The lead-up to Donald Trump’s presidency has more the feel of a coronation than an inauguration. But like the emperor in Hans Christian Andersen’s fable, there are many of us who question how well-clothed Trump is for the job. The purpose of this article is to lay bare (so to speak) the implications for his presidency on our social, economic, and environmental future.
It’s too early to determine the amount and kinds of havoc a Trump presidency will wreak in the coming years. But here are some predictions based on his pronouncements and actions during the past year.
For those of you who have not yet read The Cooperative Society, you should be aware that the book is not intended as a source for short-term political predictions. Instead, it looks at long-term trends — on a worldwide scale — toward or away from greater cooperation, concentrated economic power and wealth, conflict, democracy, quality of life, and a sustainable environment.
In that context, we examine the potential impact of the Trump Administration on the seven variables analyzed in the book, and how it may effect movement toward or away from a more cooperative society.
- Growth of cooperatives. Neutral
Co-ops and mutuals enjoy support on both sides of the aisle in the United States Congress. This is likely to continue.
Domestically, one area of caution is the long-term antipathy of the American Bankers Association toward credit unions, and its repeated efforts to remove the tax-exempt status from these member-owned financial institutions. It’s possible the Trump Administration will be more receptive to the banks on this issue than previous presidents.
Internationally, Trump has threatened to cut back on foreign assistance, such as that provided through USAID. If his Administration follows through on this threat, it could have implications for the role the federal government and the cooperative community play in assisting co-op development in other countries.
- Economic power of large corporations. Negative
Trump has consistently railed against “overregulation” and the high level of U.S. corporate taxes. To the extent that his Administration follows through on his campaign rhetoric, we’re likely to see an increase in the power of large, U.S.-based corporations in shaping our economic, political and environmental policies over the next few years.
On a world scale, it’s not clear what effect the Trump Administration will have on foreign corporations and the economic policies of other countries. However, another consistent theme of his campaign has been an animosity toward trade agreements, which he perceives as detrimental to the economic interests of the United States — the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), for example. There is an “isolationist” component to some of his pronouncements regarding international trade, especially related to China. So it remains unclear at this time how his campaign rhetoric will translate into trade policy and the interests of foreign corporations.
- Concentration of wealth and income. Negative
Trump has said that he wants to lower taxes on the wealthy. If his Administration does this, it will mean a significant increase in an already extremely skewed distribution of wealth and income in the United States.
- Conflict. A crapshoot
Trump has said that he would like to reduce the role of the United States as the world’s policeman, although he also has said he would like to “bomb the shit out of ISIS.” In addition, Trump has gone out of his way to pick fights with China, such as his recent statements about recognizing Taiwan and revisiting the idea of a two-China policy. It’s too early to tell what impact his Administration will have on increasing or decreasing world conflict.
Within the U.S, it’s also difficult to tell how Trump’s anti-immigrant — especially anti-Muslim and anti-Hispanic — rhetoric will translate into policy. If the U.S. were to expel 2 to 3 million illegal immigrants or crack down on the domestic Muslim population, these actions may precipitate increased domestic unrest.
Based on the overall gist of his comments, it appears that Trump will focus more on international economic issues than on military ones. The important caveat here, however, is that during the campaign, the president-elect has shown himself to be a loose cannon on many world issues, including war.
- Increasing democracy. Negative
Trump hasn’t said anything directly to indicate a desire to weaken democracy at home or abroad.
At home, however, a draconian policy against illegal immigrants could undercut basic democratic rights. His comments about the rigged voting system in the United States bring the legitimacy of our election process into question. His frequent diatribes against reporters and the media as “disgusting,” “scum” and other pejorative terms may evolve into policies that limit the rights of a free press.
Internationally, Trump has shown a penchant for praising dictators. He has said that he admires Vladimir Putin, who “is doing a great job.” He has made similar comments praising other dictatorial leaders, including Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi and Benito Mussolini. These sentiments may translate into actions in support of repressive governments. Or, they may lead to U.S. inaction in the face of foreign aggression, such as Russia threatening the independence of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
- Improving the quality of life. Negative
Domestically, the big quality-of-life issue featured in the Trump campaign was repealing Obamacare. Now that he is president-elect, the reality has set in that just repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) would have immediate, dire consequences for the 20-30 million people who would be left without health insurance.
Now the primary discussion has shifted to a longer-term strategy for terminating parts of the ACA and gradually phasing in a replacement national health insurance system. The result is likely to be less comprehensive than the ACA, but not as onerous as some of us have feared. And, as described earlier, the Trump Administration’s policy toward Muslims and Hispanics could have serious implications for their quality of life.
On a world scale, the negative impacts of the Trump Administration on people’s lives may be far worse than at home. The U.S. is a signatory to the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, an ambitious set of 17 goals to improve the quality of life around the world. If the Administration pulls back from the U.S. commitment to this agreement or significantly reduces financial support for it, hundreds of millions of people around the world will suffer the consequences.
- Creating a more sustainable environment. Negative
Trump’s pronouncements during his campaign have indicated that he does not believe in human-created climate change. Since being elected, his selection of nominees for key positions in his government underlines the seriousness of this threat. He has chosen Scott Pruitt, the attorney general of Oklahoma, an avowed climate change skeptic and staunch supporter of oil and gas drilling in the U.S., as his nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency.
Trump has nominated Rick Perry, former Texas governor and Republican presidential candidate, to head the Department of Energy — an agency which in the past, Perry said he wanted to abolish.
The Administration-in-waiting also distributed a survey to the Energy Department, asking about the past involvement of its employees in climate change-related issues. The survey is reminiscent of a McCarthy era attack — “Are you now or have you ever been a believer in climate change?”
Internationally, the negative signals are equally strong. Trump’s nominee to head the State Department is Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of Exxon Mobil, the largest oil and gas company in the world. Trump also has threatened to repudiate the Paris Accord on Climate Change. With the United States as the world’s second-largest generator of greenhouse gases after China, noncompliance by the U.S. would greatly weaken the impact of this accord reached by more than 150 countries in 2016. Interestingly, other signatories to the agreement are threatening to put tariffs on U.S. exports proportional to the amount of carbon dioxide emitted during their manufacture. Such an action would put the Trump Administration in a difficult spot — on the one hand disavowing climate change, and on the other, being the subject of an international economic sanction.
With a combined score of five “negatives” and two “not sures,” the Trump Administration’s impact on the transition toward a more cooperative society over the next few years looks dismal.
That said, although some of the negative impacts of Trump’s reign could have long-term implications, the transition to a cooperative society occurs on a grander, more long-term scale.
As we say in The Cooperative Society, “We as a species are not destined to destroy ourselves and our planet.” Achieving a cooperative society requires vigilance and perseverance against the forces that promote division and conflict.
Ironically, the divisiveness engendered during the presidential campaign and personified by Trump may lead over the next few years to a revitalized spirit of cooperation among the majority of the U.S. electorate as Trump’s contradictory and overblown promises go unfulfilled.
Unless Trump, the bloviarch, triggers a nuclear cataclysm, a devastating international trade war resulting in a global depression, or an irreparable acceleration in global warming, we will be set back only a few years by his administration.
In the meantime, let’s do what we can — individually and collectively — to limit the damage to democracy, world peace, economic fairness, quality of life, and the environment during the next four years.