What happens in American politics after Trump?
Specifically, whenever and however he exits office – by losing an election in 2020, by a full impeachment, by resignation, by death, leaving in 2025, whatever – what next steps does America take?
As a futurist I’ve been thinking about this since the 2016 election. Surveying American politics, looking at political trends, checking polls, following commentators across geographical and ideological ranges: it seems like a whole set of possibilities are in play right now, three months before the November election. Looking into the past century of American history gave examples of many of these options.
I’d like to offer a poll as another crowdsourcing experiment, as the last one turned out well. I already asked my odd Facebook audience and got a rich discussion going there, and I’ll use that (thank you all) to shape today’s query.
Let’s see if many eyes and minds can give us a look into post-Trump possibilities.
Here’s the poll itself. Explanations and the comment box follow:
A) Prosecution and other legal challenges for Trump and various people who at one time worked with him. There are a bevy of potential charges out there. Many individuals, groups, and entities can bring these to bear, from state officials to classes (as in class action suits) and maybe some feds. For charges, I’m thinking especially and most recently of various forms of fraud, human rights abuses, wrongful death due to mishandling COVID-19 (think about this story for an example). We could see Congressional hearings like the Pecora Commission (for the 1929 crash) or the 1970s Church Committee (for CIA, FBI abuses).
B) A political reform movement Such a thing would address itself to not just undo what Trump hath wrought, but to reduce the factors that made him possible. This could mean all kinds of thing: more anti-racist education in K-12, an effort to restore the Fairness Doctrine (for tv news), a push to constrain presidential powers a la the post-Nixon 1970s, regulations on social media, a drive against voter suppression, or campaign finance reform. It could also have social and cultural dimensions – more shaming of racists, say. A technological dimension could see an actual successor to Facebook arise and really be used. It could also escalate as far as a Constitutional amendment process or Convention.
C) A truth and reconciliation commission Instead of, or alongside, lawsuits and state action, we could hold some kind of restorative justice process like the post-apartheid South African one. Victims of certain Trump policies would meet with administration perpetrators to determine compensation. For this to happen at all there would have to be some kind of social consensus that the Trump administration was an unusual disaster for the US. A massive electoral defeat in 2020 could play a role in this. A big crack in GOP alignment with Trump would help. At a smaller scale we could see individual acts of restorative justice, or at least mediation.
D) Amnesia and forgiveness There are many, many precedents for this. Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon. George W. Bush and his team were increasingly vilified for the disastrous Iraq war, but were then gradually accepted back into society, even with open arms. There was no Pecora Commissions or any prosecutions for bankers involved in the epic crash of 2008. One way this amnesia/forgiveness can occur is when political and public attention have moved on. The pandemic might have that effect, or an associated economic wreck.
E) The GOP redesigns itself If Trump exits under a bad cloud, the Republican party could conduct a deep round of self-examination. There is precedent as they did an “autopsy” after their 2012 loss. This introspection could play out in various ways. The Grand Old Party could fragment into splinter parties. One faction could seize control a la the Tea Party. Or a big tent coalition could re-assemble.
F) A higher level of extreme right-wing unrest, including violence. We can imagine lone shooters, organized groups, and active militias threatening public figures because we’ve already seen that. A Trump exit on grounds that aren’t triumphant could spark a backlash. What happens to the Q-Anon movement when they experience their own great disappointment? How many well-armed white nationalists will decide to upgrade their cosplay into trying to start a civil war?
G) Nothing but another decade of partisan divide If Trump gets hauled out in shame the GOP could nonetheless remain strong enough to block most anti-Trump measures, especially in the states and Congress. They will also have a bevy of officials appointed by Trump to fall back on. Enough popular support could adhere to the Republicans that no punitive measures, or even truth and reconciliation, manage to gain traction. If there is a Democratic White House we could experience another tightly partisan timeline like that of the Obama administration.
H) Other. How else could this unfold?
Which of these seem most likely to you? And what else do your foresee?
You can vote for two or more choices if you see multiple options unfolding. And please use the comment box to expand on your thoughts.
(thanks to Leeman Kessler, Rob Henderson, Nancy Margaret Saleeby, Tim Pendry, George Station, and many friends for input here)