Facing Trumpism: An Overview of Threats
It would be difficult to overstate the dangers posed by the Trump-Pence administration, which will emerge both from within and outside of government. Beyond the corridors of state power, Trump’s divisive rhetoric, with its howling against the immigrant and Muslim other, is re-normalizing racism in the U.S. Unsurprisingly, the most anti-democratic elements of the far right – neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and Christofascists – are capitalizing on Trump’s ascendancy. We are in the midst of a significant spike of hate crimes and related harassment that exceeds that of the 9/11 era. In a bone-chilling indication of how emboldened this movement has become, a conference of 200 white supremacists concluded their national conference at the Ronald Reagan federal building in D.C. on November 17 with Nazi salutes and chants of “Hail Trump!” As President-elect, Trump’s criticism of this small but vocal faction of his base has been tepid at best, while he has repeatedly sounded off at the mildest expressions of dissent and less-than-fawning coverage in outlets such as the New York Times. What follows is a summary of more direct threats posed by the incoming administration.
Border & Deportations
Among Trump’s signature campaign promises were the construction of a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico and the deportation of millions of undocumented immigrants. Trump’s wall faces significant administrative hurdles, and some Republican members of Congress have indicated their unwillingness to approve the funding necessary for such an undertaking. Expect increased militarization and fence extensions in some locations, perhaps accompanied by a few show-piece wall segments.
A greater risk stems from Trump’s promises to deport millions of undocumented immigrants. When pressed on specifics, Trump has taken 18 different stances, including advocating for an end to birthright citizenship. Since the election, Trump has stood by his plan to deport 2-3 million “criminal aliens,” a murky figure which researchers put at closer to 800,000. Also, his transition website states that he will, “Immediately terminate President Obama’s two illegal executive amnesties” [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans].
Targeting young Dreamers and the parents of U.S.-born children would be among the most incendiary actions the Administration could take in this arena. Still, the risk is real as Trump surrounds himself with zealots such as Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a leading candidate for Secretary of Homeland Security and author of the infamous “Show me your papers” and voter ID state laws, and U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions, the nominee for Attorney General with an alarming background on civil rights and immigration. Trump has also threatened to go after legal immigration programs for skilled guest-workers.
Trump has pledged to triple the number of ICE agents, yet House Speaker Paul Ryan has insisted there will be no funding for a “deportation force.” At a practical level, this means Trump’s plan will heavily rely on local law enforcement. However, major cities and police chiefs round the country have already announced their intention to resist. Trump and other Republicans, in turn, have threatened to cut off federal funding to these municipalities.
Healthcare & Safety Net
On the campaign trail, Trump was not fully in alignment with Ryan, so it is uncertain just what we should expect, but there is every reason to expect a truly catastrophic defunding and privatization of Medicaid that could force 30 million people out of the program, a dismantling of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that could take insurance away from another 22 million people, and a privatization of Medicare that would drastically limit health care access for seniors. The gravity of this would be enormous: taking comprehensive health care access away from people would literally kill tens of thousands of people every year.
While what Republicans will do exactly is unclear, they have released nine health care plans over the last four years. Taken together, the Republican plans advocate an ideologically driven set of policies that shrink government at every opportunity, introduce market competition where it has never existed before, cut reproductive and other rights, and force “personal responsibility” measures that treat poverty as a personal choice and would deprive tens of millions of people who are structurally barred access to full-time employment and living wages from realizing their fundamental right to health care.
Robert Greenstein, founder of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, recently summarized, “This is by far the gravest threat to the safety net, and to low-income people, that I’ve seen in my close to half a century of working on these issues. I think there’s a potential in the first seven months, by the August recess, for Congress to pass policies that do more to increase poverty and hardship and widen inequality than we’ve seen in half a century.”
Civil Rights & Labor
Leaked photographs of Kris Kobach’s first-year plan for Homeland Security confirm his rumored desire to bring back a Bush-era program called the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, also known as the “Muslim registry.” Kobach was the architect of the program in his Justice Department post following 9/11. It required men 16 and older from 25 predominantly Muslim countries to register in person with Homeland Security when entering and exiting the country. The program was widely considered a “complete waste of resources” and “clearly profiling” both within and outside the government.
The prospect of a Jeff Sessions-led Justice Department is equally alarming. Remarkably, after being nominated by Reagan in 1986 to serve as a federal district judge, Sessions was rejected by the Senate judiciary committee for allegedly having made racist comments to colleagues. (For context, this was only three years after Senator Jesse Helms led a 16-day filibuster against establishing Martin Luther King Day as a federal holiday.) Sessions has “a record of hostility” to voting rights that extends throughout his career. He is a drug warrior who opposes state laws permitting medical and recreational marijuana, and myriad other criminal justice reform efforts are now likely dead in their tracks.
Potential nominees for labor secretary include controversial Wisconsin governor Scott Walker and fast-food CEO Andy Puzder, among others. Expect more attacks on public sector unions, attempts to further weaken already anemic regulatory enforcement, and efforts to undermine prevailing wage rules should an infrastructure bill clear Congress.
