en-es  If Donald Trump won a second term
If Donald Trump won a second term.

Suppose the Trump show runs and runs.

Forget talk of impeachment. Imagine America, and the world, adjusting to four more years.

The Economist, The World If, July 13, 2017.

LOOKING back, it is easy to see clues that Donald Trump did not really want to serve a second term as president. During the chaotic three-way election of 2020 Mr Trump at times seemed a bystander, overshadowed by the brutal contest between Elizabeth Warren, the economic populist nominated by the Democratic Party, and her billionaire rival, Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook and the centrist OPeN! movement. Mr Trump adopted mocking nicknames for each: “Pocohontas” for Mrs Warren (a reference to the false allegation that the senator claimed Native American heritage to secure a post as a Harvard academic) and, for Mr Zuckerberg, “Dopey” and “Kumbaya Boy” (a scornful reference to Mr Zuckerberg’s support for liberal immigration policies and an “open platform” approach to politics based on “digital civics”). But mostly Mr Trump stood back and watched as his rivals exposed deep and ugly divisions on the centre-ground and left of American politics.

By the end of the campaign Mrs Warren and Mr Zuckerberg had fallen out over everything from globalisation and trade with China to their respective views on race-based affirmative action and visas for skilled migrants. To the candidates’ dismay, their most fervent supporters traded mutual accusations of sexism, anti-Semitism and racism, with some accused of whipping up black and Hispanic hostility towards Mr Zuckerberg’s Asian-American wife, Priscilla Chan.

Doubts about Mr Trump’s morale hardened on the day of his second inauguration. Even loyal supporters were startled by the brooding leader who showed up at the Capitol to be sworn in, after winning with the lowest share of the popular vote in American history. His inaugural address did not help, with its unscripted, rambling discursion about the blizzard that had, he explained, scared away what would have been record crowds and obliged organisers to move the ceremony indoors. Nor could television viewers miss the strained relations between Mr Trump and his vice-president, Mike Pence. That relationship has yet to recover from the moment last summer when Mr Trump hinted he might choose a new running-mate to boost his poll numbers, sparking rumours that Jared Kushner, his son-in-law, was being readied for the role.

As pundits analyse the early months of the second Trump term, the full irony of the president’s position has become clear. The image of the man who entered the White House as a crowd-thrilling outsider, vowing to “drain the swamp” in Washington and launch trade wars with China and Mexico, has undergone a 180-degree transformation. The economy is ticking along, but not because of bold domestic reforms. The biggest boosts to economic sentiment came from debt-fuelled tax cuts and from steady growth in such places as China, Mexico and Canada (the re-election campaign never tired of repeating “Keep America Great!”). Mr Trump’s administration is professional, ruthlessly focused on deregulation, and secretive. The president has delegated most day-to-day decision-making to a cadre of former CEOs, Wall Street bankers and ex-lobbyists: the “robber barons”, as Mrs Warren called them. Ask voters what they think of Mr Trump and the word “boring” comes up a lot.

Mr Trump’s opponents once assumed that Russian election-meddling would be his downfall. After Russia investigations were bogged down by a lack of evidence admissible in court, and by a reluctance among Republicans to take down their president, Democrats concentrated their attacks on the president’s populist pledges. There was the “big, beautiful wall” that he would build on the southern border, paid for by Mexico. There were the coal-mining jobs he said he would bring back to Appalachia, or the factories he would bring back to the Midwest. Then there was the health-care plan that he told voters would be cheaper, more generous and cover more people than Obamacare, his predecessor’s coverage scheme.

Mr Trump has kept none of these promises, but clings to power nonetheless. At his increasingly rare public rallies, he still talks about building a wall, but quickly veers into complaints about the “un-American” elites who are obstructing the project. In truth, the plan has few friends. Congress has never wanted to find the vast sums required. Construction is tied down by legal challenges from landowners whose property is needed for a barrier.

The show goes on, and on.

