Friday, January 20, 2017

The Age of Trump

Tomorrow one third of the United States' government leadership will change hands from one who once promised hope and change to one who now promises the same but supposedly of a different variety.

The tension around this transition is particularly elevated. Not since Hoover-Roosevelt has a U.S. presidential interregnum been so ugly. How will the final moments play out? Will Obama be gracious or will he smugly toss the football? Will the White House be adorned with golden accents? Will a great wall emerge protecting us from things we'd like to buy and people we'd like to meet? How great shall our greatness be?

Below is a partial list of my areas of optimism and pessimism as yet another self-greatness seeking charlatan proceeds to chase away our ideals.

Before I begin, a quick look at the optimism/pessimism I predicted about one year ago when Trump was but a surprising front runner though still a dark horse.
Optimistic - Shows why we should lose (and should have lost a long time ago) our reverent awe for the U.S. Presidency; prevents major government action/intervention/meddling on any number of issues by being a circus act writ large (his administration's priorities will be prestige and showmanship rather than policy accomplishment); forces a meaningful debate and action on limiting executive power (a little bit in tension with the previous prediction as this one mitigates a Trump administration that is actually trying to do something).
Pessimistic - Engages in major international war actions (beyond the high amount the each of his opponents would do anyway); sets back trade freedom and immigration substantially; creates strong racial, ethnic, nationalistic, and gender divides.
Overall - I estimate the optimistic possibilities are more likely than the pessimistic possibilities. 
 Optimism:

  • Taxes - As with many of these, Trump himself is not really the source of optimism. Rather the Republican Congress is the new hope. Trump is just the chance that a good reform will be drafted with the expectation that he will sign it into law.
  • Regulation - He continues to talk strongly about reducing the monstrous regulatory burden our federal empire exerts. The areas of particular expectation are banking & finance (Dodd Frank) and health care/medicine/insurance (ACA/Obamacare), but also environmental; although I am less sanguine about the prospects there. 
  • Presidential Power & Authority - This one is borrowed my original. I believe the return of the left is long overdue in this area. Perhaps it will take this time... doubtful. The same can be said for the anti-war movement. Their 8-year hibernation is now over. Remy puts it well in the second verse. 
There is no doubt these are important areas; yet, so are those I put in the pessimistic camp.

Pessimism:
  • Trade - Astute readers will notice how many of these in the pessimism category are related. Is his rhetoric enough to satiate the unintentional, populist desire to be poorer? Our trade deficit/capital account surplus is not some phantom menace plaguing our economic well being. Is he really so dense as to believe the nonsense he speaks on this issue? . . . based on the rest of his behavior . . . Okay, good point.
  • Immigration - The free exchange of labor is every bit as important a contributor (perhaps even a greater contributor) to our economic wealth as is the free exchange of goods and services. His attack on those not from around here is both disgusting and discouraging. Again, I hope this is a clone of the prior item where it is all about rhetoric and not action.
  • Nationalism - We don't need more tribal thinking in this world. Unfortunately, he nurtures this toxin. He wants revenge on those not allowing us to be great.
  • War - Here my outlook is just slightly negative. I'm grading on a curve based on the past two Commanders in Chief. I think he will tend to reduce the areas of conflict where both Bush and Obama took us. However, the risk he runs of allowing an awoken force from Russia or China is elevated compared to the prior administrations. Think reduced magnitude across the bulk of the probable war fronts but with increased risk in the extremes (tail risk).
  • Drug policy - I suspect he views drugs in the traditional simplistic framework (good versus evil). Drug users are rogues who must be dealt with. The first one to tell him he can't win the war on drugs will seal our fate in continuing the evil work that is that battle.
  • Government Meddling - From the Carrier deal to GM to you name it, the picture so far is bad for economic growth specifically and bad for liberty in general.
  • Free Speech - For as much as he deplores PC, he certainly can't take criticism. He has flat out said we need to reign in speech. 
  • Internet freedom - This may be a small issue, but perhaps it is a litmus test for how he will govern overall. He said we need to look into 'closing that Internet up'. His nominee for Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, as well as his vice president, Pence, are outspoken in their disdain for internet poker. They want to keep us safe . . . from ourselves and our choices.
  • Surveillance State - I suspect no relief. 
  • Gender Issues/Tolerance - While I actually think he actually takes a lot of unfounded and unfair flack regarding areas like race and sexual orientation, his sexism is undeniable. He is not just crude. He is misogynistic. It is hard to be very trusting that this strong character flaw and his errors in judgment don't and won't extend beyond objectifying women. 
Overall:

The Trump years (and they will be years despite the hope of so many for impeachment or that he would divorce America to be president of some younger Eastern European country) might be an odd combination of dramatic progress and colossal retreat. I think the eventual decisive factor will be how strong and righteous Congress is. I believe the case for optimism has a greater magnitude than the case for pessimism, but the negative sensitivity is high--meaning prospects are skewed with more downside risk than upside potential while the balance is still to the upside.