Donald Trump Second Term: What to Expect

President Trump speaks at the White House, April 17, 2019. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

What to expect from a second Trump term


n lieu of a Republican Party platform, the Donald Trump campaign released a list of bullet points for a second-term agenda. My favorite item was just five words long and came under the heading “Eradicate Covid 19: Return to Normal in 2021.”

Does anyone think that after a come-from-behind victory for the ages, we would have normality in view around the time of Trump’s Second Inaugural?

Me neither.

Sure, it’s true that Democrats have taken electoral beatings before, and that they’ve come back more moderate, or at least sounding less hostile. After the stompings Nixon and Reagan put on them, Democrats kept digging up white Southern Baptists to lead the party. George W. Bush’s second electoral victory managed to get Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid to start talking about Jesus. Democrats can be humbled. In some ways, choosing a dying border-state glad-hander like Joe Biden, who is older than the Baby Boomers, is just a different version of the same strategy: Find a candidate who seems like a cultural non-threat.

But another narrow Trump victory, especially one in which the popular vote goes for Biden, is going to kick off civil unrest that will make this summer look tame. Trump’s opponents will ping-pong even harder between the two fever dreams of the first term. The first, that Trump is a foreign pawn and opposed to everything that makes American great. This charge comes with a complimentary retweet of James Comey standing near the Liberty Bell. The second, that Trump is the final, rotten fruit of a rotten American tree that must be uprooted altogether. This one comes with a retweet of 1619 Project impresario Nikole Hannah Jones explaining that arson isn’t violence.

Where once people fantasized that Trump would cut deals with Democrats to fund infrastructure projects, now everyone understands that the longer the Constitution licenses Trump’s political power, the more progressives will defect from the constitutional order. That process of defection will accelerate if Republicans hold the Senate and Trump continues to nominate justices to the federal bench.

There are of course things left undone from the first Trump administration. But the section of Trump’s proposed agenda that deals with immigration has no mention of the big, beautiful wall, nor of collecting on outstanding receipts from Mexico to pay for it.

Hilariously, Trump still promises to “Stop Endless Wars and Bring Our Troops Home.” Having failed to do this in his first term, even after announcing it for Syria and Afghanistan, this is rather like Grandpa at the assisted-living facility watching a hockey game and promising to beat up the Philadelphia Flyers himself the next time they come to town. Whenever the old man makes such a threat, the orderlies attending him just wheel him into the next room for pudding. I’m going to rate this at “no chance.”

My assumption, however, is that Trump’s second term may prove to be more difficult than the first for him. While some progressives are trying to moralize themselves for the November election by predicting a second term flowing with dictatorial power aimed at undermining democracy forever, I predict more slapstick incompetence.

Instead of hiring the best people, Trump has relied on whoever is nearby. This cast of characters has included people with their own firm agendas (such as John Bolton) or people who just seemed to have the Trump vibe (such as Anthony Scaramucci). Many of these people have had short careers in Trumpville — and leave it quickly to write scathing memoirs of their time within. About a dozen former White House officials or other flunkies have left Team Trump to write hair-raising tell-alls.

Trump already had problems with hiring enough people to fully staff the Executive Branch. His inability to do so is part of what allows the “deep state” to undermine, dodge, or contravene his authority as president. His reputation for administrative neglect, sudden reversals, and micromanaging has dissuaded qualified people from joining the administration. It leaves the presidency weakened.

Even if Trump wins, his party will already be looking toward a post-Trump future. And the Democrats, having failed to fry him on a fantasy of Russian collusion, will probably take advantage of the administrative degradation and the chaos to find a few real, non-fantastical scandals to consume the time and energy of White House lawyers and preoccupy the press and president.

We should probably expect surprises. Nobody predicted in 2016 that Trump would pass a criminal-justice reform bill. But then the Kardashian family intervened in our public life, and he did. Perhaps we’ll get a surprise gun-control law or an environmental bill. I’m sure those lobbies can find someone to be their TV-age front man.

Perhaps the best we can hope for in a second term Trump is that little will get done and the president will enjoy his undying feuds with the media.

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