Donald Trump has spent decades in the spotlight, as wealthy real-estate developer, a reality-television star, and, in the past year and a half, an extremely effective political agitator, if not a smooth political operator. We know what he is like, and it is unreasonable to think that the office of the United States president will change much of it. The question now is what he will do.
The 2016 election campaign was always long on personality, and even important moments for discourse—the debates, for instance—felt woefully short on substance. But Trump has signaled his intentions on several key issues. And now we’d best start paying attention.
Trump’s first actions on immigration will likely be overturning the policies that US president Barack Obama put in place to protect undocumented immigrants.
Under the policy known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), implemented by Obama as an executive order in 2012, more than 700,000 immigrants who were brought into the country illegally as children have been allowed to temporarily stay and work in the US. DAPA is a similar policy for the undocumented parents of American citizens; it has been challenged in court by several states.
Trump has vowed to end DACA, DAPA, and so-called “catch-and-release” policies, or the practice of not detaining immigrants while they wait for their cases to be processed. He’s also said he’s going to triple the number of US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents and will “move criminal aliens out day one.”
None of this will result in mass deportations in the short term—the US Department of Homeland Security does not have the funding to deport all 11 million people who are thought to be in the country illegally, and it’s unclear where Trump would get it. There’s also a question of physical resources; thousand of Central American women and children who showed up at the border in the summer of 2014 quickly overwhelmed existing detention facilities.
It would take more funds still to build that wall between the US and Mexico that Trump has talked about from the start of his campaign. Aside from being very expensive, it would require congressional approval, and logistically, it would be very complicated to erect a barrier across the length of the entire border.
But Trump doesn’t need a physical symbol like a wall to communicate his policy objectives. His tone alone will immediately destroy the fragile peace of mind that Obama’s approach had given millions of immigrants. Obama in essence had told them, if you don’t have a criminal record, we’re not coming after you. That assurance is gone under Trump.
It’s no secret the US needs to invest in its crumbling bridges and highways. The backlog of infrastructure projects is expected to cost $3.6 trillion by 2020, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. The need is so stark, and the benefits to the economy so obvious, that it was one of the few areas where Trump and Clinton agreed this campaign season. But while rebuilding crumbling bridges and highways may be a smart long-term investment, it’s unclear whether Congress will have the appetite for what is essentially another stimulus program.
Trump hasn’t given a precise figure for how much he wants to spend on infrastructure, other than to say he would at least double the $275 billion Clinton proposed.
Trump says he would develop US transportation, water, telecommunications, and electricity systems, using “American steel made by American workers.” He would dangle tax credits to attract private investment and streamline permitting for pipelines and other energy projects. He is vague on how to pay for his plan, but has suggested he would issue bonds and support an infrastructure bank.
“We’ll get a fund, make a phenomenal deal with low interest rates, and rebuild our infrastructure,” he said. Then there’s the funding option he unveiled at a Nov. 7 rally, near the tail end of his campaign trail.
How you view Obamacare is a litmus test for your political leanings. Liberals see the program as a basic success, one that has provided millions of previously uninsured Americans with healthcare, but just needs a few tweaks. Conservatives see a disaster, with soaring premiums, failing state co-ops, and a two-tiered insurance system that is leaving many on Obamacare plans with fewer options. But both sides agree on the core problem with the current system: not enough young, healthy people are enrolling, meaning the insurance pools have too many sick patients who are driving up costs.
But whereas Clinton had promised to recalibrate and expand the Affordable Care Act, Trump has said he’ll repeal it, and end the individual mandates requiring health insurance. As a replacement, he has proposed expanding health savings accounts, which allow families to set aside money tax-free to pay for insurance premiums and drug costs, and would let them fully deduct medical expenses from their taxes. He also wants to let insurance companies sell policies across state lines, generating more competition, and would allow drugs to be imported from overseas.
Trump’s plan is mainly achieved through rewriting the tax code, which would likely need bipartisan support, and does little for low-income families who are not paying taxes. According to one analysis, the net effect could mean 25 million Americans could lose health insurance.
One thing we know about Trump is that he isn’t for free trade. The Mexican peso has been tracking Trump’s odds of winning; when they improved, the currency frequency would plunge on the expectations that Trump will begin his promised demolition of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). You can assume that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is over, too.
The TPP, intended to cover a dozen countries and roughly one-third of global trade, promised to lower tariffs and set standards on a broad range of trade issues, from labor and environmental regulations to the treatment of intellectual property. It was potentially a counterweight to China’s strength as a manufacturer to the world.
The deal was endorsed by president Obama and, at one time, Clinton. But that was before the pact was fully negotiated, and before influential senators to the left of Clinton, namely Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, forced her into the skeptics’ corner. Trump needed no such nudging. From the early days of the campaign, his full-throated critiques of the deal helped brand it as a refutation of core American values.
His threats to hike tariffs on Mexico and China by 35% or 45% will be difficult without collaboration from lawmakers in Congress. Major US corporations will fight Trump’s trade threats tooth and nail, since every complication in the global supply chain means losses to their bottom line.
But even if Trump just uses presidential powers to punish countries for currency manipulation (whether real or perceived), a trade war could ensue. This could entail challenges before the World Trade Organization, retaliatory tariffs, and other penalties on big US companies doing business abroad—which is most of them—and would hit the pocketbooks of the American people, whether they are buying cheap goods at Wal-Mart or expensive goods at the Apple store. And a US assault on the foundations of global commerce will no doubt fray relationships with major allies when it comes time to dealing with non-economic challenges facing the globe.
The US Supreme Court
Trump made an unprecedented move in electoral politics (one of many, to be sure) this past August, when he released a shortlist of potential replacements for the late US Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia. Heeding the call of conservatives, who are desperate to prevent a liberal majority on the court, his list drives hard to the right; he reportedly consulted the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation and Federalist Society in compiling it.
Notable names of possible nominees include conservative Utah senator Mike Lee (who refused to endorse Trump) and Charles Canady of the Supreme Court of Florida who in 1995, as a congressman, introduced the first proposed federal ban on “partial-birth” abortions. Also on the list is 10th Circuit Court of Appeals judge Timothy Tymkovich. He wrote the opinion in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, which held that privately owned corporations could not be forced to provide contraception to employees as part of health-insurance packages.
A continued Republican majority in the Senate means that whoever Trump picks to fill the court’s ninth seat will likely be quickly confirmed, reestablishing the ideological balance of the last few years: four sure conservatives, four sure liberals, and moderate-conservative justice John Roberts as the perennial tiebreaker.