[Publisher's Note] | Trump and Consequences, by John R. MacArthur | Harper's Magazine

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"In a certain way, the Democrats lost to Trump not through stupidity but through cupidity."

A version of this column originally ran in Le Devoir on December 5, 2016. Translated from the French by John Cullen.

Let’s review the terrible prospects for at least the next four years. A pathologically narcissistic man, a kind of plutocratic lout, at the head of the most powerful country in the world. The executive branch of that country’s government filled with military men who are paranoid virtually to the point of psychosis and who are in addition, like their commander-in-chief, men of questionable temperament, little given to reflection and even less so to humility. The House of Representatives led by a Republican politician of the hard line, orthodox right, an admirer of Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman. The Senate – normally supposed to serve as a counterweight to the power of the White House – with a Republican majority, led by a man for whom the centrist Obama is a dangerous left-winger determined to destroy the capitalist system and traditional morals.

And what is there to say about the official opposition, the chief hope of restraining the manifestly unstable future president’s sudden moves? The Democratic Party is divided as never before between its conservative faction, to which President Obama and the Clintons belong, and its left wing, led by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. The fracture has recently come to light in the matter of choosing a new head of the Democratic National Committee. Sanders is backing the candidacy of Keith Ellison, an African-American congressman from Minnesota, a convert to Islam, and a supporter of Sanders during his primary campaign against Hillary Clinton. Meanwhile, Obama and his allies are looking for a less “progressive” candidate, one who would respect the party barons, the great majority of whom supported Clinton’s candidacy and the outgoing president’s policies.

“It is not good enough for someone to say, I’m a woman, vote for me,” Sanders declared after the election to an audience of students in Boston. “What we need is a woman who has the guts to stand up to Wall Street, to the insurance companies, to the drug companies, to the fossil fuel industry.” Sanders was obviously referring to Hillary, but he was also suggesting to his own supporters that he would have beaten Trump. Actually, his assumption is far from unreasonable. The election turned on three rust belt states, erstwhile reliable territory for Democrats in presidential elections: Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. There, the much-discussed, working-class, alienated white males (and many of their wives) voted for Trump in proportions just large enough for him to win in the Electoral College despite having lost the popular vote. Sanders had won the Democratic primaries in Wisconsin and Michigan in large part because he said more or less the same thing as Trump on three key points: Bill and Hillary Clinton had betrayed the Democratic base and the working class with the passage of NAFTA and other free-market agreements that had entailed the relocation of numerous jobs to Mexico and China; the financing of electoral campaigns has been totally corrupted by the outsize donations of the wealthy; and the political “system” was by and large rigged against ordinary people. In vain had Hillary Clinton repeated some of Bernie’s egalitarian slogans during the campaign; she wasn’t convincing, and for good reason. She didn’t really believe them, having profited throughout her career from the largesse of the big retail chains and the big banks and the cronyism practiced by her husband and his friends.

Unfortunately, our future president doesn’t believe his slogans either. The people who voted for Trump out of despair and frustration will be disappointed in their turn. Telereality isn’t real politics, and the talents of a Manhattan real-estate big shot are not in any way transferable to negotiations with China, or even with Canada…if the new president should ever make a real effort to dismantle NAFTA. In any case, nothing can be considered guaranteed except the lack of sincerity and frankness.

Over and above everything else, Trump is a representative of commerce, a promoter with a brand to sell. It would be surprising if the president-elect, middle-class by birth, the beneficiary of a considerable inheritance, and today a billionaire, would choose solidarity with the proletariat instead of with the interests of his economic class. It already seems highly likely that Trump, in harmony with the Republican leaders in the two houses of Congress, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, will lower taxes on individual and corporate income, as well as taxes on capital gains. Furthermore, we can expect a great weakening of the Environmental Protection Agency, which will be headed by Myron Ebell, a libertarian who has done battle for a long time against the scientific consensus regarding climate change.

What’s saddest of all is that, in a certain way, the Democrats lost to Trump not through stupidity but through cupidity. Eight years in the White House weren’t enough for the Clintons; they had to have more. At the end of May, Bernie Sanders was leading Trump in the polls by an average of ten points, while Hillary was running even with her eventual adversary. Like Trump, she never learned to share her toys with the other children.

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