they do not substantially increase their defense spending; start a trade war with China, withdraw from NAFTA; scrap the nuclear agreement with Iran and increase sanctions against that country; fail to continue to implement the new START treaty with Russia; withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty so that countries like South Korea and Japan can go nuclear if they wish; and start a massive bombing campaign against ISIS which would not only be ineffective militarily, but which would cause so many civilian casualties, that it would enhance the ISIS narrative that the US and the West is out to destroy the Muslim world.
The best-case scenario for him and the country would be for President Trump to embrace the policies of the Obama administration in these areas by continuing to reinforce our alliances and live up to our treaty commitments, to provide limited ground assistance to our partners in the struggle against ISIS, to work with Russia and Iran to bring an end to the Syrian civil war so that we can turn our attention to defeating ISIS, to adhere to the nuclear deal with Iran and continue to drop the barriers to increasing trade with it, to continue to implement the new START agreement, but adopt a no first use policy for nuclear weapons, and to eliminate the land-based component of the nuclear triad, and get Congress to pass the TPP.
Getting a President Trump to adopt these positions will not be easy, but his advisers need to point out to him that many of his more significant predecessors reneged on their campaign promises that had the effect of making America great. For example, President Reagan criticized the SALT II agreement that President Carter had negotiated with the Soviet Union, but he not only kept it, even though it was never ratified by the Senate, but tried to eliminate all strategic nuclear weapons; President Clinton criticized George H.W. Bush for coddling the Butchers of Beijing after Tiananmen Square, but helped China get into the WTO which fueled the economic boom of the 90s, and President Nixon who vowed never to recognize Red China, opened the door to normalizing relations with it which helped end the Cold War.
Mr. Trump’s advisers can help him move in that direction by pointing out to him that because of the reputation that he brings to the office, he can make these things happen more easily than someone with a more traditional view. In other words, given the hardline statements he has made about these issues, his supporters would not expect him to make these more reasonable decisions. But if he does, it would be hard for them to turn against him. Just as only Nixon could go to China, or Reagan could propose eliminating all nuclear weapons, only someone like him could make these things happen.
‘The worst-case scenario no longer comes from ongoing gridlock but from unrestrained power.’
Nicole Hemmer is assistant professor at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center
With a united Republican government, the worst-case scenario no longer comes from ongoing gridlock but from unrestrained power. The protective hand of the federal government has already been withdrawn from voting rights; without checks, that hand could become an iron fist, actively assaulting the civil rights of minorities, from immigration bans to mass deportations to the expansion of stop-and-frisk. That might be soft-peddled as bans on immigration from “terror-prone” countries, or as “law and order,” but it would be a fundamental rejection of the pluralistic vision that has sat at the heart of American politics for the last 50 years. Dedicating the force of the federal government to that exclusionary project would be, for millions of Americans and the American project as a whole, the worst-case scenario.
The best-case scenario for a Trump administration is that, absent a commitment to rigorous partisanship and conservative ideology, the opportunities for outreach and new partnerships grow. New coalitions dedicated to fixing infrastructure and education, to providing new training opportunities for low-skill workers, and to promoting a less interventionist foreign policy could find wide popular support. Not only that, but their benefits would be shared widely, encouraging inclusion rather than exclusion.
That best-case scenario requires an abandonment of the excesses of the campaign; Democrats cannot be expected to partner with an administration that continues to target vulnerable groups or disrespects the constitutional structures of the American government. It also requires legislators to think beyond partisan and ideological lines: the end of the Hastert rule, the end of power-enhancing but nation-damaging standoffs over fiscal cliffs and debt ceilings. And it requires a commitment to finding common ground followed by a willingness to compromise.
‘The key to his presidency will be whom he picks to advise him.’
Jacob Heilbrunn is editor of The National Interest
The problem won’t be if Donald J. Trump turns out to be a dissembler as president. It will be if he is not. The best modern presidents have been ones like Franklin D. Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan who made an ostentatious show of ideological fidelity to their followers and then promptly zigged and zagged whenever it was necessary. The worst presidents have been fellows like Woodrow Wilson or Jimmy Carter who tried to live up to their principles. Not good. Not good at all.
