So a former reality TV star won the 2016 presidential election on Tuesday.
While deeply disturbing, that victory by Donald Trump was somehow altogether fitting. After all, as research from Harvard revealed, throughout the 2016 election cycle "policy issues [were] nearly absent in presidential campaign 'coverage.'" Even during the four weeks surrounding the parties' nominating conventions, policy stories represented only 8 percent of the media coverage surveyed (13 percent for Trump and only a paltry 4 percent for Hillary Clinton). Instead, scandals, gaffes, unexpected revelations, horse race coverage and other "medialities" represented more than two-thirds of the reporting from the 10 media sources studied. Ultimately, the "policy-free" 2016 election was a lot like the first season of CBS reality game show Survivor: the surprise winner was Richard Hatch, an off-putting, conniving white guy few viewers liked—and even fewer trusted.
Now that Clinton has been voted off the island, the question remains: just what did Trump's triumphant supporters actually win on Tuesday? Aside from the Supreme Court, certainly not the grand prizes The Donald promised those "economically anxious" working-class whites. Public opposition, lack of Congressional support, and the already-reduced flow of undocumented immigrants over the Mexican border mean his "big, beautiful" wall will almost certainly never be built. Ditto for Trump's pledge to deport the 11 million already here in "18 months to two years if properly handled;" 70 percent of exit poll voters backed a path to their legal status. While President Trump may get support in Congress for blocking any new Syrian refugees from coming into the country, his larger (and draconian) Muslim ban is probably dead on arrival. Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan are free-traders who will act to prevent the catastrophic trade war that Trump's steep tariff barriers against China and Mexico would necessarily trigger.
As political scientist Brendan Nyhan noted in June, polling and previous research suggest that many Trump supporters simply "discounted" many of his most self-evidently impossible proposals. "In this way," Nyhan explained, "a voter who prefers a more modest move rightward might rationally prefer R even though R's position is further from the voter than a more moderate party on the left."
The same dynamic may be unexpectedly boosting Mr. Trump. For voters who want a change from the status quo on issues like trade and immigration, supporting him may be perfectly rational -- even when his promises may not be.
The flip-side, though, is that some of Donald Trump's fans are about to find out that many of their rewards will be things they never expected—or wanted. So, if you'll indulge me as I play game show host for a bit, Trump voters: let me tell you what you've won!
You've won a massive tax cut for the very richest people in America! That's right; President-elect Trump has promised to reward the "forgotten" men and women of America with a $6.2 trillion, 10-year tax cut that delivers more than half of its windfall to the top one percent of earners. The top 0.1 percent would grab almost one-quarter of the winnings and save an average of $1.2 million a year. But that's not all! Thanks to changing personal exemptions and other budget cuts, many taxpayers will see their after-tax incomes decline. That's especially true if Speaker Ryan gets his "Better Way" with Trump's tax plan. Ryan's plan to end the deductibility of state and local taxes means those of you living in high-tax/high-service blue states will get battered even more.
But your prizes don't stop there!
You've also won a bonanza for bankers and Wall Street executives. With his plans to repeal the Dodd-Frank regulations on Wall Street, eliminate the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) that has already saved 25 million Americans $11 billion, and slash the tax rate for all businesses to 15 percent, your favorite populist says what he's not thinking. In his own personal Protocols of the Elders of Donald, Trump warned that "Hillary Clinton meets in secret with international banks to plot the destruction of U.S. sovereignty in order to enrich these global financial powers, her special interest friends, and her donors." Yet while Clinton was going to raise their (and her) taxes, President Trump will clean up Main Street by redirecting its unsightly cash to Wall Street.
And Trump voters, just when you thought you couldn't get any luckier, you've won a First Family that will teach America the lesson that charity begins at home. While the Trump Foundation has given virtually nothing to actual charities for years, Trump's businesses and campaign are another matter. But wait! Donald Trump may not have paid any taxes for 20 years, but now he'll be sure he and his kids pay little or none in the future. As it turns out, the Trump Organization consists of hundreds of "pass-through" partnerships or limited liability corporations, so Donald, Donald Junior, Ivank, and Eric can get in on that new 15 percent business tax rate. And if our new president is truly worth $10 billion, thanks to elimination of the estate tax his heirs could pocket $7 billion which otherwise would go to the United States Treasury. So as your son or daughter goes to the recruiting office to join President Trump's expanded military, remember that he didn't just dodge the draft. He dodged his taxes, too.
Trumpeteers, I know what you're thinking. Donald said with him as president, you'd get "sick of winning." Actually, what he meant to say was "don't get sick." That's right! You've won his "big and beautiful" Obamacare replacement plan that will take away health insurance from 22 million Americans. Whether by ending subsidies to buy coverage, rolling back the expansion of Medicaid, or by allowing insurers to reinstitute some of their most dangerous and deceptive business practices, millions of people across America will have the opportunity for financial ruin and even needless death, and maybe both! Thanks to President Trump, you could be one of them, especially if you live in a red state like Arkansas or Kentucky where Obamacare had the biggest impact in dramatically reducing the ranks of the uninsured. Expanding health care coverage and lowering income inequality: What was the establishment in Washington thinking?
