What would President Donald Trump do that would actually be so bad?

As a resident of Massachusetts I am purely a spectator of the U.S. political scene. Though I will try to get down to the local school to vote for Bernie on Tuesday, our votes generally don’t count; most candidates on our ballots are running unopposed and, for the rest, the outcome is seldom in doubt.

Tomorrow is Super Tuesday and people have been in a tizzy for months over the prospect of Donald Trump as President. My Facebook feed is about 30 percent comparisons of Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler.

Stupid Question of the Day: What could Trump actually do that would be so bad/dramatic?

Let’s assume that Trump isn’t going to start a nuclear war. He has too much property to protect, even if much may be mortgaged.

Now what? The President can travel around the country making fine speeches (if Obama) or blunt ones (if Trump), but the President doesn’t make laws, set tax rates, or determine the budget. Maybe Trump wants to build a 100′-high wall somewhere but if Congress doesn’t fund it then he will have to pay for the wall himself, just as you or I would.

President Trump would appoint federal judges. Is there any evidence that he would do a worse job at this than anyone else? His own sister is a Federal appeals court judge, nominated to that job in 1999 by President Clinton. Presumably Trump, like other Presidents, would delegate the grunt work of finding good candidates for various positions. Are we afraid that Trump will hire inferior advisors somehow? Why wouldn’t he just ask his sister for help with judges and similarly qualified people for help in other areas?

Barack Obama has said that he was going to do a bunch of stuff that never got done. He was going to close Gitmo. He was going to tax oil.  Politifact has a longish list. In retrospect it seems that it didn’t make any difference what Obama said since Congress has the real power. What’s the practical downside of President Trump for those of us who don’t watch TV and who don’t pay close attention to what the current President says?

He’s not a candidate that I have ever considered supporting, but I would like someone to explain why does the sky fall if Donald Trump is elected?

[And, separately, what if Barack Obama were to nominate Donald Trump’s sister to the Supreme Court?]


  • “What a Donald Trump presidency might actually look like” (Los Angeles Times) says that spending and government programs would be more or less unchanged.
  • “The Donald and The Terminator” (WSJ) on the failure of Arnold Schwarzenegger to accomplish anything in California: “… here’s the thing about bluster. Against entrenched interests, it almost always loses. For a simple reason: The interests are entrenched because they know how to game the system. American history is thus littered with elected populists foundering in office on the presumption that their personal appeal would be enough to carry the day.  That’s what happened to Mr. Schwarzenegger. He came into the governor’s mansion vowing to lower the tax burden, impose some spending restraint and revive the state’s economy. Instead, he ended up signing a huge tax increase even as the state’s deficit spending continued and the debt nearly tripled under his watch.”

24 thoughts on “What would President Donald Trump do that would actually be so bad?

  1. Philip, it is all either virtue-signaling by good liberals, or genuine panic by people whose jobs or influence would be threatened due to their team losing. Both groups of people have a strong interest in making Trump look bad and scary.

  2. Trump makes like Hoover and gets Congress to enact something like Smoot-Hawley and we enter a great depression.

    Maybe he is right and free trade has advanced too far, and too quickly.

    But shutting it down too quickly might also have disastrous effects.

  3. Brian: if Trump were persuasive on this point, Congress could act right now. They wouldn’t need to wait until 2017 to enact what they believed to be the optimum tariff policy, would they?

  4. Trump makes money by licensing his “Trump brand” to projects with very little of his own money at risk. Investors and contractors take the hit when things don’t go as planned and the project shell-company declares bankruptcy. The credibility, trustworthiness, and influence of the United States as a global citizen is in direct proportion to the health of the United States brand.

    Brand Crash — The U.S. under G.W. Bush was seen as a pathetic, learning disabled mob. United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, declared the war in Iraq illegal: “The invasion of Iraq was neither in self-defense against armed attack nor sanctioned by UN Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force by member states and thus constituted the crime of war of aggression, according to the International Commission of Jurists in Geneva. A “war waged without a clear mandate from the United Nations Security Council would constitute a flagrant violation of the prohibition of the use of force”. We note with “deep dismay that a small number of states are poised to launch an outright illegal invasion of Iraq, which amounts to a war of aggression”.
    (source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legality_of_the_Iraq_War)

    If Trump is elected POTUS the U.S. will suffer a humiliating crash in brand loyalty by civilized countries around the world. Trump is a loud-mouth, chicken-hawk, gas bag. This is not an open question. Further:
    1. None of his ideas will become law (Mexico wall, China trade deal..).
    2. The Joint Chiefs will laugh at him. Then say “no.” Then resign.
    3. Big business will flee the U.S. with more urgency than they are now (Pfizer inversion: http://fortune.com/2015/11/20/why-new-tax-inversion-rules-wont-stop-pfizer-allergan-deal/)