Where does Trump fit in? The key to his presidency will be whom he picks to advise him. If Trump sticks with the unilateralist militarists that attached themselves to his campaign—New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Rudolph Giuliani, retired General Michael Flynn and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich—alarm bells should start ringing. And if he adds the likes of John Bolton, Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin to his cabinet, the rumbustious New York mogul could end up making Warren Harding look as though he were a paragon of statesmanship.
Right at the outset, his presidency consists of various incense-burners vying for the privilege of steering the Trump administration, as quickly as possible, toward a war with Iran that could rapidly engulf the rest of the Middle East, thereby sending oil prices soaring and creating a global recession, if not depression. The result would be chaos. Almost overnight, America would forfeit its status as a superpower and become one of the most reviled countries in the world.
None of this need occur. Sunny days are ahead for America if the blustering egomaniac who strutted about at his rallies is subordinated to the shrewd and pragmatic businessman. Instead of shunning Trump, the wise men of the GOP—James Baker, George Shultz and Robert Gates—should reach out to make it clear to him that if Trump wants the applause lines, then he has to adhere to prudent foreign policy realism. In this scenario, Trump follows the pragmatic Reagan model. Trump taps sober and astute thinkers like Senator Bob Corker as secretary of state and Richard Haas, head of the Council on Foreign Relations, as national security adviser.
Trump also shows that he is a master of the art of the deal who deals artfully with America’s adversaries. He builds up the American military, but also engages in arms-control talks with China and Russia, thereby establishing newly cooperative relationships. Ukraine is Finlandized, becoming a united and neutral country. After lengthy and secret negotiations, Trump ends up opening an American embassy in Tehran. Any wars are kept to quick affairs along the lines of Grenada in 1983.
Trump as wise statesman? It might turn out to be no more improbable than Reagan—denounced by the Left as a dangerously bellicose hawk upon entering office who would surely plunge the world into nuclear devastation—ending his days lauded as the great peacemaker.
‘Top talent in the GOP (and maybe Democrats) [must] … ensure that Trump doesn’t become isolated or isolate himself.’
Ian Bremmer is president of the Eurasia Group and a global research professor at New York University
I, Donald J Trump, do solemnly swear that I will …
The best-case scenario for the United States: President Trump, angry at those who say he has no idea how to be president, appoints experienced, knowledgeable, capable and disciplined people to advise him—and he follows their advice. He dismisses the value of ideology, moves beyond identity politics, embraces a realist view of the world and saves the America First message for a domestic audience. Allies hedge their bets on Trump’s intentions, but personal reassurances from the president himself ensure this is a gradual rather than a sudden process.
The worst-case: Trump tries to keep his promises, but discovers that many are illegal or impossible to implement. He really does ignite a trade war with China, try to deport huge numbers of illegal immigrants, tells Japan, South Korea and Saudi Arabia to get nuclear weapons, undermines all confidence in the U.S. commitment to NATO at a time when America needs as many allies as possible. He faces pushback even from Republicans. He gets angry. He listens only to slavish loyalists. He looks to protect himself and vindicate his position with public messages that further divide an already divided country. He responds to a terrorist attack on Americans with a series of measures that exacerbate some problems without solving others.
How best to get to the best-case scenario: Top talent in the GOP (and maybe Democrats) honor Trump’s victory by pledging to work in his administration, and they work to ensure that Trump doesn’t become isolated or isolate himself. Trump himself needs to bolster his own confidence by going for some quick policy wins on taxes, infrastructure spending, etc. Trump is encouraged to work for success rather than vindication.
Best of luck, President Trump. Good luck, America.
‘A best case scenario: He works with Republicans and moderate Democrats in Congress to reform healthcare after abolishing Obamacare.’
