This month of November felt like a political eternity. The sheer magnitude of unexpected, often upsetting revelations could have easily provoked the temptation to drop out of political awareness. Nonetheless, I have been inspired to see a resurgence of organization and motivation. However, as the left settles into our new oppositional role, it is important to take account of the multifaceted risks we face from the Trump administration. In particular, I identify an array of four particularly significant areas of concern.
Perhaps it is best to start with foreign policy. As an individual, Donald Trump is woefully unprepared to serve as commander-in-chief. So far, the weight of his responsibility hasn’t yet dawned on him. Trump has received only a handful of intelligence briefings, reportedly turning away government officials who requested his time. A clueless, often belligerent chief executive could have catastrophic consequences. Further, Trump’s current appointments inspire little faith. Michael Flynn, the National Security Adviser, is known for anti-Islam views and peddling conspiracies. His Deputy National Security Adviser has previously praised Putin and declared that he was worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize. However, while these developments are genuinely alarming, Trump still has not made his choices for Secretary of State or Secretary of Defense. At the moment, the contours of Trumpian foreign policy remain mysterious. It is not a comforting unknown.
The next aspect of Trump’s agenda, however, is quickly taking shape. Based on his cabinet appointments, it appears that the next four years will feature radically conservative economic and fiscal policy. By choosing Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, Trump has signaled that he is deeply committed to repealing the Affordable Care Act.
Rolling back President Barack Obama’s signature legislative accomplishment would throw millions of Americans off of their health insurance. It would once again leave those with pre-existing conditions at the mercy of insurance companies. Yet, as damaging as this move may be, it may just be the beginning. Remember that Speaker Paul Ryan, of course, has long advocated for changes in Social Security and Medicare. Rep. Price has recently stressed that he shares this viewpoint. Consequently, it is not an understatement to say that the Republican Party is poised to dismantle the federal safety net.
During the campaign, Trump pledged to defend Social Security and Medicare. While his false promises may not surprise us, it could lead to a nasty backlash among his supporters. This would not be the only area of potential disappointment. Despite a pledge to “Drain the Swamp,” Trump has selected a series of extremely well-connected billionaires and millionaires for his cabinet. In addition to their intimate ties to Wall Street and major corporations, these individuals have embraced a laissez-faire view of the government’s role in regulating the economy. Trump’s supposed populism has given way to a total embrace of the most elite portions of our society.
The extreme economic policies of the Trump administration could exacerbate existing inequalities, throw millions of Americans back into poverty, and forever redefine the federal government’s obligations to resolve economic insecurity. This could be a most politically potent opportunity, and challenge, for the Democratic Party. As Trump enriches the upper class, the conditions would be ripe for Democrats to stress their commitment to protecting and expanding the safety net. A progressive economic agenda, put forth by figures such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) would serve as a unifying and compelling message going into the 2018 and 2020 midterms. It may be the only way to mobilize the public against these harmful changes.
Still, Trump’s damage extends even further. We can never forget that he has chosen to empower white nationalism. His choice for Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, was rejected for a federal judge position in the 1980s because of his prejudiced views. If confirmed, it is difficult to comprehend the degree to which Sessions will be able to rollback protections for civil rights and voting rights. Bannon, the White House chief strategist, is a leader of the racist “alt-right” movement. More broadly, Trump has stoked xenophobic and Islamophobic views. His promises to crackdown on undocumented immigration threaten to uproot the lives of millions.
This brings me to my last point. Beyond any specific policy or ideology, the most genuinely terrifying aspect of the Trump presidency is the man’s utter disregard for the basic norms of our political system. Before the public voted, he refused to say whether he would accept the result. Even after he won, Trump bizarrely lied about millions of people fraudulently voting. The most powerful man in the world will soon be a wildly immature, vindictive liar and he will never take no for an answer.
Notably, the president-elect has repeatedly focused his ire on anyone who dare question him. From his Twitter account, he has hurled personal invective at journalists who bother to inquire about his many conflicts of interest. Not content with merely attacking freedom of the press, Trump is determined to assail the entirety of the First Amendment. In violation of clear Supreme Court rulings, Trump believes that flag burning should be punishable by imprisonment or losing citizenship.
At this point, he has barely encountered a tiny fragment of the pressure that comes with being president. How will we respond when times get tough? Imagine a national security incident, where an angry and confused President Trump turns to advisors who have espoused bigotry. More innocently, picture even how Trump would respond to the type of protest and legislative crisis that President Obama encountered during the passage of Obamacare.
I have highlighted a few of the most critical concerns, but there are countless more; take climate change, for instance. Overall, it’s overwhelming. The enormity of dealing with Trump urges vigilance to make sure that we retain a proper focus. We must vehemently oppose his attempts to impose a failed economic ideology on our country. But we can never turn a blind eye to any aspect of his harmful proposals. Bigotry cannot be ignored. And we must also take special notice of actions that threaten the basic structures of American constitutional governance.
Moving forward, the Democratic Party should be responsive. It should be ready to create a coalition that builds off of the failures of Trump. Most of all, it should keep in mind that the Democratic Party, and the opposition more broadly, may be tasked with the protection of our cherished democratic system. We can all agree that 2016 has been a hell of a year. In 2017, we cannot take anything for granted. It’s far too easy for the impossible to become inevitable.
Kevin Kowalewski is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Democratic Dialogue appears alternate Thursdays this semester.