Whether he is eventually impeached, is defeated in an election, completes the maximum two terms, or is abducted by aliens—there will come a time when Donald Trump is no longer president of the United States. At that point, what will happen? Will the nation return to the state of idyllic perfection that existed before Trump was elected, as many of Trump’s opponents suggest?
Here is the reality. After Trump:
1. US society will be deeply divided. Donald Trump did not create the massive social, political, and cultural chasms that currently divide the nation. Trump certainly exacerbated those divisions and exploited them for his own political gain, but he did not create them. Before blaming everything on Trump, his opponents should consider how they have also contributed to the divisions, which in part led people to vote for Trump in the first place. They should also consider what their vicious personal attacks on Trump and all who voted for him are still contributing to the divisions. Labeling all Trump voters as racists, morons, and criminals is hardly going to contribute to the healing of the nation or to convince Trump voters to vote for his opponent. Trump labels any negative publicity “fake news,” but this resonated because voters were already distrustful of biased and even untruthful news coverage on all sides. It is said that the first casualty in any war is truth, and the culture wars in the US have left many Americans disillusioned and distrustful, unsure of what or who to believe.
2. The immigration crisis will remain. That there are tens of millions of illegal immigrants in the US—without rights, security, health care, social service benefits, education, or marketable skills—is a humanitarian tragedy. Those who claim to support them often use them as a source of cheap, under-the-table labor. The unscrupulous exploit them in worse ways. Trump’s “wall,” if it was more impregnable than is currently the case, would leave a seething mass of desperate people clamoring at the gates. As it is, his porous wall allows people into the country but shunts them into detention centers. But throwing open the gates and allowing a further flood of immigrants could overwhelm social support systems and create further strains on the American social fabric. Naïve optimism will not pay the enormous costs required. There is no easy solution to this issue.
3. The US will continue to deal with racism. Racism is a feature of every society on earth. The US has a particularly virulent strain of it in the form of white supremacy, embodied most clearly in the Ku Klux Klan. There is a very understandable collateral strain among the black population of fear, mistrust, and hatred of whites. It takes a long time to bring healing after centuries of injustice. The United States is a multiracial society, and there are numerous other racial tensions that are less focused and less virulent but still real. It must be said that there has been considerable progress in reducing racism in the US over the past 70 years. As is the case with the social, political, and cultural divisions, Donald Trump did not create racism in the US, although he has encouraged it and made use of it for his own benefit. Still, when Trump is gone, racism will remain.
4. The US will have a very dysfunctional political system. The US prides itself on being the bastion of freedom and democracy and a model for other nations. The reality is far from the ideal. A significant percentage of American citizens are not registered to vote, and yet, since the 1970s, almost half of registered voters have failed to vote in presidential elections. (The percentage has ranged from 49% to 58%.) The turnout is much lower among “visible minorities” and lower income groups. It takes millions of dollars to run for Congress and hundreds of millions to run for president. The dictum that anyone can grow up to be president is nonsense. Successful candidates owe their election to wealthy donors and organizations (such as the National Rifle Association, Planned Parenthood, corporations, and unions). After the election, these donors often expect to be repaid for their donations by favorable legislation and government contracts. This system also tends to favor those who have spent a long time currying favor with those who have the money, which explains why so many senior citizens run for president. Furthermore, power in the US government is divided among the president, Senate, and House of Representatives, not to mention states and cities. At the federal level, it is often easier to block things from being done than to do them. The result is that decisions are often determined by backroom deals.
5. The US government will run massive deficits. The US government, no matter which party is in power, has run a deficit every year since 2001, and the annual deficit was over $1 trillion a year before COVID-19. It is difficult to find any current political candidate supporting a return to balanced budgets.
6. The US will be a very violent society. The number of mass shootings in the US is far greater than that of almost any other nation on earth. Fearful, heavily-armed, trigger-happy police officers encounter fearful, heavily-armed, trigger-happy citizens every night and every day, not to mention fearful, heavily armed, trigger-happy citizens encountering each other. The problem is not just guns, even though the nation is awash in automatic weaponry. The problem lies deep in American culture. The US spends far more on its military than any other nation on earth. From the American Revolution and the Civil War to John Wayne, Rambo, and John Wick, Americans have habitually seen force and violence as a primary tool to achieve social goals. There is no evidence that will change anytime soon.
7. COVID-19 will be a serious problem. Since the social, political, and cultural chasms and the dysfunctional political system will still be in place, the disjointed and inconsistent response to the pandemic will also remain. While Trump has encouraged it, the fiercely independent spirit that las led so many Americans to resist lockdowns, masks, and other health measures did not start with Trump. There might be a better and more coherent approach to the pandemic at the federal level when Donald Trump is no longer president, but it is unlikely to achieve the level of health and safety achieved in many other countries. The United States is a very troubled and broken society, and its problems run far deeper than any one politician.