Many of the 11m or so foreigners in the country without legal papers now live in fear, as they risk deportation in many states if they are so much as pulled over for running a stop sign. Still, nativist hardliners have given up hope of seeing Mr Trump move to expel millions of migrants. Deportation numbers have risen, but when it comes to systematically removing all those without legal status Mr Trump seems frozen with indecision, telling nonplussed aides at a recent meeting: “We have to be so tough, but always with heart.” As for Team Trump’s “energy revolution”, aimed at boosting domestic production of coal, oil and natural gas, that remains mired in the courts. To date it has created more work for lawyers and lobbyists than for miners. Mr Trump’s appointees have slashed rules governing mine waste, water pollution and methane leaks from wellheads. But blue-collar energy jobs have not materialised in large numbers. Though production has risen in the mechanised coal fields of the Mountain West, it continues to collapse in West Virginia, Kentucky and the rest of Appalachia.

Nor has Mr Trump been able to keep his word on repealing and replacing Obamacare with something that the public deems “terrific”. The ungainly half-replacement that Congress struggled to pass—branded “Trumpcare” by Democrats—has not stabilised insurance markets as promised. Mr Trump has blamed health insurers and congressional Republicans for the mess.

Trumpcare has next to no chance of being improved by this Congress. Gridlock on Capitol Hill only worsened after the 2018 mid-term elections, when Democrats defeated more than a dozen moderate House Republicans representing suburban districts, and came unexpectedly close to taking back control of the Senate. A weakened Republican Party has been left angrier and more intransigent.

Resistance to Mr Trump has also helped drive the Democratic Party to the left. Egged on by such figures as Mrs Warren, progressive groups threatened to mount primary challenges against any Democrats who voted with the Republicans, even on such bills as Mr Trump’s (more modest than expected) infrastructure plan.

With each passing month it becomes clearer that Trump opponents have won a hollow victory. They have reduced the president to sour frustration and even inertia. The latest polls show that just 23% of Americans think that Mr Trump is “in charge of events”. Leaks from a demoralised White House talk of Mr Trump spending long hours watching cable television, and complaining “I didn’t have to do this job” to his inner circle. Late-night TV satirists never tire of noting how the president has put on weight in office, despite frequent outings to play golf. But ironically the activism of the resistance movement has given Mr Trump a ready explanation for his broken campaign pledges.

That leaves foreign policy, an arena also marked by inertia. After a state visit to Britain, scheduled for 2017, was cancelled and a summit in Canada in 2018 was marred by protests, including a mass “mooning” by activists, Mr Trump’s enthusiasm for global statecraft was revived by a tour of China and the Philippines in 2019, notable for pageantry and police brutality in equal measure. Mr Trump has encouraged Chinese funds to invest in American infrastructure, with modest results.

No new foreign visits are planned. Russian state media have taken to mocking Mr Trump as “the old hermit king”. European leaders have largely given up on seeking personal meetings in the White House.

An early epitaph on the Trump era was offered this month by the former chief strategist at the White House, Stephen Bannon. The greatest mistake of his old boss’s life was running for re-election, Mr Bannon told listeners on his nightly TV talk-show. Economic nationalism needs a new champion, said Mr Bannon, concluding: “Trump tried, but the swamp drained him.” Increasingly the language of the television industry has crept into Mr Trump’s remarks. He talks of ratings and has called the presidency “this show”. His communications team recently recruited a producer from “The Apprentice”, the reality-TV series that did so much to cement his image as a decisive tycoon. Even the biggest TV hits have a natural life. With Mr Trump seemingly trapped in a funk, few voters can remember why they commissioned a second season of this presidential show.
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If Donald Trump won a second term.
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Suppose the Trump show runs and runs.
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Forget talk of impeachment.
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Imagine America, and the world, adjusting to four more years.
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The Economist, The World If, July 13, 2017.
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movement.
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The economy is ticking along, but not because of bold domestic reforms.
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In truth, the plan has few friends.
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Congress has never wanted to find the vast sums required.
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The show goes on, and on.
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But blue-collar energy jobs have not materialised in large numbers.
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Trumpcare has next to no chance of being improved by this Congress.
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A weakened Republican Party has been left angrier and more intransigent.
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They have reduced the president to sour frustration and even inertia.
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That leaves foreign policy, an arena also marked by inertia.
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No new foreign visits are planned.
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He talks of ratings and has called the presidency “this show”.
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Even the biggest TV hits have a natural life.
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If Donald Trump won a second term.

