Monday, November 14, 2016

Thoughts on Trump's electoral victory

Donald Trump achieved an amazing, unpredicted upset to win election as the next President of the United States. What does his victory portend for life in the US, for the future of the US, and for the world?
First, the conciliatory, unifying themes that Trump, Clinton, and Obama adopted in their post-election remarks are encouraging. Democracy entails living with outcomes not of our own choosing and while far from perfect is the best form of government known to humans. I personally wish that the energy devoted to protesting Trump's victory had been expended in working for a Clinton win. But to refuse to accept Trump as President of all US citizens and of the whole nation invites more problems than it resolves. Insisting on the dignity and right of all persons to equal respect and treatment represents a more constructive agenda and one that is likely to resonate with Trump's family if not the President-elect.
Second, Trump has provided few specifics about policies and programs that he intends his administration to adopt. He has also repeatedly moved from extreme positions toward more moderate positions, that is, he is a pragmatist more than an ideologue. Some of this pragmatism will, I suspect, be evident in differences between positions held by hard-right GOP House members, the more divided Senate in which Democrats by filibustering can wield significant power, and Trump's administration.
Trump's vagueness about his goals, his pragmatism, and his ability to shift positions may have some positive aspects. Illustratively, a Trump presidency may be the catalyst for returning to a stronger federalist system. For example, instead of attempting to centralize education standards states may have more latitude in adopting their own standards. One historic advantage of federalism that has long appealed to me is that when uncertainty obscures clarity about the best policies, practices, or programs allowing states to experiment provides fifty "labs" for testing various approaches. Contrary to single-issue politics and advocates, identifying best policies, practices, and programs is often a lengthy, difficult endeavor.
Third, Trump's lack of foreign policy knowledge and experience, a weakness that attracted repeated attention during the extended campaign, greatly concerns me. Like Trump, I favor rarely using US military power abroad. US intentions for its interventions are generally laudable. Unfortunately, often nobody, including US decision makers, has sufficient knowledge to predict the consequences of such interventions accurately. Sometimes an intervention ends in disaster (Vietnam), achieves short-term goals yet fails to achieve long-term stability (Afghanistan), or results in a less stable, less secure, less advantageous for the US outcome (Iraq).
Trump is not the first US president in recent history to lack significant foreign policy knowledge and experience. Hopefully, Trump will surround himself with competent advisors and quickly come up to speed on dealing with foreign policy.
Reviewing this post in a couple of years, I would not be surprised to discover that my optimism was unwarranted. Divisions within the US are deep, e.g., the chasm between the wealthiest 1% of the poorest 50%. Rapid change (though much of it is for the good in my estimation) has challenged people to adapt to a society with which they feel out of step. Globalization, economic shifts toward services and content instead of things, and greater justice for all are irreversible trends. Nevertheless, the rapid pace of change too often has been an excuse for treating persons who have not adapted to the changes, for whatever reason, as social misfits and inferiors, moves clearly incompatible with according all persons equal dignity and respect. And continued US hegemony as the world's only superpower is far from assured regardless of who is president or policies the US implements.
However, at this moment when the US is poised on the cusp of a new presidential administration, optimism is likely to produce results that are more positive by seeking to make the best of a potentially very problematic electoral outcome than is pessimism. 

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