Follow me down the rabbit hole: Let’s suppose that Donald J. Trump actually becomes the 45th President of the United States.
As terrifying as that sentence sounds, let’s face it: he will be the GOP nominee. Indiana’s primary all but sealed it.
So what if he wins?
A Trump Presidency could end before his first term, whether by impeachment or the onslaught of a rioting horde — maybe from the very people who voted for him.
Trump excels at ginning up a crowd, rationalizing violence and playing to his fans’ worst fears — and those demons could easily double back and bite their maker.
While he’s already spoken
about how he’d begin to go about keeping the campaign promises he’s made, real action on many of his proposals would either be a long time coming — or downright impossible.
Donald’s big idea for controlling immigration? “A big, beautiful wall” along the U.S./Mexico border.
A lot has been written about Trump’s cost estimates here — between $8 and $12 billion — but a Washington Post Factchecker column
pegs the figure at $25 billion, conservatively. The notion that Mexico would foot the bill is — let’s be very, very nice here — highly unlikely. Trump’s suggested that we offset the cost by cutting the trade deficit with Mexico, a theory that seems to reinforce the idea that Donald does not, in fact, “have the best words,” or, more precisely, any concept of what words like “trade deficit” actually mean:
"Trump’s connection of the trade deficit with a Mexican border fence is just nonsense," said Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration expert at the libertarian Cato Institute. "Just because the Mexican economy has a trade surplus relative to the United States doesn’t mean the Mexican government has the resources to build a border wall. It would be like me threatening my neighbor to build a new fence or else I’ll stop shopping at Walmart."
While Congress (Remember Congress? They approve budgets and stuff) is wrangling over pouring $25 billion worth of cement that’s sure to face massive challenges from the courts regarding eminent domain and environmental issues, construction of the wall ain’t gonna happen overnight. Top speed? Maybe six years.
Trump’s also figuring he can intercept the flow of money
from immigrants to their families back home in other nations. This is tough, because estimates of payments sent from the U.S. intermingle monies from both legal and undocumented workers — and enforcement of Trump’s ideas would likely create a massive underground railroad of cash.
There’s another problem with Trump’s rhetoric: he’s fixing a problem that no longer exists, especially when it comes to Mexico specifically:
More Mexican immigrants have returned to Mexico from the U.S. than have migrated here since the end of the Great Recession, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of newly available government data from both countries. The same data sources also show the overall flow of Mexican immigrants between the two countries is at its smallest since the 1990s, mostly due to a drop in the number of Mexican immigrants coming to the U.S.
— Pew Research Center
And none of this figures in extra border patrols, video surveillance gear and a little issue called “maintenance.”
As for the deportation of more than 11 million undocumented workers (Trump’s other big applause line), the economic impact would be incredibly yuuuuuuge and the process wouldn’t be close to half-finished before Trump was out of office (even if he somehow got re-elected after breaking his two biggest promises to his base).
The immediate cost would require straight-up enforcement, and the American Action Forum (not exactly what one would call a “progressive think-tank”) estimates the upfront cost at roughly 400 to 600 billion bucks
. The problem is pretty simple: you can’t just throw 11 million people on buses and wave goodbye. Apprehension and detention (assuming Herr Drumpf hasn’t declared martial law or some such nonsense) is pricey, and deportees are held until a judge can rule on their exit. (Yes, Donald, some folks will actually wind up with refugee status.) The Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement can handle 400,000 deportations per year and they’ve only got bed space for 34,000 detainees at a given time. Remember: any increase in personnel or infrastructure for ICE means a bigger bill, so the cash outlay in this illustration is extremely conservative.
As far as appealing to the voters that supported him, an issue Trump would have to explain to his constituency is the ETA for shipping everyone back: 20 years. (The AAF made the assumption that 20 percent of those living in the States illegally would “self-deport,” leaving behind just under nine million for ICE to deal with.)
The bigger problem, though, is GDP: As the Pew Research Center reported in 2015
, undocumented laborers account for more than a quarter of the workforce in farming, fishing and forestry — and a third of the service industry. The cost of that labor pool’s disappearance — and the subsequent price rises in say, produce and hotel rooms, to name juts two examples — would cost the economy more than one-and-a-half trillion dollars — yes, trillion
— and hack away 5.7 percent in economic growth by the end of the twenty-year cycle.
Here’s where things get pretty interesting: Trump and Bernie Sanders echo one another when it comes to free trade agreements like NAFTA and the TPP. Both contend that such agreements cost American jobs, and when a plant like Carrier’s bolts from Indiana for Mexico, it’s hard to argue that high-level deals are awful for citizens down the food chain.
The differences between Trump and Sanders appear when fixes are discussed: while Bernie appears to want to stop such deals in the future, his solution for rebuilding the labor market is New-Deal style
investment in infrastructure and small business
. Trump, on the other hand, is talking about tariffs, and seems to have missed two big lessons: a) trade is a two-way street
and b) Smoot-Hawley
. Simply put, there’s nothing to stop retaliation when a foreign trade partner’s suddenly hit with a steep fee for doing business, and collateral damage can run the gamut from hits in certain economic sectors to the potential for conflict — and even aggression.
Foreign relations and the military
Full disclosure: I have a kid in the military. Donald Trump has stated he wants to “take out their families” when he’s dealing with terrorists.
Think about that. Exactly what members of those families does Mr. Trump intend to “take out?”
Google “My Lai” if you want to know what that sort of strategy would really look like. (Refresher: A group of U.S infantrymen massacred hundreds of Vietnamese civilians in March of 1968. A chopper pilot who came upon the scene and began to rescue non-combatants was prepared to fire on his fellow American soldiers if the murders continued.) If you’d like to argue about whether or not “banning Muslims” from entering the country makes for a handy ISIS recruiting poster, take a look at the Donald’s next step when it comes to the war on terror.
What Trump is talking about are war crimes.
I know, I know, there’s a large group of Trump supporters who frankly don’t appear to give a shit about the use of this kind of rhetoric. (Hell, even Trump won’t disavow endorsements he’s picked up from white supremacists.)
But if you’re not convinced yet about whether or not Trump’s foreign policy ideas are, to put it mildly, poorly researched, please ponder this chiller from a recent article in the Boston Globe
“Hillary is not going to gaffe her way into a nuclear exchange with North Korea. Trump could,” said Fergus Cullen, New Hampshire’s former GOP chairman.
The endgame here could be anything from sanctions from other first-world nations to American casualties — all horrors difficult for a strongman to explain away.
But back to the original point: Even if Trump’s stump-speeches satisfy his most ardent fans' racism, xenophobia and lust for torture, he’s going to have to answer for inaction when it comes to walls, deportations and negotiations with Congress and foreign nations.
The bigger the promise, the bigger the backlash when it’s broken — that’s political reality.
To harken back to the Vietnam era yet again: Lyndon B Johnson was unable to attend the 1968 Democratic convention. The Secret Service feared for his safety. Johnson’s Great Society had been undermined by a war that saw the poor go marching to their graves while the rich received deferment.
Presidents are not kings. Ordering the Congress to act in the manner you’d like — or worse, ordering the defense department to begin slaughtering civilians — will be rebuked. Donald can scream at a sound man and fire a waiter, but the Senate and the Joint Chiefs aren’t the President’s hired help.
Set aside the racist statements, the appalling lack of empathy, civility and basic humanity that are hallmarks of the Trump stump speech and think about how The Donald’s voters might react when his promises are proven to be ad-libbed lies.
The nation has survived Civil War and Constitutional crises. But there will be a casualty of a Trump Presidency: either a rational Republic or Trump himself.