I expect the Trump presidency to be a disaster. And given what we’ve seen so far, I think there are four possible areas where Trump is likely to ruin things. They break down into short-term ruin, medium-term ruin, and long-term ruin, plus a wildcard.
We’ve already seen activity in the short-term area of ruin: Immigration. This is a policy area where the President has a lot of power to set changes in motion without help from Congress. Look how much turmoil we’ve gone through just from the executive order implementing Trump’s Muslim ban, despite the fact that the courts have been tearing it apart. It’s hard to tell for sure, because some of these things might just be getting more news coverage than they did under the previous administration, but Trump also seems to have encouraged the jackbooted thugs at Immigration and Customs Enforcement to be more aggressive about catching and detaining illegal immigrants. Instead of focusing on deporting illegal immigrants who cause trouble, ICE seems to be running up their numbers by catching anyone they can, breaking up families and deporting people to dangerous parts of the world regardless of their individual qualities.
There are a lot of moving parts to our international trade policies, many of which would require cooperation from Congress to change, so I think this is where it will take Trump longest to do damage. Trump’s view of international trade is distorted, ignorant, and dangerous. He sees imports as a disaster, he sees our trading partners as our enemies, and he has no respect for the right to trade freely. At the very least, restrictions on imports will harm American consumers by raising prices and reducing the quantity and variety of goods available. The restrictions will also harm American industries that use imported goods as production inputs. It will get even worse if our trading partners respond with restrictions of their own, blocking our exports and throwing us into a trade war. And once we and our trading partners no longer receive the mutual benefits of trade, there’s a lot less stopping us from getting into a shooting war.
In between those two scenarios lies the medium-term ruin of national healthcare. As with trade policy, Trump needs Congress to make big changes here, but the Republicans seem eager to join in, so the damage is likely to come much faster. One of the biggest concerns about Obamacare was that it was making major changes to the market structure of a very large and very import industry. Mistakes could destroy important capabilities and hurt innocent people. As it turns out, the Democrats did a reasonably good job of putting together Obamacare: It hasn’t been as successful and popular as its supporters hoped, and its long-term viability was up in the air even before the election, but it wasn’t the instant gigantic disaster it could have been. But now Trump and the Republicans are talking about repealing it, and that has all of the same problems as implementing Obamacare: It’s another major change to a very large and very import industry where mistakes could destroy important capabilities and hurt innocent people, and this time the people doing it seem a lot less prepared and a lot more likely to introduce frightening levels of uncertainty.
Finally, there’s the wildcard: Foreign policy. I don’t know much about foreign policy, but I’m pretty sure Donald Trump doesn’t know much either. For example, he seems to be under the impression that the United States’s defense of NATO countries is a money-making proposition rather than being an important part of our national security strategy. Trump is also famous for off-the-cuff remarks that have foreign policy implications. I don’t trust him to protect our interests from our enemies, and I really don’t trust him to preserve our strategic friendships. He’s also talked about building up our conventional and nuclear forces. So it feels like anything could happen.
Of course, Trump has his big address to Congress today, so God only knows what else he’ll add to this list.