What happens to the Trump administration when Trump leaves office? A crowdsourced query.

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)

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14 Responses to What happens to the Trump administration when Trump leaves office? A crowdsourced query.

  1. Mike says:

    Here’s another possibility: We start seeing more dramatic climate change impacts and are forced to respond. It’s been over 100°F in Siberia recently. I dread a Trump response to climate change similar to the COVID-19 response.

    While I don’t think a Biden presidency will be a vanguard of progressivism, I think the next Democratic term will be, and he will lay the track.

    • Bryan Alexander says:

      Do you think we’ll see climate change impacts over the next four years – and that we’ll perceive them as such?

  2. Ed Webb says:

    A truth & reconciliation commission would be healthy and productive, but I don’t see US political culture as ready for it.
    Amnesia is certainly possible, but the depth and breadth of trauma inflicted by compounding disasters—health, economy, politics, media—is possibly just too much for that this time.
    A political reform movement is growing, I’d say, from disparate starting points in time and substance, but I’m not sure it will be the dominant story.
    I think it’s always safe in US politics to bet on violence and litigiousness.

    • Bryan Alexander says:

      Definitely agreed on the last point. So A+F as a baseline?

    • The last bit reminds me of H.L. Mencken’s comment that, “No one in this world, so far as I know — and I have searched the records for years, and employed agents to help me — has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby.”

  3. Peter Hess says:

    I expect the strongest force in American politics to continue to be intense partisanship, so a big helping of status quo. The Republican’s base will not shift further right, because it has already made that shift, or left. If Trump looses badly, Republicans may give lip-service to eschewing some of his more crazy notions – but they will not adopt any real changes in position. The Democrat’s base I expect will shift a little leftward (that too may already have happened, though more recently), hence deepening the partisan divide. My “Other” selection represents a hopeful expectation that there will be positive shifts in attitudes about providing support to the aspirations of African-Americans and first and second generation immigrants, something like what we’ve seen in the past with regard to gays and women. In 10 years there will still be a long way to go though.

  4. Either way I foresee economic malaise. For one, fiscally Trump is to the left of typical Republican positions of the last few decades. Yes, there was a cut in some people’s personal income tax, and there was a long overdue adjustment to corporate income tax, but other taxes, like tariffs, rose without popular outcry, and spending has gone through the roof.

    Not to be outdone, the Democrats as a whole are starting to lose the centrist approach for which Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were known. Biden may be an old centrist, but he’ll face pressure from the left like no Democratic president has seen in a long, long time. For example, consider that he appointed AOC as co-chair of the committee to develop his tax plan.

    With no remaining major party calling for fiscal restraint, and no one in Washington concerned with the dangers of unbridled deficit spending, I fear that things do not bode well economically long term.

  5. Glen McGhee says:

    Bryan, All of your scenarios assume normalcy is quickly returning. Think again.
    You are encouraging speculation: it’s misdirection, a legerdemain, a distraction from reality.

    • Bryan Alexander says:

      How do they assume normalcy (and do check out the invention of that word)?
      All of those choices can occur in the midst of all kinds of stresses and chaos, from the pandemic expanding to Trump resisting leaving office.

  6. Ruben Nelson says:

    I want to tweak two of your choices:
    1. Amnesia/forgiveness tweaked to denial/cowardliness/silence. The psychological dynamic of the latter is quite different. It is but a short step to neurosis, which is but a short step to…

    2. Right-wing violence tweaked to societal violence and fragmentation. Again the dynamic is different when a fragmentation and unruliness are more generalised and manifest in most sub-sectors and sub-cultures.

    • Bryan Alexander says:

      Ruben, that tweak for denial/cowardliness/silence is really good. That’s worth setting up as a different choice.

      Right-wing violence tweaked to societal violence and fragmentation – what do you have in mind, militias that aim for state power, say?

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