Wandering Autumn

Exploring change and the life that comes with it

Election Aftermath: 2016 Edition

November 12, 2016 

The election is over, the votes (more or less) all counted. So far, my predictions haven’t veered entirely off-track. I did indicate a 25% chance for Mr. Trump, and I gave as a reason polling under-representing his support. And the victory was not, in my estimation, really a landslide.1 Russia’s influence on the election is something that is essentially unknown at this point, but I think there’s still an open possibility that Russia’s hackers rigged the election for Mr. Trump.

As for my “if Trump is elected” predictions, I do pull back the “global thermonuclear war” probability. Having thought about it more—and having discussions with other people about it—I don’t think it’s quite as likely. Still likely, in the 25%–30% range, but less so. This is mostly because of the question “who would it be with?” With Trump being friendly with Russia, our chance of actually entering into war with them goes down, leaving China as the primary likelihood. I generally think it would a rogue actor that starts it, and once the nukes go flying, everyone will unload.2

As of the past few days, there apparently have been riots, though not directed the way I thought. Riots directed against Mr. Trump after his election stand a good chance at inspiring martial law. Personally, I think it’s incredibly self-defeating—if an example of the fear many people have about their futures.

I still hold by my prediction regarding an assassination attempt.

The more important story here, I think, is the bigger government picture. Republicans hold a majority of seats in both houses of the Federal Congress along with the Presidency. This last happened in 2002–2006, under George W. Bush.3 However, Mr. Trump—along with the rest of the Republican party—is very different from Mr. Bush. Under the Bush presidency, there was still some attempt from both parties to reach across the aisle—cf. the PATRIOT Act—whereas what has characterized the last couple of years of the Obama presidency has been the recalcitrance of the Republicans against that very thing.

An empty seat on the Supreme Court likely means that the Republicans can have their pick of justice, giving them a justice that is more likely to be “conservative”. Certainly, it’s up to Mr. Trump, but I would be immensely surprised if he didn’t suggest a “conservative” judge.

Beyond that, Republicans are now governors of 34 states. It looks like they have majorities of state legislatures in 25 of those, and majorities in 7 more state legislatures.4 That is a lot of power and control—enough to make a good run at a Constitutional Amendment.

To me, this means that the Republicans are in control, with very little ability for anyone to stop their agenda, and this time around, they have an agenda. We are going to see the Republican-Libertarian experiment writ large, likely for at least the next four years.

I say four because there are two competing factors for the 2018 election. First, conventional wisdom is that the opposition party gains seats in the midterms of a president’s first term. Second, conventional wisdom is that Democrats don’t do well in midterms. I think the latter, combined with the current district boundaries and the desire to continue doing things that happen to prevent primarily-Democrat-voting voters from voting, mean that Republicans will maintain control.

This is assuming, of course, that we continue to have elections, and not “elections” or even do away with them altogether. But more on that in a moment.

That we will see the Republican-Libertarian experiment means one of two things. Either one, they are right, and they know the path to peace and prosperity. Or two, they are wrong, and things are going to get very bad, at which point, they can be blamed for all of the problems. In the latter case, people will still claim that any problems are the result of historic Democratic programs, or “we haven’t gone far enough”. I will merely point out that “we just didn’t go far enough” is also given as a frequent defense of communism when it’s pointed out that communist countries didn’t work.

Personally, I think the latter is more likely. But I’m willing to be proven wrong. Who knows if that means we’ll actually see the Republicans swept from power, however. Tribalism runs deep.

Many people have called Mr. Trump an authoritarian. Often, these people are historians who have studied the rise of fascism, or people who grew up in authoritarian regimes. Either way, I’m inclined to believe what they say. On the other hand, the American system provides some degree of check on the President.

It remains an open question how much of Mr. Trump’s bluster during the campaign was, in fact, what he plans to do, or if it was merely a ploy to get elected. He wouldn’t be the first politician to promise the world to gain power, and then fail to deliver on any of it.

But if he is an authoritarian, and tribalism trumps ideals, then the Republican majority will only act on his authoritarian requests, regardless of how terrible they are. Republican control of the Federal government is not a new thing—as noted, see 2002–2006—but someone with the rhetoric of Mr. Trump winning the presidency is. It remains to be seen what he does.

My advice, under the assumption that sliding into authoritarianism is a very likely possibility, is to be vigilant.

The first place to watch is the media. There’s a widespread assertion that in general the media has a liberal bias.5 That would imply a general opposition to Mr. Trump’s presidency, or at least a tendency to report on it unfavorably. Pay attention to the tone in the media. If it starts shifting—in particular, if it starts moving from opposing the administration to having an affection for it—then realize that there’s probably government pressure.

Also watch the bylines and employees of the media companies. If there’s a large revolving door, be wary, as it could mean people being replaced with more administration-friendly people. Certainly, the massive shift underway in media itself can obscure this, but it’s still a thing that can happen.

Control of the media is important for any authoritarian regime, however. If people cannot reliably determine the truth—or they are unable to get any information other than non-truthful—then they cannot reliably come together to stop it.

Be aware.

It’s possible I’m wrong about what’s to come for the United States. I’m sure a number of people were unhappy about Ronald Reagan winning back in 1980. Though, the analogy falls flat, for Mr. Trump is almost nothing like Mr. Reagan in affect, professed political opinions, previous governing experience, and so on.

As always, I pray for my country and its leaders, even as I remain vigilant against the creeping threat of authoritarianism. I recommend you do the same.

  1. Note that I considered 270–330 to be “barely” category. Plus, if you look at the vote margins for several states, they are extremely close—and he didn’t win the popular vote. 

  2. One scenario that I think plausible is that Russia exploits its friendship with Mr. Trump to smuggle nuclear warheads into many American population centers, and then suddenly detonates all of them and declares war and victory. Kind of like what the Cylons did with Gaius Baltar in Battlestar Galactica. 

  3. Contrary to Ann Coulter’s assertion that it was 1928. Which is also a bizarre fact to point out, given how well that worked out. 

  4. I hedge because as of writing this, the results aren’t 100% determined. 

  5. I don’t actually buy this. First, “liberal” is incredibly ill-defined. Beyond that, given the number of examples “liberal” people have to claim conservative bias, my conclusion is that the media is biased, and that it is quite possible that bias aligns with “liberal” views a good portion of the time, but that is more coincidence than it is an actual “liberal” bias. Not that I’m sure what the media bias actually is for, aside from “making money”. It could also be humans reading way too much into a chaotic system. 

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