This was inspired by a rather insipid article I read, that pretended to imagine what would have happened...
(The piece I read just had him doing exactly the same things, but with Democrats and the "mainstream media" drooling over his brilliance. It was pretty stupid.)
First, we try to stick to the reality of the past as much as possible. About the only thing that really would have to be undone would be his active role in the "birther" movement. This seems fair, as that part of his public presentation was all fairly recent, and really a part of his beginning to hone himself as a populist conservative. If anything else ocurs to me, I'll add it.
Now we must address the primaries. He probably would have had to run on policies similar to those espoused by Senator Sanders - running to Clinton's left to outflank her (remember how well Bernie did, as a virtual unknown to most of the country).
So what we must imagine is how his style would have shaped the presentation of those issues.
An example might be, say, on the issue of marriage equality.
Rather than presenting a nuanced discussion of human rights and intimate relationships, he would have used a sledgehammer. I can imagine him saying things like "F*ck those troglodites on the right. Gay people can get married, and if their churches won't accept it, we'll burn the goddamn things down!"
That may seem a bit strong, but I think it is about right. I seriously know many aligned with the left who would eat this up. The "git 'er done" attitude, and complete disdain for organized religion, would go over quite well.
The chattering classes would parse the over-the-top phrasing into a slightly more nuanced version of this "policy" ("no, of course he won't be burning churches, it's a metaphor!"), while the simpler or less-engaged folks among us would just take it at face value.
On tax policy, "eat the rich" would have worked pretty well. I don't think this even needs elaboration. His position as "one of them" would give him great credibility (see also: Warren Buffet, et al.) in this position. He could call for 1950s-level taxation on income, a huge increase in the income subject to Social Security taxes, a huge increase in estate taxes, and the left would lap it up breathlessly.
Now remember, this is Trump. He doesn't have to be right, coherent, or even reasonable. He just has to say what the base of his audience wants to hear.
On health care, his position is as easy and simple as almost anyone else on the left - "single payer now". That's it. That's all he has to say. With that, he has 100% of the Democrats, and many in the center, on his side. He doesn't have to back it up with plans or policy ("We have a plan - and it's a great plan!"). Some people will think "Medicare for all", others will imagine policy in the style of their favorite civilized nation. It won't matter. He flattens Clinton on this.
On reform of higher education costs, remember those taxes he said he would jack up to the ceiling? Whatever is left over from health care goes here. State universities, except some flagship campuses, would become all but free to residents again. There would be a program of full scholarship coverage for applicants in the top levels at elite universities who cannot afford to attend.
Do you see how easy this is? Populist bluster can succeed under the right conditions with no details whatsoever to back it up.
As I mentioned under health care, the audience will simply hear that the candidate is for their own version of the solution - this is why the fewer details presented, the better.
On every single one of these issues, his pronouncements would flatten Clinton's carefully nuanced, compromised (but probably realistic) prescriptions. He wouldn't have needed to rant about "emails" or "Benghazi", although he probably would have.
Immigration: a call for a full and absolute amnesty and path to citizenship, and enforcement of the (now raised) minimum wage for all agricultural and other itinerant workers.
If the Republicans started making a stink about "trans rights", he could simply call for unisex toilets in all public places. Just change the "Ladies" sign to "stalls only" and the "Gentlemen" one to "stand up facilities available". Done.
His top-down, light on the details approach to "management" would be a huge advantage in this primary, as he wouldn't have to slow down to present anything realistic - he could just promise the leftist, social democrat wet dream across the board. "We will have great people to work out the details."
And, you know, he just might. Whereas the right has been flaking out further and further from governing skills - writing effective bills and passing them - the left never really stopped. There are probably ten fully-detailed universal health care proposals out there at any given time - plans that literally would just need a final revision to go before Congress and perhaps pass almost exactly as written. This goes for many other left-wing issues. Just call Robert Reich and he'll put you in touch with the people.
