I'm writing this before any meaningful election results are in. My view is that there is no likely good result from today's election. We are probably in for four years of pain, not to mention any longer term damage that might be inflicted by one of these flawed candidates. The best result we can hope for will be keeping the execrable Schumer from becoming Majority Leader of the Senate.
But this is as good a time as any to look forward on a few issues.
Number one is the future of the Republican Party. Many have predicted that the rise of Trumpism will mean the demise of the Republican Party, particularly that it will splinter into two or more pieces. I don't buy it. The party will likely evolve some, but even there, my prediction is, not much. Here's why. Our system of popular election of the President essentially forces us into a two-major-party system. In a parliamentary system like they have in most European countries, multiple minor parties can elect a few deputies each; and then, if no major party gets a full majority in the parliament, the major parties must go shopping to buy minor party support. The result is that minor parties frequently can demand policy concessions or cabinet positions, and can end up with influence in running the government well beyond the numbers of their supporters. This gives the minor parties an ongoing reason for existence; and then, sometimes, one of them will start growing until it overtakes one of the formerly major parties. In the U.S., by contrast, the President, once elected, has the full executive authority, and doesn't need ongoing support from anybody outside his party. Minor parties who can't hope to elect a President have zero influence on the running of the government. To be a party that can elect a President, you need to be a broad-based coalition that aspires to 50+% support of the entire population. By the very math of the situation, it's highly unlikely to have more than two of those at any one time. Yes, in a year when a minor-party candidate gets some traction (think Ross Perot in 1992 or 1996), you can become President with support perhaps in the low 40s of percent. Still, a party that actually aspires to elect Presidents regularly must be constantly working to build that 50% coalition. If the Republicans break into two or three pieces, now no one of the pieces will have more than about 25 - 30% support. If that happens, the Republicans will be in the wilderness essentially forever until they figure out how to re-coalesce. The forces pushing them back together would be almost irresistible. I literally can't imagine that it wouldn't happen.
But how about Trump's big issues of trade and immigration? If anything defines "Trumpism," it is his positions on these two issues. Will the Republican Party be transformed by adopting those positions, or some variant of them? Again, I don't buy it, except maybe a little around the edges. Sorry, Donald, but your positions represent dead ends for the country and indeed for your most fervent supporters. You have run further with these issues than their previous champions, like Ross Perot and Pat Buchanan; but these issues will fade away again, as they have in the past, because they are dead ends.
Trade. If there is one major theme of this blog, it is that the fundamental driving principle of the progressive left -- which is the idea that all human problems can be solved with more government spending -- is a delusion that can't possibly work. Here's something else in the same delusional category: the idea that some form of trade protectionism, or "better trade deals," or punishment of American companies for having foreign affiliates, can prevent the internationalization of the world economy and thereby "bring the jobs back."
Yes, a not small number of Americans have lost jobs in manufacturing when foreign producers figure out how to produce and deliver the same products for less. The government cannot solve this problem with trade restrictions. Indeed, there is no solution to the problem other than the creation of new private companies and new jobs for the displaced workers. Trying to solve the problem with tariffs or import quotas is a total dead end for the American economy and even particularly for the blue collar workers who seem to be Trump's strongest supporters. Tariffs act as a regressive tax that hits lower-middle-income workers the hardest. Meanwhile, a tariff only postpones the inevitable: sooner or later every factory will be put out of business by some form of competition, which could just as well be domestic as foreign. And if tariffs are high enough to cut off American producers from the best international technologies and supply chains, then we get a second-rate American economy. Today, our economy is the world's strongest, and our wages the world's highest, precisely because we are constantly exposed to the best that the world has to throw at us.
