The media maelstrom around Trump has been so fierce in the first <30 days that it is hard to get a read on the real state-of-play. The Omnivore wants to take a few steps back and try to look at the bigger picture from a risk-assessment point of view.
To put it another way: excepting all the rhetoric and the daily churn, what should we be concerned about? Here are The Omnivore's picks.
1. China EscalationThe Trump administration has shown an inclination to incite China. The potential down-sides to this could go all the way to nuclear exchange (but that's thankfully very unlikely). The real danger here is that the Trump admin plays the word-games (such as recognizing Taiwan) and inadvertently provokes China who, for real, is not fucking around.
Provoking China leads to escalation as an embattled Trump-administration feels it cannot be seen to back down. Outcomes to watch for:
- A very unpleasant trade-war which damages the US (and Chinese) economy.
- China, free of pressure from the TPP, expands its economic influence in the APAC region, leading to a number of knock-on effects that haunt the US for decades to come.
- Military one-upsmanship which has a real risk of shots-fired.
2. Iran Escalation
There is evidence that the Trump administration naively believes that Russia can be used as an ally against Iran (or Syria). This is fantasy--however, if enough of the administration thinks that military pressure on Iran will have some positive outcome, they may engage in a show of force. Iran, however, will answer in meaningful ways and with tacit Russian support. The result of this would be:
- Sudden regional instability, further alienating traditional US allies (Europe)
- Expansion of Russian influence along the Iran/Syria axis
- Possible exchange of fire with Iran's actually-dangerous military
- Iran escalates nuclear weapons program forcing the US into a dangerous corner
The signature strategy of the Trump White House has been accurately described Ready, Fire, Aim. Part of this is first-time growing pains--but part of it may be ideologically driven (a belief that, for example, Congress is inherently un-trustworthy and cannot be relied on as any kind of partner). In this scenario the Trump administration does something really stupid domestically during a moment of crisis. Potential risks:
- Elevated constitutional crisis. Don't believe that the happy-path is impeachment. The GOP has no will to impeach Trump (and what happened to Nixon won't happen to Trump without actual for-real criminal charges). In this case, Trump is just doing damage to American institutions for no good reason.
- Severe unintended side effects. While Executive Orders are limited, it is possible that Trump could do things that have serious unintended side effects--such as not enforcing the ACA individual mandate--which would, yes, kill Obamacare--but would do so at the expense of the entire medical insurance industry
4. Dramatic Polarization
Trump's strategy for dealing with bad press is, quite clearly, to lie. If you are a Trump supporter and do not believe this, The Omnivore is sorry, but you're an idiot. The press is also caught in a 4-hour news-cycle that it can't keep up with--which, yes, leads to bad reporting--but Trump is constantly telling whoppers and getting caught at it.
This has the effect of further separating Trump-believers from the rest of the country. The further apart and more entrenched the country gets, the harder it is to come back from that or attempt re-unification. Things to watch for:
- Admin leaking "bad info" to the press - in an attempt to further discredit the press, the administration tries to set up "leaks" that can be disproven. If successful, further erodes the 4th estate.
- Violence against minorities by Trump-supporters. For now things have been simmering. If a substantial number of Trump-supporters believe, for example, that Mexican-origin citizens are voting illegally by the millions and take violent action against that, we've got a serious problem.
The Omnivore suspects that the Trump administration is playing with fire--the net-negative impacts at this point may well be to the Republicans more than the Democrats (or the country as a whole). This is due to the terrible optics of what Trump is doing. It may not stay that way, however: if the Trump administration doesn't get its act together (and fast) America herself may sustain significant, long-lasting damage.