Suppose the Trump show runs and runs.

Forget talk of impeachment. Imagine America, and the world, adjusting to four more years.

The Economist, The World If, July 13, 2017.

LOOKING back, it is easy to see clues that Donald Trump did not really want to serve a second term as president. During the chaotic three-way election of 2020 Mr Trump at times seemed a bystander, overshadowed by the brutal contest between Elizabeth Warren, the economic populist nominated by the Democratic Party, and her billionaire rival, Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook and the centrist OPeN! movement. Mr Trump adopted mocking nicknames for each: “Pocohontas” for Mrs Warren (a reference to the false allegation that the senator claimed Native American heritage to secure a post as a Harvard academic) and, for Mr Zuckerberg, “Dopey” and “Kumbaya Boy” (a scornful reference to Mr Zuckerberg’s support for liberal immigration policies and an “open platform” approach to politics based on “digital civics”). But mostly Mr Trump stood back and watched as his rivals exposed deep and ugly divisions on the centre-ground and left of American politics.

By the end of the campaign Mrs Warren and Mr Zuckerberg had fallen out over everything from globalisation and trade with China to their respective views on race-based affirmative action and visas for skilled migrants. To the candidates’ dismay, their most fervent supporters traded mutual accusations of sexism, anti-Semitism and racism, with some accused of whipping up black and Hispanic hostility towards Mr Zuckerberg’s Asian-American wife, Priscilla Chan.

Doubts about Mr Trump’s morale hardened on the day of his second inauguration. Even loyal supporters were startled by the brooding leader who showed up at the Capitol to be sworn in, after winning with the lowest share of the popular vote in American history. His inaugural address did not help, with its unscripted, rambling discursion about the blizzard that had, he explained, scared away what would have been record crowds and obliged organisers to move the ceremony indoors. Nor could television viewers miss the strained relations between Mr Trump and his vice-president, Mike Pence. That relationship has yet to recover from the moment last summer when Mr Trump hinted he might choose a new running-mate to boost his poll numbers, sparking rumours that Jared Kushner, his son-in-law, was being readied for the role.

As pundits analyse the early months of the second Trump term, the full irony of the president’s position has become clear. The image of the man who entered the White House as a crowd-thrilling outsider, vowing to “drain the swamp” in Washington and launch trade wars with China and Mexico, has undergone a 180-degree transformation. The economy is ticking along, but not because of bold domestic reforms. The biggest boosts to economic sentiment came from debt-fuelled tax cuts and from steady growth in such places as China, Mexico and Canada (the re-election campaign never tired of repeating “Keep America Great!”). Mr Trump’s administration is professional, ruthlessly focused on deregulation, and secretive. The president has delegated most day-to-day decision-making to a cadre of former CEOs, Wall Street bankers and ex-lobbyists: the “robber barons”, as Mrs Warren called them. Ask voters what they think of Mr Trump and the word “boring” comes up a lot.

Mr Trump’s opponents once assumed that Russian election-meddling would be his downfall. After Russia investigations were bogged down by a lack of evidence admissible in court, and by a reluctance among Republicans to take down their president, Democrats concentrated their attacks on the president’s populist pledges. There was the “big, beautiful wall” that he would build on the southern border, paid for by Mexico. There were the coal-mining jobs he said he would bring back to Appalachia, or the factories he would bring back to the Midwest. Then there was the health-care plan that he told voters would be cheaper, more generous and cover more people than Obamacare, his predecessor’s coverage scheme.