    John Oliver exposes Donald Trump:

    Global Public Opinion in the Bush Years (2001-2008)

  5. Paul: Didn’t people say that there would be an enormous lift in U.S. prospects when King Bush II was replaced by Barack Obama? That lift doesn’t seem to have materialized unless you want to count the dead cat bounce off the Collapse of 2008. U.S. per-capita GDP growth is feeble. Affection for Barack Obama does not seem to have resulted in foreigners being willing to pay higher prices for U.S. products. So let’s flip it around… Trump is elected President by a minority of adult Americans (let’s say that he wins just over 50% of votes but not every adult American votes). People elsewhere in the world hate Trump. Will they pay a higher price for scrap metal if it comes from somewhere other than the U.S.? For liquefied natural gas? For wheat?

  6. Phil: This Congress would not pass such a law and Obama would not sign it. But you could say the same thing about healthcare reform and Obama – why didn’t Congress pass it pre-Obama? Or the patriot act before Bush, or welfare reform before Clinton, or… Smoot-Hawley before Hoover? “Stuff happens,” and laws that no one thought could get passed somehow do get passed. Once in power he will be in a much better position to fan the flames of nationalism, to provoke, to outrage. Based on how far he has gotten to date he is clearly an expert manipulator. I really don’t want to know what he can “accomplish” in office.

    (Voting for Bernie tomorrow)

  7. But if Trump is disliked by “establishment politicians” and most of Congress is occupied by “establishment politicians,” why would they listen to him? Obama was a Senator prior to being elected President and a career Illinois state politician before that. Isn’t that a better position from which to approach Congress than “hated outsider”?

    Trump is “an expert manipulator”? He wins a minority of the votes in Republican primaries, which themselves are attended by a minority of American voters. If he persuades the same percentage of Congress as he has persuaded voters, none of his proposals would be adopted.

  8. (Another way to look at this is by studying Italy. The Prime Minister there has a lot more power than the U.S. President. The country was governed at various points by Silvio Berlusconi, who did such a bad job that he was convicted of corruption and banned from office. For the past two years it has been governed by Matteo Renzi, supposedly one of the world’s most capable politicians. Yet the Italian economy, day to day life in Italy, and the challenges that the country faces are more or less unchanged. Wouldn’t we infer from this that the position of official leader is not that influential compared to other factors, such as laws, tax rates, regulations, customs, education level and working habits of the average citizen, etc.?)

  9. philg —
    1. Comprehensive response to your comments will come in the form of books. Hundreds of them, now on the shelf and more in the future. IOW, it’s complicated.
    2. Post ’08 recovery is a testament to the power of brand USA in time of real crisis. But for the swift action of H. Paulson, B. Bernanke, and T. Geithner, the world banking system would be a rotting corpse, no bounce. Granted, the recovery has been more “stabilization” than growth. Neither Obama nor Bush is responsible for the recovery or the crash. Although each signed the appropriate documents (bailout docs) and did a fair job of talking head.
    3. While I did vote for Obama (x2), I disagree with him on many issues. The most important is energy. The Clean Power Plan is a disaster in the making. I would also build the Keystone XL pipeline. [aside: Next time you bump into Professor Moniz, tell him to check his arithmetic on renewables (wind wheels and solar). It would take all the land west of the Connecticut River to the New York line to power eastern Massachusetts for a few hours. And that’s on a sunny, windy day.]

  10. If he gets elected, the GOP as we know it may be no more.
    When madness/delusion overtake people who knows what they will do? Buy tulips/mortgages beyond sense? Support the worst sort of leaders and their policies? These things are not predictable/knowable in advance. Trump is an experiment I hope we do not embark upon.

    But, I hope you are right. Others have also made the argument that the US presidency is just not powerful enough to make that big of a difference. And were it not for a capability to wage perpetual war and commit the country to trillions of dollars of “emergency” spending, and the prospect of continuing obligations for decades to come, that might be true. Because will Congress ever (has Congress ever) refused to fund war efforts (it’s an honest question, I do not know the answer)?