And so we transition to his having won the election over whichever bland character won the GOP nomination. Because he would have won, as the massively energized left turned out to vote in droves, while the American Taliban and unencouraged race warriors stayed home in disgust.
(First act: Justice Obama, anybody? I'm staying away from that. He might have just left Garland's nomination in place.)
Democratic legislators, by the same token as their "think tanks" and policy wonks mentioned above, are still generally used to the idea of proposing, discussing, and enacting public policy that they think will improve Americans' lot (whether it would or not is mildly irrelevant at this point). Even given Trump's rather vacant style of occupancy of the White House, they would shepherd bills to his desk. Even if they only held one house of Congress (they would probably have taken the House on his coattails), between their willingness to compromise and Trump's demonization of the "just say no" factions in the Senate, they'd get the job done. Keep in mind that even if the Senate was still marginally controlled by Republicans, a good dozen of those Republican senators are long-time center-right politicians, wise and aware of going with the manadate a new president who won just about every populated state came in with.
This means that a few of these "promises" might actually end up as law - perhaps two or three. At some point, the "honeymoon" period would end, Trump would begin to lose his short-term luster as his lack of ability became more and more obvious, and perhaps one more very watered-down bill would get through. By now it has been about six months, and the entire House are preparing for their upcoming campaigns, and are somewhat worried about Trump's falling poll numbers as he bungles international missions and generally shows his cluelessness about governing.
We would be basically where we are now, in mid-summer 2017, with the exception that a few very interesting bills would have become law. I would expect them to be the following:
Some small tax increase. Nothing close to a rollback of the Reagan cuts, but perhaps a modest increase in the top income tax rate, and a doubling, perhaps of the income subject to Social Security taxes - coupled with a reduction the Social Security tax rate itself (perhaps to a combined rate as low as ten percent).
A huge overhaul to the Affordable Care Act. I would expect two major provisions - a mandate for government insurance programs (Medicare, Medicaid, and the new one) to negotiate drug prices, and a so-called "public option". The public option would be a federal health "insurance" plan with subsidized pricing, that businesses could provide for their employees, or people could buy on their own. It would be eminently portable, being offered in every state, and covering every legitimate health care provider.
A third might be some form of "immigration reform". Absent racism and misplaced paranoia about jobs, I think this is something that would go down well with a nation of immigrants and their grandchildren if presented well. Whether Trump could or would care to present it well, having won the Presidency, is another issue.
Anything requiring skilled leadership outside Congress probably would never quite happen. Perhaps one issue would make it, but it would have to be a very simple one for Trump's style to be useful in helping getting it worked out and passed.
By this time, as I said, things are beginning to lok a lot like they do now. Falling respect for Trump as he neglects his duties while insulting our allies and coddling our enemies leads to investigations of his shadier activities, which come up with rather a lot of awkward material.
In 2018 the Republicans retake the House, literally running on a call for impeachment. It is done, the Senate promptly convicts, and President... who? I forgot to hypothesize who Trump would have picked for a running mate. Fuck it, President Sanders takes office as a lame-duck caretaker for two years. But he does manage to place two Associate Justices on the high Court.
The final thing to remember is his would still have been a failed, corrupt Presidency. The end result might have ben a reinvigoration of the Democratic Party, though, instead of exposing how ridiculous, ineffective, and poorly-suited to governing the Republican Party has become. But it could just as easily have had the opposite effect.
The impeachment saves us from any long-lasting international debilitation, and perhaps leads to some new laws (a la post-Watergate) attempting to clean up how the government is chosen for us by the wealthy and powerful.
That's all I've got.
As the decades pass, and the disgust over the scandals recedes, and foreign policy gets back on track, "Trumpcare" comes to be seen as the signal domestic achievement of the first half of the 21st century, completely eclipsing its watered-down predecessor in its success at eventually providing an affordable path to health care for every American.
July 11, 2017
printed 30 January 2023
© Huw Powell