Mathew Burrows is the director of the Strategic Foresight Initiative at the Atlantic Council
A worst-case scenario is if: Trump runs a divisive administrative. He appoints an independent prosecutor to investigate the Clintons. He gets into a “war of words” with Fed Chair Janet Yellen, undermining international confidence in the integrity of the U.S. financial system. His administration abolishes Obamacare, but can’t agree on any replacement. He starts building the border wall without negotiating with Mexico or other Latin American countries on immigration. There is no effort at immigration reform. The Trump administration begins deporting illegals. Latino families are torn apart with parents having to leave their American-born children here. Trump doesn’t try to work with Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell. The corporate tax rate is lowered and firms repatriate their profits, but don’t invest because of a lack of confidence in Trump’s management of the economy. Consequently, the U.S. economy is thrown into a recession.
He slaps high tariffs on a large range of Chinese and Mexican goods. The Chinese retaliate against U.S. firms doing business in China. With the United States in recession and global trade and investment barriers going up, the global economy sinks into recession. He repudiates TTIP, not just TPP. Asian allies believe the United States is no longer a reliable ally. U.S.-Chinese tensions rise in the South China Sea, but Trump has little support with Asian partners.
Trump ends U.S./NATO troop rotations in the Baltics, Poland and other East European states. He tells the Kiev government to mend its ties with Moscow. He urges a hard Brexit on UK PM Theresa May.
He seeks to re-negotiate the Iran nuclear arms agreement, which angers European allies, Russia and China. He continues Obama’s policy of not dealing with the Syrian humanitarian crisis. He ramps up attacks on ISIL forces, but otherwise ignores the Middle East.
A best-case scenario: He works with Republicans and moderate Democrats in Congress to reform healthcare after abolishing Obamacare. He gets Congressional approval on major infrastructure investments. He lowers the corporate tax rate and gets firms not only to bring back their overseas monies, but also to invest. He negotiates with Mexico on joint management of the border. He gets Congress to pass an immigration reform package. Some illegals are deported, but families are not split. The reform package actually increases quotas for highly skilled migrants, which firms have been lobbying for. He negotiates with the Chinese, stopping the dumping of steel products. He encourages more Chinese investment in the United States. He re-opens talks on TPP, saying he wants to get a new agreement. He continues negotiations with European partners on TTIP.
He starts arms control talks with Putin. He revives Kerry efforts to negotiate a settlement in Syrian conflict. He builds broad coalition with Russians, Turks and Gulf states on wiping out ISIL. He does not seek to re-negotiate the Iran nuclear arms agreement. He backs Saudi economic reform efforts.
How to get to the best-case scenario: The key will be if he works with Congress and seeks to negotiate—rather than take unilateral steps—with allies and partners as well as China and Russia. In taking over the governing, he needs to avoid the erratic behavior that characterized some of his campaigning. He has a real opportunity to break the logjam in Congress and enact reform but will have to quickly switch out of campaign mode and use his businessman skills at negotiating deals. There is a real appetite in the country for substantive reform and even around the world for the United States to get its own house in order. Once he shows that he can be a reliable partner, then I think he has a chance to build up a lot of good will. The 100 days following the inauguration are key and even before that he needs to begin reaching out to Congress, the business world, China, Russia, Mexico and the United States’ other allies and partners.
‘Perhaps the best check on President Trump will be an organized Left, one capable of enough unity to prevent what could not be stopped on Election Day.’
Joseph Peniel is professor of public affairs and history at the University of Texas at Austin
The worst-case scenario for a Trump presidency involves ratcheting up domestic turmoil at home and international crises abroad. Domestically, Trump’s rhetoric of racial division, xenophobia—anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, and anti-women—can stoke further divisions, especially if he fulfills his pledge to repeal Obamacare. Trump has made explicit and implicit promises to white males, who overwhelmingly voted for him with an understanding that his presidency would be tantamount to a restoration of lost economic privileges and racial identity of the Eisenhower era. (In fact, Trump is the first president-elect since Eisenhower (who had military experience as commander of the allied forces) to never have held elective office.) Internationally, Trump’s penchant for praising authoritarian leaders, trashing NATO, and questioning the norm of U.S. global leadership could trigger economic crises, trade wars and a dramatic loss of American prestige around the world. Panic has already set it in some quarters and Europe is quaking in its boots at what a President Trump might mean to long established alliances.