If you're under 55 like me, you're probably saying to yourself, "thank God for Medicare." Now you'll be able to thank the Trump White House and the Republican Congress for ending Medicare as we know it. I know, I know: Donald Trump repeatedly promised, "We are not going to cut Social Security. We are not going to cut Medicare." But Speaker Paul Ryan and the 2016 GOP platform didn't. Instead, Ryan's House GOP budgets and his 2016 "Better Way" plan raise the retirement age while giving you what the Democratic Party calls a "voucher" (it's a "premium support," lefties) to buy your own health insurance when you hit 65. You'll just take your subsidy, go to the exchange, and select from the public option or a range of private insurance plans. (If you're like me, you might be thinking, "Wait a minute. Subsidies, a public option, exchanges, navigators, federal risk corridors...that sounds like Obamacare.” Well, stop thinking that. Those things are for shafting Medicare recipients by shifting health care costs onto future seniors like you and me, not to help youngsters under 65 to get insurance.)
Gosh, this Medicare privatization is complicated. You're doubtless wondering, "how can I put this knowledge to work for me?" By practicing with your brand new privatized Social Security scheme! Your new red state friends in Congress are going to send President Trump a Better Way to keep Social Security afloat. Instead of simply raising the $118,000 salary cap for payroll taxes that would keep America's retirement program in the black for 75 years, Speaker Ryan and company will ask Donald for a new and improved retirement age and a plan "that uses power of markets to create wealth and to help secure the future of our Social Security system." As then-Rep. Ryan explained it in 2010, we just need to take trillions of dollars from today's Social Security Trust Fund and offer "the option of investing over one-third of their current Social Security taxes into personal retirement accounts." What could possibly go wrong with Wall Street managing your retirement savings?
Women for Trump, your new President hasn't forgotten you. While #CrookedHillary won the women's vote, Donald Trump doesn't want you to worry your pretty little head about all this complicated health care stuff. (Having dinner ready on time is another matter.) That's why you will soon win the complete loss of your reproductive rights. Any of Donald's promised picks to the Supreme Court will not only ensure the reversal of Roe v. Wade, but sweep away the "undue burden" standard and the "health of the mother" exception Paul Ryan once described as "so wide you could drive a Mack truck through it." Vice President-elect Mike Pence will be there not just to help you eliminate federal funding for Planned Parenthood, but to stop "Big Abortion" by also ending the 46-year-old Title X program that provides contraception, cancer screening, STD testing, and other services that millions of American women depend on each year. And when it comes to bans on telemedicine and medicine-based abortions (now half of all procedures), prohibitions on offering or even informing women about pre-natal genetic testing, and mandatory invasive ultrasounds, Donald Trump stands ready to grab America's women by their p**sies.
Speaking of p**sies, Trump fans: Barack Obama. That's why you've won a president who will "bomb the shit" out of ISIS even as he refuses to put U.S. troops on the ground in Syria or Iraq. After eight long years without it, you've earned a president who isn't afraid to waterboard terror detainees and "much worse." By pledging to kill the families of suspected terrorists, The Donald will bring you American war crimes you can count on. It's all part of his plan to defeat ISIS, the one that "my top generals" will have "30 days to submit to the Oval Office." (It better be a good one, too. Only Donald Trump has had the courage to declare "I know more about ISIS than our generals, believe me" and call them "embarrassing to our country.") And if you don't like the breakthrough nuclear agreement with Iran, you're in luck again: President Trump wants to tear it up.
Who among us hasn't thought at one time or another, "Why can't we use nuclear weapons?" We need a man in the White House who knows that the "nuclear triad" is when a dude has an affair with a woman and her two daughters. That's why your new president of the United States will give you more of what you want. Let Saudi Arabia deal with Iran with its own nuclear arsenal. Let Japan and South Korea handle China and North Korea. What's a little proliferation among friends?
But all of this has been lost on President Obama. He's not just weak, but dangerously reckless when it comes to the man who should be America's best friend, Vladimir Putin. That's why you've won as your new president a man who has both met and not met Putin, and knows that Russia is about to move into Ukraine, into which it has already moved. That's why Trump wants to roll back U.S. sanctions on Russia over its Ukrainian intervention, recognize its annexation of Crimea, and renounce America's Article 5 mutual defense guarantees to our cheapskate NATO allies in Eastern Europe like Estonia. President-elect Trump knows that to stand up to Vladimir Putin, you have to stand with him. Together, we can #MakeGreaterRussiaAgain.
Amigos de Trump (just kidding!), your biggest victory is about an issue that no one talked about during the campaign. Thanks to accelerating global climate change, our planet is facing a point of no return past which ecological devastation and humanitarian chaos make us an endangered species. But meeting American commitments under the Paris climate accord is an expensive, difficult, and long process. Which is why Donald Trump has already eliminated the problem for you. "The concept of global warming," Trump decreed four years ago, "was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive." To ensure that the U.S. is actually uncompetitive in the 21st century renewable energy economy, President-elect Trump's energy plan ends subsidies for wind and solar power while doubling-down on fossil fuels with expanded coal, oil, and natural gas production. Work is already underway, as President-elect Trump has picked noted climate change eraser Myron Ebell to lead the EPA transition and reassure Americans that rising oceans and temperatures are "nothing to worry about." And coal miners, low natural gas prices may have gutted your industry, but under President Trump your jobs are coming back.* (*Provided you don't mind moving to another state and working as something other than a coal miner.)
