Donald Trump Wins and We Have No Idea What Will Happen
Neither does Trump
by MATTHEW GAULT
Donald Trump is the president-elect of the United States of America and we should have seen it coming.
We all live in echo chambers and no longer communicate with people who don’t agree with us. Social media algorithms parse our news and regurgitate our preconceived notions. The world has changed. We live in a post-factual, post-industrial era where nothing quite feels true and everything seems possible.
America’s politics are just catching up to this reality, re-aligning to show the stark new truth. We have elected our first president of this new era and a new kind of potential autocrat — one we haven’t seen before. He’s shiny and strange and post-modern.
So now we’ve got president-elect Donald J. Trump. What does that mean for America’s national security and foreign policy? We have no fucking idea.
But neither does Trump.
Trump has gone back and forth on so many issues of national importance that, at this point, it’s impossible to know what he’ll do. Unpredictability is the fundamental problem of a Trump presidency … hence why financial markets are so spooked.
But it’s not unpredictability in isolation — it’s unpredictability with great authority. And nowhere is this more stark than the authority to wage war.
During the past 16 years and under George W. Bush and Barack Obama, the U.S. executive branch has undergone an unprecedented expansion. The president now has the power to declare de facto war (we resist the usual “kinetic” euphemisms) whenever he wants.
And soon, Trump, whose presidential campaign took away his Twitter account in the final days of the race, will have that power.
During administrations past and present, those who grew angry when Congress attempted to apply the brakes — say, by threatening to withhold the president’s budget — should realize that the legislative branch expressed its power in one of the only methods it has left.
But doing so comes at a cost, and it’s become less effective.
“The reality is that the executive branch has gotten so large now and so many people depend on it,” independent candidate and former House Republican policy director Evan McMullin warned in September, “that it is now politically untenable for the Republican Party to leverage the power of the purse the way they could otherwise.”
“You cannot count, I’m here to tell you, I’m sad to say this — you cannot count on Congress to check a President Trump. They will not be able to do it.”
Congress won’t be able to stop Trump if he wants to ban Muslim immigration or resume torture. But America needs strong relations with its Muslim communities to fight terrorism at home and abroad. Banning immigration, not just of newcomers but the family members of current citizens stranded abroad, destroys that relationship.
So does torture and promising to kill the family members of terrorists. But again, it’s hard to know how many of Trump’s stated plans will come to fruition — and Trump is an enormously unusual president-elect.
He’s an isolationist who wants to rebuild the military. He wants to fight terrorists and abandon nation-building, and thinks that America prematurely abandoned nation-building in Iraq. He hasn’t said how he’ll handle the war in Afghanistan.
What about the wars in Iraq and Syria? The Islamic State is losing ground, and Iraqi troops are taking Mosul back street by street. At the same time, a U.S.-backed coalition of Syrian Kurdish and Arab fighters have begun an assault on Raqqa.
These twin cities are the heart of the Islamic State’s power base and the terror group is about to lose both. Once the militants lose their cities, they could go underground and revert to insurgent tactics, like the Islamic State’s predecessor after the toppling of Saddam Hussein.
There’s a chance that coalition forces will drive the Islamic State underground before Trump takes office — and the offensive may be trying to do just that. Will he then reveal his secret plan to defeat Daesh, or will he just let America’s generals finish out the war? Who knows, he might fire them.
The latter half of the 20th century saw the rise of the nuclear bomb — a weapon that indiscriminately kills across a massive area. The early part of the 21st century saw the rise of the armed drone — robots the Pentagon and others send to strike targets around the world.
Trump, too, will have the responsibility of wielding nukes and killer robots.
We do know Trump is consistent about expanding the military. He wants to repeal the Budget Control Act, popularly known as sequestration, and pour money into the Pentagon. At the same time, he’s criticized Pentagon waste and attacked weapons systems such as the troubled F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. But cutting these programs means cutting thousands of jobs.
We just don’t know. Trump is chaos. This is new territory the world hasn’t seen before. One that’s both authoritarian, entertaining and unpredictably bizarre. A new kind of horror for a new kind of world.