Thursday, December 22, 2016

Visualizing the Trump Presidency. Scenario #2: Trump Nullified

[Note: this is very much a best-case scenario. Also, this post is part of an ongoing series. See scenario #1 here.] 

Scenario #2: Trump Nullified

After a few chaotic weeks in the spring of 2017, the generals who are managing the new President's foreign policy start to blow him off.

Not in so many words, of course. In public and on television, they acknowledge the latest controversies created by the President's incoherent statements that are now roiling across the global media landscape. But they insist that, by following through with a more measured set of policies, they are actually doing exactly what their boss intends. Many viewers miss the subtlety. Those that see it are a little shocked at the sense of contempt the President's own surrogates seem to have for their boss.

Over time, the gap between executive rhetoric and political reality widens, to the point that finally some stories are printed that acknowledge that President Trump is surprisingly detached from his own administration. He is often at Trump Tower in New York, or at rallies in Ohio or Florida. Less than a year into his Presidency, he seems on track to achieve his hinted-at vision of inhabiting the Presidency through executive summary rather than executive action.

Political business increasingly happens without him.

To be sure, he "accomplishes" some things in those first few weeks. A few miles of new fencing are planned in Texas, for instance. The President happily flies south -- tweeting all the way -- and poses for a picture with the first few feet of new fencing. At the photo-op, the President makes a joke about it not exactly being a wall, but describes it as a "big, beautiful wall" all the same. His supporters quickly point out that fifteen foot steel fences with lights and cameras everywhere still look pretty imposing. The TV cameras seem to agree, pondering the desolate landscape and the miles and miles of fencing that were already in place. And everyone begins to relax.

The numbers of undocumented immigrants that are subject to removal are regularly touted by the administration as a sign that they are following through with their campaign promises to crack down on illegal immigrants. A few liberal analysts point out that the numbers are actually roughly comparable to the numbers under Obama. This does not seem to matter to anyone. Soon the numbers are just part of the background noise, like the color-coded terrorism alerts under George W. Bush.

A registry of immigrants from Muslim countries is in fact re-instituted by the DHS, but little is known about it. Various advocacy groups sue the government to have the registry overturned, but the cases proceed slowly and under thick confidentiality protections. Because the names on the registry are kept secret and no one knows exactly what is being done with the information collected, the outrage about the registry remains limited to a small minority of civil-liberties liberals and libertarians like Rand Paul. Trump supporters point out that the new database is almost exactly identical to the NSEER database that was instituted under President Bush and that remained in effect through the first two years of the Obama presidency.

No outright Muslim ban is ever imposed, as the President's advisers convince him that the court battles would create too much bad press.  

And it all just rolls along as it was before, until Russia invades the Ukraine again in 2018.

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