And then there is Trump's concept of "better trade deals." I have no idea what he is even talking about there. By a "better trade deal," does he mean a deal that makes foreign products more expensive for Americans to buy? How exactly is that "better"? Even to state it that way shows how crazy it is. In fact, existing trade deals like NAFTA or the pending TPP have essentially nothing to do with setting the terms of trade. (Those are set by private agreements between buyers and sellers.) The trade deals do lower tariffs, which makes foreign products cheaper for Americans to buy. Sorry, but that's a good thing for Americans. Going forward, the Republican Party is going to have to decide whether it wants to be in favor of making the things that Americans buy cheaper or more expensive. There's only one right way to go. Besides, the Democrats -- because of their ties to unions and crony capitalists, let alone environmentalists -- are already the party in favor of making the things Americans buy more expensive.
My prediction is that, even if Trump becomes President, his trade agenda will largely fade away. OK, TPP may die (although it also might get approved in the lame duck session of the Senate). But I can't imagine a major general tariff increase getting approved by Congress, let alone the repudiation of NAFTA, which is deeply baked into our economy at this point. Most likely if Trump is elected: Trump makes a few proposals, they sit in Congress without action, and then everybody moves on to other things. If Hillary gets elected, TPP likely also gets stalled, but she is more likely to revive it a year or two down the road. Probably, she gets some modifications and re-submits it. Her best hope to get it approved will be in the next Congress. Of course, that's because there will be more Republicans then.
Immigration. The immigration issue is subject to far more complexities and ambiguities than the trade issue. With trade, while there are clearly some losers among American workers, trade overall is a huge net plus for the American economy. With immigration, it's much less clear. And also, the political divide over immigration is so stark that the chances for a meaningful reform that actually improves things are not good. As I have written before, as bad as our immigration system is, almost any reform that might get passed is likely to make things worse.
Meanwhile, how big a problem is immigration? Many sources have reported that net illegal immigration has been negative for many years, basically since the big recession. Here is a report on the subject from Pew. There just aren't that many poor Mexicans looking to get into the U.S. any more. Of course, the biggest factor contributing to the waning of the illegal immigration problem with Mexico has been -- you guessed it -- NAFTA! And anyway, for all the talk of the problem of illegal immigration, somehow nobody seems to mention that the big numbers are in legal immigration. The Pew report just cited has a figure for illegal immigrants in the U.S. in 2015 of 11.1 million. According to migrationsource.org here, the number of legal immigrants in the U.S. exceeds 40 million, almost half of whom are already citizens. And new legal immigrants continue to arrive in the U.S. at a rate of about 1 million per year. One could debate whether that number is too high -- or, maybe, too low. I haven't really heard much if any debate over that subject. Have you? And nobody really says that the U.S. should dramatically lower that number, let alone cut it off entirely. After all, we are a nation of immigrants. In my view, given that it's just not possible to take in everybody in the troubled world, a smart reform would be seeking to get the highest quality and best educated immigrants we can find to fill our limited quotas. As sensible as that would be, I don't think that the Democrats would agree to it. To put it cynically, they want to import people who will become dependent on government. So the law will likely not change.
That means that the difference between the candidates going forward will be in the enforcement of existing law, rather than the likelihood of any new laws. Hillary is on record (at fundraisers, or course, not campaign rallies) as being in favor of open borders, at least within the Americas. That really means that she represents no change from the intentionally lax enforcement regime of Obama. Trump promises stricter enforcement and a wall. OK, but net illegal immigration is already negative. In a Trump administration, I would expect immigration to fade as an issue, as would trade. There are far more important things to focus on. The pain will be in other areas, and on other issues, of which there are plenty.
So will "Trumpism" transform the Republican Party? Not likely.
UPDATE, November 9: In Trump's short victory speech late last night, suddenly the issues he's talking about are infrastructure spending and "taking care of our vets." What happened to trade and immigration? That was fast! Meanwhile, with solid Republican control of both houses of Congress, I really should be more optimistic than indicated at the beginning of this post. Hey, will they actually roll back some of Obama's War Against the Economy? It's entirely possible that that could give the economy a real boost.