Sunday, November 13, 2016

What Might Trump Actually Do?

Background: This post is part of a series designed to help liberals get inside the heads of conservatives. My own views on Trump are here, and an overview of mainstream conservative beliefs is here. This post in particular mostly tries to evaluate likelihood of actions without getting into how good/bad those actions would be.

Remember where Trump comes from: he's a real estate developer who does megadeals. That identity has consumed him, it's who he is on deep level. He tells the investors whatever they want to hear. He hires competent people. He wheels and deals and greases palms, and he gets the project done (which may or may not be the same project he promised).

Those habits are not going to go away.

Step one to guessing what Trump will do is to recognize that voters are the investors. He's been saying whatever people want to hear for over a year. If we want real predictive power, we need to basically ignore anything that came out of his mouth. But anything with the word "contract" on it is probably reasonably reliable... bearing in mind that the exact wording of that contract matters, because it's likely to be intentionally misleading in places.

What follows is a brief tour of Trump's Contract with America. Before we dive in, it's important to have some idea of what's plausible, and where to be more skeptical. This document is the closest thing Trump had to a platform during the election. It's meant to pander to his base, and various specific political groups. That said, Trump's still a con man, so we should keep an eye out for misdirection, especially in the pandering parts. Also, there's a number pandering proposals which will certainly be struck down by Congress. On the other hand, in areas where Trump isn't clearly pandering to anyone specific and doesn't make promises which Congress will certainly strike, the "contract" probably lays out actual plans.

Let's dive in, section by section.

Section 1: Term Limits, Lobbying, etc...
This section opens with a congressional term limit proposal. Needless to say, that's unlikely to ever actually pass, but hey, he's welcome to propose it.

Next two items are a federal hiring freeze, and a rule that two old regulations must be removed for each new regulation added. Both of these are feasible, as they would require only an order from the sitting president. The exemption categories for the hiring freeze are pretty broad, but the regulation rule could have some real teeth.

Finally, there's a few items around lobbying and fundraising bans. It's not clear whether these could be implemented without congressional support (congresscritters are unlikely to support banning themselves from lobbying).

Section 2: Boo Trade, Yay Jobs, Fuck Da EPA...
The first four items in this section are all trade related, and include renegotiating NAFTA and the abandoning the TPP. All of them are feasible and do not require immediate Congressional support. Given Trump's background striking big real estate deals, I suspect he's eager to try negotiating a trade deal like NAFTA. However, the language in these items is ambiguous in places, and leaves plenty of room for Trump to maneuver as he gets to know the trade landscape.

The next two items involve trade-offs. In both cases, the Obama administration made trade-offs in favor of the environment over the economy, and Trump wants to reverse those. With republicans in Congress, this is feasible and will likely be a priority for congressional leadership as well.

Finally, Trump proposes dropping funding for UN climate change programs, and redirecting the money to US infrastructure. As grandstanding goes, this is almost comically conservative. Relatively speaking, the numbers involved probably aren't huge (for either the US or the UN). The current main targets of US funding to the UN are not climate programs, and the US is a significant but not top donor to UN climate programs.

Section 3: Boo Immigration & Miscellaneous...
First up, Trump promises to cancel every "unconstitutional" executive order issued by Obama. So basically just yelling "boo Obama" and then not really promising anything.

Next up, a promise to appoint new justices who will "defend the Constitution". Definitely signalling judicial restraint. Conspicuously absent here is any mention whatsoever of abortion or marriage - this strongly suggests Trump will completely ignore those issues.

The last three items are all immigration related. These sound pretty hard on immigration, but look closer and the most telling item is a promise to remove "two million" immigrants. Turns out, two million is roughly the same number the Obama administration removed, per term. Funny coincidence, that. Sounds like Trump is trying to con some voters.

Page Two: Proposed Bills for Congress
Since these are all items which involve Congress, Trump's team has a lot more freedom to pander here, with the expectation that Congress will strike down the bills. That means we need to be a lot more skeptical of these proposals, especially if it's unlikely to pass Congress.

2-1: Tax cuts. Republican president, republican Congress, there's going to be tax cuts. No surprise there.

2-2: Tariffs. Not sure how this one plays out in Congress; republicans haven't historically been very protectionist, but politics could change that.

2-3: Ambiguous, supposedly revenue-neutral infrastructure plan. Likely to turn into a pork-barrel Christmas tree once Congress gets their hands on it.

2-4: Charter schools etc. Long list of education-related ideas here; at least some are likely to pass.

2-5: Repeal Obamacare, streamline FDA approval. Again, an obvious target for a republican Congress.

2-6: Childcare/eldercare tax cuts: Likely to pass.

2-7: The wall. The wall's kind of a red herring (mostly symbolic), the proposal's mostly about stricter punishments. The most aggressive parts are unlikely to happen simply due to prison capacity. Also, republican congressional leadership has been fighting for years to gain ground among hispanics; I'll be surprised if they give up on that.

2-8: More money for law enforcement. Likely to pass, unlikely to change anything, probably going to be pork-heavy.

2-9: Security. Controversial part is screening immigrants for "compatible values", which could morph into anything from stricter background checks to blatant discrimination against muslims. Again, not sure how congressional republicans will respond to this, considering how many voters it would piss off.

2-10: "Clean up Corruption in Washington Act". Lol, yeah right.

A few things to note, right off the bat: there is absolutely no mention of marriage or abortion. He does mention appointing new justices, and says "defending the Constititution" will be a priority. That sounds like avoiding judicial activism, but it doesn't sound like overturning anything.

There is some serious talk about immigration. The promise to deport 2 million sounds flashy, but it's a red herring - that's roughly the same number Obama's administration deported, per term. Cancelling all federal funding to sanctuary cities also sounds serious, but remember that little federal money goes straight to towns anyway. The 2 million number in particular makes me think that the immigration talk is all a straight-up smokescreen; Trump's just going to keep the status quo.

I'm sure some people will argue that it's not what's said here that's worrying, it's the horrible things Trump might do that he hasn't said. In principle, sure. But in practice... I think if Trump were planning to really go extreme on immigration or abortion or gay marriage or what have you, he probably would have mentioned it in a document specifically designed to pander to his base (i.e. the document we're talking about here). If anything, in most of the scary areas, this document sounds like it's trying to appease the base without actually doing most of the things liberals are scared about.

The one thing I'd be most worried about is discrimination against Muslims looking to immigrate. That said, it's not something Trump can do without Congressional support, and it would be a very politically risky move for republicans in Congress.

Also, if you're worried about climate change, then keep worrying. Trump is definitely going to undo some environmentally friendly policies. There will be another post about that a bit later in this series.

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