And Trump voters, you are in line to receive bonus prizes, all courtesy of Donald Trump's crusade to roll back President Obama's tidal wave of regulations. In this, he'll doubtless be aided by Supreme Court picks who will represent more than just Antonin Scalia's reanimated corpse back on the bench. By striking down eight decades of Commerce Clause jurisprudence, the Trump-filled SCOTUS will undermine the legal framework for the federal government built since the New Deal. The 14th Amendment's due process and equal protection guarantees may no longer apply to women, LGBT Americans, or African-Americans, but certainly will to corporations' "right to contract." Donald Trump will make America great again, just like it was when the Supreme Court decided Lochner v. New York in 1905. You're going love reading the decision, just like you'll love the dirty air, poisoned water, rancid food, epidemic of workplace accidents, and so much more!
As a candidate, Donald Trump promised more than once he would become "the greatest jobs president that God ever created." But he was being too modest. In President-elect Trump, you've won an economic and budgetary magician. After all, while no president since Democrats John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson has averaged 4 percent annual economic growth and the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office forecast only 1.9 percent for the next decade, Donald Trump has assured us we will have "tremendous" GDP growth as high as 6 percent. At the same time, Trump has pledged to simultaneously increase defense spending, leave Social Security and Medicare untouched, and deliver his $6.2 trillion tax cut while eliminating the entire national debt "I would say over a period of eight years." It's like he's going to give Uncle Sam a Trump-branded Sham Wow to wipe up roughly $31 trillion dollars of red ink by January 20, 2025. (That $31 trillion consists of the current $19.3 trillion national debt, plus $6.7 trillion more the CBO projects between 2017 and 2024 to which about $5 trillion in extra deficits Trump's proposed budgets will produce.) But Jon, I'm sure you're asking, how can President Trump possibly cut $31 trillion (or 82 percent) from $38 trillion in total federal spending without repeatedly raising the debt ceiling, defaulting on the national debt, and/or triggering the worst U.S. and worldwide economic cataclysm since the Great Depression?
The answer is simple. No ordinary president of the United States could. But Donald Trump is no ordinary president. He is, as he humbly acknowledged, "the king of debt." And like a 21st century alchemist, he can turn bullsh*t into gold. (If you have any doubt on that point, see Trump University, Trump Mortgage, Trump Water, Trump Magazine, Trump Airways, Trump Taj Mahal Casino...)
Trump supporters, you're the real winners. Big league. Thanks to President Trump and the Republican Congress, your church will be able to engage in political activity and keep its tax-free status. With his Supreme Court and a national "Right to Work" law, your pesky unions won't be able to bother you for dues—or maybe even exist at all. And Donald Trump will "drain the swamp" and ethical morass the do-gooder Clinton Foundation purportedly posed by bringing his own fetid lake with him. Through the amazing grace of his own children, the blind trust of the Trump Organization will see. President-elect Trump may owe $100 million to Deutsche Bank, his lender of first and last resort, but that's no reason to worry about his potential conflict of interest over its current conflict with federal regulators. Only a paranoid like Newsweek's Kurt Eichenwald would worry that given the Trump Organization's "deep ties to global financiers, foreign politicians and even criminals...If Trump moves into the White House and his family continues to receive any benefit from the company, during or even after his presidency, almost every foreign policy decision he makes will raise serious conflicts of interest and ethical quagmires." Take that, swamp!
Back in 2007, former Vice President Al Gore wrote a book titled, The Assault on Reason. In that jeremiad, Gore—who certainly knew something about losing close elections distorted by media-manufactured narratives—warned about the crippled state of American political discourse and U.S. democracy itself:
What happened to our country...Why do reason, logic and truth seem to play a sharply diminished role in the way America now makes important decisions?
We have checks and balances. We are a nation of laws. We have free speech. We have a free press. Have they all failed us? Why has America's public discourse become less focused and clear, less reasoned? Faith in the power of reason - the belief that free citizens can govern themselves wisely and fairly by resorting to logical debate on the basis of the best evidence available, instead of raw power - remains the central premise of American democracy. This premise is now under assault.
Under assault, Gore lamented, because "the 'well-informed citizenry' is in danger of becoming the 'well-amused audience.'"
Nine years later, we have the election of 2016—which bore less resemblance to the Founding Fathers’ vision of our democratic process in action than to the latest season of Survivor: America. Which, after this week's vote, seems apt. After all, we're being told the big winner this year, as in the first season of Survivor, was an angry, middle-aged white guy. But while Richard Hatch won $1,000,000, ultimately he didn't end up with what he wanted or needed.
He went to prison for tax evasion.