    I know nothing about Italy, so fwiw re Berlusconi:
    “One day Italians woke up to find our government overrun by criminals and our economy destroyed.”
    And the Economist said: “The Berlusconi era will haunt Italy for years to come”

  11. You suggest the President has no real power, yet Obama’s selective non-enforcement of immigration law, and his administration’s selective over-zealousness in taxation investigations tell a different story. Both Bush and Obama’s continued unilateral use of the intelligence services of the FBI/CIA/NSA, and subsequent abuse of that information (despite the rubber stamp of the FISA court, if at all) is extraordinary. All of this is un-Constitutional. The office of the president has too much power, and Congress seems unable to reign it in. I think it’s a “gentleman’s agreement” between the various branches, but Trump has no career-politician credentials or goodwill to spend. It would be interesting to me to see how much leeway Congress would give him in these types of matters, if he were to be elected. (Unfortunately, there’s been nothing in the news in recent weeks to alter my standing bet that’s Hillary has a 5-to-1 shot to win.) So while I agree that, on paper, the President holds very little power, the modern incarnation of the Executive branch is a monster, poking its tendrils into every aspect of our lives. The rhetoric may be ridiculous and inflamatory but, even coming at the argument from a non-liberal angle, I agree that there’s plenty of reason to be scared about who steers that ship.

  12. I actually agree with the overall point that elected officials have, during my lifetime, tended to become figureheads. This is something that has been obvious to me but is only starting to penetrate the perspectives of political scientists.

    However, Trump’s supporters are eager for him to enforce the immigration laws. That is something the federal chief executive should be able to do. The laws are already on the books and the only thing Congress needs to do is to fund the INS.

  13. Phil, aren’t you saying that it doesn’t matter who is President? If so, why would you bother to vote for Bernie?

  14. I kind of felt that way about Bush v Gore but it seems that having a developmentally challenged individual occupying the office of The Presidency can sometimes have measurably negative consequences.

  15. There’s a lot of talk about POTUS Obama and immigration law.
    1. “America is expelling illegal immigrants at nine times the rate of 20 years ago; nearly 2m so far under Barack Obama, easily outpacing any previous president,” the Economist wrote in February 2014. “Border patrol agents no longer just patrol the border; they scour the country for illegals to eject. The deportation machine costs more than all other areas of federal criminal law-enforcement combined.” [source: http://blogs.reuters.com/data-dive/2015/02/25/tracking-obamas-deportation-numbers/%5D
    2. Is there anyone visiting this blog that feels their C-suite management team is considering replacing them with an illegal alien? Emphasis on illegal.

  16. Steve: Why will I vote tomorrow? For the same reason as nearly everyone else: to feel good about myself and/or to brag to friends. As there hasn’t been any state-wide Massachusetts election that I can remember that was decided by a single vote there is no rational reason for me to vote.

    Why vote for Bernie? The Republicans are irrelevant in Massachusetts and, I think, nationwide as well (as noted elsewhere, to me Trump is a symbol of the death of the American voter’s interest in anything traditionally “Republican”). So that means I can go in and cast a small vote against crony capitalism, for which Hillary a near-perfect example.

  17. Paul – according to 2/3 of the comments from your source, Obama changed the way he counts the deportation of the illegal immigrants, so he gets to use inflated numbers:

    “Until recent years, most people caught illegally crossing the southern border were simply bused back into Mexico in what officials called “voluntary returns,” but which critics derisively termed “catch and release.” Those removals, which during the 1990s reached more 1 million a year, were not counted in Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s deportation statistics.

    Now, the vast majority of border crossers who are apprehended get fingerprinted and formally deported. The change began during the George W. Bush administration and accelerated under Obama. The policy stemmed in part from a desire to ensure that people who had crossed into the country illegally would have formal charges on their records.

    In the Obama years, all of the increase in deportations has involved people picked up within 100 miles of the border, most of whom have just recently crossed over. In 2013, almost two-thirds of deportations were in that category.”


  18. Trump not Hitler (insult to Hitler), but he is Silvio Berlusconi. So expect even more incompetently managed government and long term aimlessness than we already have. But if you get a bunga-bunga invite please bring me along.

  19. It’s true the US Congress holds most of the power, even the power to declare war. In practice, however, the power to declare war has in recent years been delegated to the President, and thus the choice of President has a very important effect on the US, both the Treasury, US reputation, and the lost lives.

  20. I’ve been getting calls about voting for the “State Committee” members, these are something I never realized existed, but are positions in the party (replutocrat or demoklept), which essentially have input into who gets supported or nominated.

    So in this sense maybe those are the most important positions to fill? To avoid this shitfest of choices we have today…

  21. Perhaps we should turn to the political analysis of one Osama bin Laden, as reported yesterday by the Washington Post (http://wpo.st/QIiH1):
    “The course of the policies of the present administration in several areas clearly reveals that whoever enters the White House, even with good intentions to safeguard the peoples’ interest, is no more than a train operator. His only task is to keep the train on the tracks that are laid down by the lobbyists in New York and Washington to serve their interests first, even if it is counter to your security and economy. Any president who tries to move the train from the lobbyist’s tracks to a track for the American people’s interests will confront very strong opposition and pressures from the lobbyists.”

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