The best-case scenario is that Trump governs like a standard conservative, although what that would mean has shifted dramatically since the Reagan Revolution. The Republican Party’s Tea Party wing fails to comprehend compromises made by Reagan, settling into a winner takes all governing strategy that has caused the decaying of longstanding institutions, including the Supreme Court, which through GOP obstruction has become a naked site of partisanship. If Trump were to incorporate mainstream Republicans from the Mitt Romney and George W. Bush wing of the GOP, there might be room for compromise or at least the veneer of civility and national unity currently missing from American politics.
How do we get here? The answer is uncertain, primarily because Trump keeps his own council, is highly unpredictable, and is not beholden to conventional rules of politics. Grassroots protests by civil rights and social justice advocates have already erupted across the nation and more will be featured after Trump’s inauguration. External pressure from massive demonstrations could encourage a President Trump to rethink his rhetoric of division, but more likely would trigger his authoritarian tendencies and propel him to unleash further repression among already marginalized constituencies. Perhaps the best check on President Trump will be an organized Left, one capable of enough unity to prevent what could not be stopped on Election Day.
‘He appoints one of his sons as vice president before dying in his fourth term.’
Elizabeth Borgwardt is associate professor of History and Law, Washington University in St Louis
With the current craze for all things Hamilton, I am sometimes asked to spin out the counterfactual scenario of “what if Aaron Burr had missed his shot”? I tend to develop the following scenario, based on Ron Chernow’s speculations and those of other Hamilton scholars: that in addition to putting banks and various federal institutions on a firm footing, President Hamilton (for he would likely have become president) would have successfully invaded and annexed Canada during the War of 1812; used his acclaim as a war hero to build up the strong army and navy he always wanted; and then expelled the Spanish from Florida, Texas, and perhaps, all of Mexico.
Hamilton might then have turned to breaking up the larger and more powerful states into smaller units, in order to manage them more easily at the federal level, using force against any recalcitrant states, such as Virginia, if they resisted. He would have seen no reason to step down after only two terms (and had urged President Washington not to do so), and would have continued as President for Life, eventually passing that title on to one of his surviving sons. The America that President Hamilton would have left behind in say, 1835, would have resulted in very different kind of country today.
The point of this free-wheeling counterfactual is to suggest that the American creed of how “one man can make a difference” cuts both ways: This dark side of what is sometimes called American Exceptionalism suggests that if that one man who makes a difference these days were to be our new President-Elect Donald Trump, perhaps two years from now we’ll find him shoring up shaky approval ratings by exacerbating tensions with China. The resulting shooting war could then rally frightened Americans, recalcitrant allies, as well as arms manufacturers and other business interests to his side.
After winning a second term by stimulating the economy with hugely inflated military budgets, President Trump might then initiate and support other boots-on-the-ground counterinsurgencies in an open-ended war on terror, leading to a spiral of domestic terrorist attacks and correspondingly violent reprisals, as well as ever-increasing curtailments of civil liberties at home, including rights of assembly, press, and use of social media. Taking a page from President Nixon’s playbook, an increasingly lengthy list of Trump “enemies” would find themselves under surveillance, under audit and harassed in other ways.
A truly worst-case scenario might be that in the aftermath of a limited nuclear exchange with China, Trump suspends various provisions of the Constitution, perhaps indefinitely. He would then use the state of perpetual emergency he had created as justifying a third and even a fourth term, citing FDR as a precedent. President for Life Trump would eventually die in office, having appointing one of his sons—because daughters everywhere would have long since learned that they were not commander-in-chief material—as his vice president. One man can definitely make a difference: That’s the American Way.
And a best-case scenario? Today, my most optimistic vision is that the above dystopia remains a nightmare, and not a playbook.
‘He could easily cause as many deaths and inflict as much hardship [as the Iraq War] … by reversing the world’s progress to combat climate change.’
Daniel Altman is author of the international bestseller Outrageous Fortunes: The Twelve Surprising Trends That Will Reshape the Global Economy
The worst-case scenario for me will always involve the greatest loss of life and increase in hardship. It’s still hard to fathom the costs to humanity that George W. Bush incurred by triggering a civil war in Iraq. What other U.S. president can be held responsible for so many deaths in a wholly unnecessary conflict? Donald Trump may fall to the same depths if he follows through on his trigger-happy rhetoric. But he could easily cause as many deaths and inflict as much hardship—perhaps not as visibly, but nonetheless—by reversing the world’s progress to combat climate change.
