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The Imperial Trump Court

2016 November 14
by Ian Welsh

Trump is going to rule as emperor, not president.

By this I do not mean that he’s going to overthrow democracy and become president for life; I regard that as very unlikely.

What I mean is that Trump isn’t interested most of what’s involved in running the Presidency. Even when he has definite ideas, he generally isn’t interested in the details.

So personnel will matter even more than it does in normal administrations. Who has Trump’s ear, and when, will matter a great deal. Trump is very persuadable. Issues may well go back and forth for quite a while until someone gets Trump to make a firm decision.

There will be fiefs. Given that Pence was given the transition, pushing aside Christie, he appears to be on the fast track to be the most important person after Trump, and in day-to-day operations probably more important. He may well be even more powerful than Cheney was in the Bush administration.

Trump has multiple factions in his government. Thiel is a libertarian and dubious about women, but he’s not a racist. Bannon is a racist. Pence’s main concern is crushing women into the dirt, and Trump will allow some of that, but his wife and daughter have a lot of influence on him and they’ll try to mitigate that. Remember that Trump has praised Planned Parenthood in the past.

There are issues Trump has made his own, and there are issues about which he doesn’t care too much. The wall will get built, even if parts of it are a fence. At least one trade deal will get rewritten (Canada has already said they’re willing to reopen NAFTA). Immigrants will be expelled. (If you’re worried about the two to three million, you should be. Just remember, Obama expelled 2.4 million. He just did it relatively quietly.) ISIS will be bombed to smithereens. Nice will be made with Russia–to some extent.

But beyond that, much is in the air, and much will depend on WHO gets Trump’s ear. Even within settled policy, details matter, and Trump is not going to handle the details (Bill Clinton was infamous for actually being on top of details. Hillary would have been the same way, it’s not a given the President hand-waves them.) Thus, who is given the job of executing policy will matter a great deal.

This is going to be a courtier’s administration. It is going to be an administration of fiefs and fierce internal infighting, both below the Emperor’s notice and for his notice. Who wins those fights will matter, a lot.

So far, outside his family, we have Pence managing the transition (woman-hating, Job #1). We have Bannon as his chief strategist (white supremacy and ministry of propaganda Job #’s 1 and 2), and we have Priebus as his chief of staff (career Republican apparatchnik).

Keep an eye on the people, and the appointments, BUT don’t count out the family. What they think (and by all accounts Ivanka is the toughest of the children), will matter a lot. Melania might have outsize influence, for all we know: Nancy Reagan wound up more important than Reagan himself when Reagan’s Alzheimer’s took its toll, and was vastly influential even before that.

Trump will make the big announcements. He’ll insist on cutting the deals (at least the final cut) with other leaders. He’ll have a few things he wants done, but beyond that, it’ll be those around him who matter.


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21 Responses
  1. Shh permalink
    November 14, 2016

    I think this is a fair assessment. Now that the theatrics of the campaign are over, Trump will follow his life-long pattern of relying on his lieutenants (lieu – tenants) to effect policy. How he minds and manages them, and who sways him, will be the important things.

    If Clinton was a prepaid partisan, Trump is for sale. Who will be the highest bidder?

  2. BlizzardOfOz permalink
    November 14, 2016

    Right. It’s not like Trump has chief executive experience or anything.

  3. Ian Welsh permalink*
    November 14, 2016

    This is how he ran his companies. It’s not necessarily a bad way — Trump acted as rainmaker and handed execution off to whomever he considered “the best people”.

  4. S Brennan permalink
    November 14, 2016

    I think this is more or less on target; he is not a detail man until he sees a result not to his liking, certain people will mistake this for license…and Pence will top the list for that*.

    I think Trump’s big issues are:

    Withdrawal from overt/covert foreign wars and bases…as way to funnel funds into the DoD’s domestic infrastructure. Oil/mineral extraction will fight him on this…they are essentially foreign interests, but they provide good paying jobs in rural areas. So this is a Rubicon he may not cross…and if he doesn’t he’ll lose the independent vote and my support.

    Infrastructure…either with the Democrats, or over their dead body.

    Trade…requiting the mercantile practices of other industrial countries…Trump is a man of empire and he knows the fate of empires who can not produce products for themselves.

    Immigration…both legal H1-B’s and illegal with be restricted to the levels that other countries allow…I say this as a guy who got a job offer in BC back in 2010 and couldn’t accept because a Canadian government mandated “market survey” indicated that there were unemployed candidates in other provinces.

    *Prediction; either Pence is not VP, or Trump is no longer Prez four years hence.

  5. November 14, 2016

    My main issue with Trump is his linear thinking.

    The way he exudes and embraces all manners of campy stereotypes and assumptions.

    That his ability to perceive the world around him is not fluid enough to effectively deal with a lot of the critical issues that plague U.S. society and the world-in-general.

    That is, essentially, my take on the guy so far.

  6. Solar Hero permalink
    November 14, 2016

    Tal — so just like every other chief executive America has ever had?

  7. sig permalink
    November 14, 2016

    ” (man hating, job #1). ”

    Should be “woman-hating”.