Mr Trump has kept none of these promises, but clings to power nonetheless. At his increasingly rare public rallies, he still talks about building a wall, but quickly veers into complaints about the “un-American” elites who are obstructing the project. In truth, the plan has few friends. Congress has never wanted to find the vast sums required. Construction is tied down by legal challenges from landowners whose property is needed for a barrier.

The show goes on, and on.

Many of the 11m or so foreigners in the country without legal papers now live in fear, as they risk deportation in many states if they are so much as pulled over for running a stop sign. Still, nativist hardliners have given up hope of seeing Mr Trump move to expel millions of migrants. Deportation numbers have risen, but when it comes to systematically removing all those without legal status Mr Trump seems frozen with indecision, telling nonplussed aides at a recent meeting: “We have to be so tough, but always with heart.”

As for Team Trump’s “energy revolution”, aimed at boosting domestic production of coal, oil and natural gas, that remains mired in the courts. To date it has created more work for lawyers and lobbyists than for miners. Mr Trump’s appointees have slashed rules governing mine waste, water pollution and methane leaks from wellheads. But blue-collar energy jobs have not materialised in large numbers. Though production has risen in the mechanised coal fields of the Mountain West, it continues to collapse in West Virginia, Kentucky and the rest of Appalachia.

Nor has Mr Trump been able to keep his word on repealing and replacing Obamacare with something that the public deems “terrific”. The ungainly half-replacement that Congress struggled to pass—branded “Trumpcare” by Democrats—has not stabilised insurance markets as promised. Mr Trump has blamed health insurers and congressional Republicans for the mess.

Trumpcare has next to no chance of being improved by this Congress. Gridlock on Capitol Hill only worsened after the 2018 mid-term elections, when Democrats defeated more than a dozen moderate House Republicans representing suburban districts, and came unexpectedly close to taking back control of the Senate. A weakened Republican Party has been left angrier and more intransigent.

Resistance to Mr Trump has also helped drive the Democratic Party to the left. Egged on by such figures as Mrs Warren, progressive groups threatened to mount primary challenges against any Democrats who voted with the Republicans, even on such bills as Mr Trump’s (more modest than expected) infrastructure plan.

With each passing month it becomes clearer that Trump opponents have won a hollow victory. They have reduced the president to sour frustration and even inertia. The latest polls show that just 23% of Americans think that Mr Trump is “in charge of events”. Leaks from a demoralised White House talk of Mr Trump spending long hours watching cable television, and complaining “I didn’t have to do this job” to his inner circle. Late-night TV satirists never tire of noting how the president has put on weight in office, despite frequent outings to play golf. But ironically the activism of the resistance movement has given Mr Trump a ready explanation for his broken campaign pledges.

That leaves foreign policy, an arena also marked by inertia. After a state visit to Britain, scheduled for 2017, was cancelled and a summit in Canada in 2018 was marred by protests, including a mass “mooning” by activists, Mr Trump’s enthusiasm for global statecraft was revived by a tour of China and the Philippines in 2019, notable for pageantry and police brutality in equal measure. Mr Trump has encouraged Chinese funds to invest in American infrastructure, with modest results.

No new foreign visits are planned. Russian state media have taken to mocking Mr Trump as “the old hermit king”. European leaders have largely given up on seeking personal meetings in the White House.

An early epitaph on the Trump era was offered this month by the former chief strategist at the White House, Stephen Bannon. The greatest mistake of his old boss’s life was running for re-election, Mr Bannon told listeners on his nightly TV talk-show. Economic nationalism needs a new champion, said Mr Bannon, concluding: “Trump tried, but the swamp drained him.”

Increasingly the language of the television industry has crept into Mr Trump’s remarks. He talks of ratings and has called the presidency “this show”. His communications team recently recruited a producer from “The Apprentice”, the reality-TV series that did so much to cement his image as a decisive tycoon. Even the biggest TV hits have a natural life. With Mr Trump seemingly trapped in a funk, few voters can remember why they commissioned a second season of this presidential show.