The best-case scenario is that Trump controls his impulses and focuses on fulfilling his most productive promises to American workers. A massive investment in infrastructure would create jobs and improve the nation’s global competitiveness. The same can’t be said for protectionist policies like tearing up trade agreements and punishing American firms that do business abroad. Trump already has enough support in Congress to make some positive choices—he just has to want to.
‘A political leader bends to the world, not the other way around.’
Reva Goujon is vice president of global analysis at Stratfor
To make sense of the world ahead, we have to soberly remind ourselves that there is always a big gap between intention and capability in political leadership. A political leader bends to the world, not the other way around. At the same time, the election of Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency is emblematic of a broader global shift in play, where prolonged economic stress, technological shifts and challenges in immigration are fueling protectionism and nativism in much of the developed world. The “worst-case” scenario is therefore the least likely when constraints are factored in.
– Abrogation of major trade pacts like NAFTA as opposed to a phased negotiation on selective aspects of the agreement
– Broad application of tariffs on Chinese imports and trade spats that would spin China into a long-delayed recession and reverberate throughout the global economy
– Repeal of the Iran nuclear deal, which would reopen a front with Iran in the Strait of Hormuz when the United States is trying to manage significant foreign policy challenges elsewhere in dealing with North Korea’s nuclearization; China’s maritime expansion; enduring frictions with Russia; a divided and increasingly nationalist Europe post Islamic State scramble; potential clashes between Turkish, Russian and Iranian forces on a crowded Syrian battlefield that would threaten to draw the United States in; resurgent jihadist pockets outside of the Islamic State core; a messy political transition and economic crisis in Venezuela
– Russia compels the United States to reduce its NATO footprint and leave U.S. allies in central and eastern Europe in a lurch, thereby emboldening Russia to expand its sphere of influence in the borderland through political intimidation, economic leverage and potentially military force
– A significant shrinking of the U.S. security umbrella in the Asia-Pacific that sends Japan and South Korea down the nuclear path at the same time North Korean nuclearization becomes a reality and as China is compelled to step up its own military defenses
– The United States ditches climate emissions reduction commitments, inducing other countries to follow suit. Federal funding and support is withdrawn for the development of clean technology
– Russia and the Unites States have a constructive negotiation that deescalates the Western-Russian standoff where Russia makes substantial compromises on its position in Ukraine, withdraws support for loyalists in Syria and cooperates in the fight against Islamic State without the U.S. having to significantly compromise its credibility as a security guarantor to its allies.
– The reduction of U.S.-Russia military support in the Syrian civil war compels the loyalists, rebels and their backers to sustain a ceasefire and negotiate a power-sharing solution. The withdrawal of Russian support in Syria reduces the potential for a clash with Turkey.
– Once the economic costs are calculated, U.S. trade negotiations end up being highly measured and selective in tightening regulation. The U.S. develops a more balanced economic relationship with China that transcends into the security sphere to manage an emerging crisis with North Korea
– The U.S. effectively balances relationships in the Middle East to maintain a a strong partnership with Turkey and the Gulf states; Iran and the U.S. exercise restraint to preserve the JCPOA nuclear deal.
The way we focus on the better-case scenario is to not overreact. The power of the personality only goes so far, and constraints absolutely matter. We need to understand the broader shifts in the international system and learn how to anticipate when the imperatives of nation states will collide to know the limits of negotiation and the significance of allies in managing multiple conflict zones.
To make sense of the world ahead, we have to soberly remind ourselves that there is always a big gap between intention and capability in political leadership. A political leader bends to the world, not the other way around. At the same time, the election of Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency is emblematic of a broader global shift in play, where prolonged economic stress, technological shifts and challenges in immigration re fueling protectionism and nativism in much of the developed world. The ‘worst-case’ scenario is therefore the least likely when constraints are factored in.
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