  8. Hugh permalink
    November 14, 2016

    The media were so focused on Trump’s various linguistic gaffes, outrageous one-liners, and dubious personal treatment of women that they failed to look at him or his policy proposals, beyond those against free trade and immigration.

    Trump is a billionaire with no understanding or contact with ordinary Americans, an anti-populist populist, if you will. He is a one-man act. So of course, most of his Administration and governance will carried out by other people, much more so than in other Administrations. Nor is this true just about his top advisors. A change of party in Presidency means that there are around 4,000 top government jobs that will need to be filled. This shows the real weakness in a candidacy like Trump’s. There is no movement to draw leaders from. There is no over-arching, unifying vision to tie them together and keep them focused and working together. So Trump will not just delegate. He will be turning back to that very same Republican party that he was running against. Sure, he and his inner circle may favor certain sections of that party, but the sheer need for personnel means that party regulars will be filling, if not the top chairs, the second, third, and fourth tiers.

    Trump is also, outside a couple of his signature issues, a hardline conservative. He may raise hell with free trade, but he will limited by pushback from other countries. As Ian notes, Obama already was hardline on the deportation of illegals. Trump is left with mostly atmospherics, like the wall, that will have little affect on overall immigration. Where he might make a difference is on legal immigration. His stance on that and on the H1B visa program will be indicative of how serious he is about immigration, and about bringing back good jobs to Americans.

    Trump may want to increase infrastructure spending but the pushback against this will likely come from Congressional “balanced budget” Republicans. At the same time, this bloc probably will support his efforts to cut taxes on the rich. The result will be that wealth inequality is likely to increase markedly under Trump.

    It is important to note that Trump will be a one term President, not because of his numerous shortcomings and likely policy disasters, but because he is 70 and will be 74 in 2020.

  9. Billikin permalink
    November 14, 2016

    “Trump is going to rule as emperor, not president.”

    My take, perzackly. He ran as emperor.

    S. Brennan:

    “Infrastructure…either with the Democrats, or over their dead body.”

    It’s the Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats who will oppose infrastructure spending, which means that it may not happen.

  10. November 14, 2016

    The infrastructure spending is one of the few potentially positive outcomes as well as the most critical of them, especially for Trump to run again. For it to happen, he must either coerce the Republicans to allow it, a party that has opposed public spending for a long time, or peel off enough Republicans *and* hold Democratic support for it, which of course is not precisely a given either.

  11. Dean Flemming permalink
    November 14, 2016

    Pence’s main concern is simply to cleave to as much of the 3,000 year old Bible as possible. Not an attractive thought for liberals and leftists.

  12. Ian Welsh permalink*
    November 14, 2016

    If he were to do unto the least of these with the same fervor as he is against abortion, it would be rather more palatable for liberals andleftists.

  13. Mallam permalink
    November 14, 2016

    The infrastructure spending isn’t a positive development either because it’s going to be a privatization bonanza. The only good thing that can happen is for him to fail and to protect people who are susceptible to attack from his vigilantes. Nothing good will come of this.

  14. different clue permalink
    November 14, 2016

    @billikin,

    By “blue dog democrats”, I presume you mean Clintonites?

  15. different clue permalink
    November 14, 2016

    The saddest personnel choice I could anticipate would be Sara Palin for Secretary of the Interior. I hope that can be prevented.

    That said, Sec Interior Palin would do less damage in 4 years than a Clintonite Thermonuclear War with Russia would do in 4 minutes. I voted Trump in order to stop the Clintons from starting a war with Russia. If we go 4 years without a war with Russia, then I will have gotten what I voted for, and I will just endure the pain of the Palins and the Bachmanns as a price which had to be paid.

  16. Peter permalink
    November 14, 2016

    @DC

    After Ken Salazar and Obama’s drill baby drill and all of the above there isn’t much for Palin to do except maybe turn Yosemite into a gravel quarry.

  17. Kim Kaufman permalink
    November 14, 2016

    “Pence’s main concern is crushing women into the dirt” and privatizing public education.

  18. Billikin permalink
    November 15, 2016

    By Blue Dog Democrats I mean fiscally conservative Democrats. The Clintons are fiscal conservatives, aren’t they?

  19. November 15, 2016

    “The Clintons are fiscal conservatives, aren’t they?”

    Yes, as are all Democrats.

    And in today’s mainstream Orwell-speak, “fiscal conservative” means insanely radical and reckless in dispensing trillions in corporate welfare for economically worthless and destructive activities.

    As for what real fiscal conservatism would be, forget it. The unanimous establishment consensus is, “No, you can’t”, and “There is no alternative” to corporate rule.

  20. Ché Pasa permalink
    November 15, 2016

    Re: Yellowstone

    Wouldn’t the neoliberal plan be to turn it into a privately owned, publicly funded geothermal plant — and sparkly neon lit tourist attraction, maybe with casinos and shit — to extract as much profit from the Taker-Rabble as possible for the benefit of as few Makers as can be?

    Don’t think it couldn’t happen.

  21. Billikin permalink
    November 15, 2016

    Isn’t Yellowstone overdue to blow?

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