Tax and Finance
Though Trump has fashioned himself as a man of the people, his economic policies are tilted decidedly in favor of the very wealthy. 47% of his tax cuts will go to the top 1%. Trump has also proposed to cut the corporate income tax rate by more than half and would repeal the estate tax altogether. Meanwhile, members of the financial services industry have looked to his election as a game-changer and are eager for deregulatory action against Dodd-Frank and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the watchdog organization that helped unravel the recent Wells Fargo scandal. Lastly, there is good reason to suspect that Trump’s supposed olive branch in the form of an infrastructure plan will amount to little more than a package of massive corporate tax breaks for utility-industry and construction sector investors that does very little for less profitable projects, such as upgrading municipal water systems and repairing roads or replacing bridges that do not charge tolls.
Despite the long-established scientific consensus, Trump infamously called climate change a hoax “created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive” and campaigned loudly against the breakthrough Paris Accord. And while industry analysts are pessimistic about coal’s future due primarily to market forces, Trump has pledged to double-down on the high-carbon fuel. This would require rolling back new regulations including the Interior Department’s Stream Protection Rule, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, and the Interior Department’s moratorium on new federal coal leases.
Accordingly, Trump’s selection of Myron Ebell to oversee the EPA transition is cause for significant alarm. As recently noted in Business Insider: Ebell is not a scientist and has no degrees or qualifications in climate science. But he serves as director of global warming and environmental policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a libertarian advocacy group in Washington, DC. In practice, that means he spends his time rejecting and trying to discredit scientists who work to understand the global climate.
The CEI previously relied heavily on funding from Exxon Mobil, and is staffed with people tied to Koch Industries or non-profits supported by the Koch Brothers. Trump recently grabbed headlines for pledging to have an “open mind” on the Parris Accord, but the full transcript of that discussion with New York Times reporters leaves far less room for optimism. States, large cities and businesses must now step up their efforts in order to mitigate what could be the most catastrophic and irreversible aspect of his legacy.
One of the strongest arguments in favor of electing Clinton was to prevent a far-right takeover of the Supreme Court. There is already one vacancy since the Republican-controlled Senate took the unprecedented action this year of refusing to confirm Merrick Garland, Obama’s nominee. Liberal justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 83 and Stephen Breyer is 78; Anthony Kennedy, the swing vote on abortion, is 80. Should one of these justices pass away during Trump’s reign, he will have the opportunity to reshape the Supreme Court for a generation with at least two young, reactionary jurists.
On 60 Minutes, just days after the election, Trump stated that his Supreme Court justices would “automatically” ensure the overturn of Roe v. Wade. During the campaign, he staked out various positions on the issue in an attempt to consolidate support from the Christian right, including arguing that women who terminated pregnancies should receive “some form of punishment.” And while Trump has clumsily proclaimed support for LGBT rights, there are no guarantees that his same nominees would not also overturn the legalization of same-sex marriage. (It is worth noting here that Vice President Mike Pence is an extremist with a long and harmful track record on these issues.)
Of course, a Supreme Court shaped by the Trump-Pence administration will have an impact far beyond the so-called “culture wars.” Voting rights, restrictions on the regulatory authority of federal agencies, public sector unions, and the use of state surveillance and police power will all be at stake.
Beyond the domestic sphere, there are startling trends in Trump’s approach to foreign policy and national security issues. He has tapped hawkish, non-mainstream, and virulently anti-Muslim advisers, including Michael Flynn, K.T. McFarland, and Frank Gaffney. Trump and Pence have both refused to rule out reinstating the use of torture. Trump has avoided national security briefings since his win. Of course, there is also the matter of his now well-documented conflicts of interest that span at least twenty countries around the globe. Given the composition of Trump’s team and his drop-the-hammer impulses, the launch of new military campaigns, or the escalation of existing ones, cannot be ruled out. Extremism breeds extremism, and these events and rhetoric will likely play into the recruiting pitches of Al Qaeda, ISIS, and similar organizations. Finally, it is terrifying to imagine Trump’s response, foreign and domestic, to a major attack on U.S. soil.
While many productive critiques have dissected the 2016 election cycle, there are two macro-level issues that must factor into discussions of electoral strategy. Initially, this is the second presidential election in sixteen years in which a Democratic candidate has handily won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College as it skews political power to less-populated areas. Next, since 2010, Republicans have waged open warfare on minority voting rights. These efforts have been boosted by the Supreme Court, which in 2013 gutted key provisions of the Voting Rights Act, the landmark legislative achievement of the Civil Rights Movement.
Setting aside the FBI’s unprecedented role in the 2016 race, as well as alarming reports of Russian interference, the cumulative effect of the Republican “stealth war against voters” has been devastating for Democrats at both the state and federal level. Worse yet, there is every reason to expect an escalation of these attacks. Trump has recently made unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud in Virginia, New Hampshire and California, stating that he “won the [national] popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.” Against this ominous backdrop, the battle to defend and expand voting rights and to ensure election integrity must become a central focus for the progressive movement.
Organizing at all levels will be vital in the Trump era. Opposition and outcry at the federal level will be imperative, however, there may be greater strategic opportunities at the state and local levels. Additionally, where possible, corporate accountability approaches will have enhanced value since brands seek to avoid reputational risks irrespective of who holds power in Washington. There is also an opportunity and need for the progressive movement to more seriously engage with electoral strategy and power-building, from school boards to Congress, and the defense and re-expansion of voting rights and challenges to corporate influence on politics provide logical entry points. Lastly, this is the moment we must reach for our core values. A vision of human rights and inclusive democracy for our country, putting our most vulnerable communities at the center of our struggles, can help facilitate cross-sector alliances and provide cohesion to the broader opposition movement.