Back in February, I did an Econlog post predicting that not much would change. Let’s look at some recent events:
1. Healthcare reform failed—we are sticking with Obamacare.
2. Early (conservative) enthusiasm about the economy has faded, as job growth for the first three months has been slower than under Obama’s last few years in office. The Great Stagnation will continue.
3. Alt-right enthusiasm for a US exit from the Middle East and a bromance with Putin seems to be fading.
4. There has been some deregulation of coal, but most utilities are not expected to go back to coal (with natural gas prices so low.)
Over the years I’ve gotten a lot of grief for my claim that Gore would have gotten us into Iraq, because that’s what the establishment wanted after 9/11. He foreign policy czar was expected to be (the pro-Iraq War) Richard Holbrooke. I’ve always believed that Presidents are less influential than most people assume–they mostly do what they are told, and today I believe that more strongly than ever.
One thing that I did not anticipate was just how incompetent Trump would be, and that this incompetence would turn out to have silver lining. Trump is not even capable of doing the bare minimum, staffing an administration. His ignorance is so deep that he must almost entirely rely on experts. (Today he tweeted that discouraged workers who have given up looking for work are counted as “employed”. So why do people complain when I call him an idiot?) Trump is like one of those kings/sultans/emperors in the history books who assumed power as a child and had various ministers conduct governance while they spent time in their harem or engaged in falconry.
Because there are so few alt-righters with enough competence to staff top government positions, the staff will eventually be dominated by establishment types and the Steve Bannons of the administration will become increasingly marginalized.
1. When someone like Trump becomes President, it’s actually good to be living in the age of complacency. A Trump elected in 1932 would have been a much scarier proposition.
2. The establishment (now called the deep state) is a good thing, as it reduces the risk of a dangerous demagogue causing major problems.
3. I still think that Trump will eventually get a few things enacted, such as corporate tax reform. But it will be the sort of stuff that would have occurred under any GOP president. Matt Yglesias pointed out that Trump does not even have a tax proposal. (Wait, didn’t he campaign on a big tax cut?) Presidents usually lead Congress on those sorts of major policy issues—it’s a really good thing that Trump is not capable of leading.
4. Trump is still a net negative, as in his opposition to TPP and his new H1-b policy. He’s done very little, but what he has done is mostly bad (and anti-growth.)
4. While Trump himself is a paper tiger, Trumpism is still a very worrisome problem. Throughout the developed world, conservative parties are gradually moving from libertarian conservatism towards racist, xenophobic, nationalistic, big government spending conservatism. Trump is a symbol of that change, and thus remains a very evil figure. My worry is that eventually there will be a lot of alt-righters who are qualified to fill a government. My worry is that the GOP will eventually become the party that is opposed to trade, opposed to immigration and in favor of Obamacare. An American version of Le Pen.
PS. I have a pretty open commenting policy, even allowing most personal insults directed at me (I figure they actually help me and hurt the attacker.) But I do ban terms like ‘n****r’ and ‘c**t’ and ‘k***servative’. One other point. Just because I don’t ban a comment doesn’t imply I think it’s OK. I find huge numbers of comments to be morally disgusting, but that doesn’t make me ban them. So don’t play the game of “Why do you ban X but not Y.” I’ve chosen to ban just the very worst stuff, so deal with it. I have a very polite comment section at Econlog, where I put my better posts. Go over there if you don’t like it here.