We don’t know for sure what’s coming. But I’m afraid we can be fairly confident that a lot of it won’t be good. Here are a few thoughts on what seems likely.
Life is going to get noticeably worse for a lot of good people. This hurts to say, but I don’t see any way around it. Most obviously, President Obama’s executive orders on immigration making it easier for “Dreamers” and some others to stay in the country (on hold anyway due to a Texas court decision) will probably be gone on day 1. And we can surely expect other immigration-related matters, such as the admission of refugees from places like Syria, to get worse quickly as well.
Important parts of the Obama legacy will be undone. I don’t see a way around this one either. Most obviously, much of Obamacare will be repealed. The filibuster (if it even survives, which it may not) won’t save it, because the Senate can and surely will use budget reconciliation to avoid the need for 60 votes even under current rules. Repealing Obamacare has been a central part of both Republican orthodoxy and the Trump campaign. I can’t see any reason why it wouldn’t happen.
Beyond Obamacare, we can and should expect that Obama’s actions designed to counter climate change will end. The Clean Power Plan, on hold anyway by Justice Scalia’s last action on the Supreme Court, is done. American participation in international climate-related agreements is probably done as well, or will be drastically altered. American energy policy will shift dramatically to favor oil, natural gas, and coal. And, more broadly, the future of Social Security and Medicare are in question, though Trump has actually said that he doesn’t want to undo those programs, so that’s conceivably an area where he’s not in accord with Republican orthodoxy.
The dream of a liberal Supreme Court is dead for decades. Mitch McConnell’s obstructionist strategy on Merrick Garland’s nomination has paid off beyond his wildest dreams. Replacing Scalia with a Trump nominee won’t actually change the Court’s center of gravity much, but Scalia’s seat of course isn’t the end of it. We can expect that Justices Ginsburg and Breyer will hold on as long as their health allows, but there’s no knowing how long that will be. And Justice Kennedy, who is over 80, is probably no Trump fan, but he is a Republican and a Reagan appointee, and his sense of institutional propriety might persuade him to retire during a Republican administration, however much he may dislike the president. Kennedy’s replacement by a Trump nominee would shift the Court dramatically to the right – it was Kennedy’s vote, after all, that gave us the recent decisions upholding same-sex marriage and affirmative action in higher education (among others). No Trump nominee will see those issues the same as he does. And don’t expect the filibuster to save us. If I were Mitch McConnell, I would eliminate it for Supreme Court nominations (and perhaps completely) on day 1 of the new session. He knows that, given his Garland gambit, he will never get 60 votes for a Trump nominee, so he will eliminate the need for it.
And if Kennedy’s or one of the liberals’ seat goes to a Trump nominee, we could see a lot of very ugly change very quickly. Remember, for instance, that many states still have same-sex marriage bans on the books; they just can’t be enforced because of a Supreme Court decision. If that decision is overturned, the bans come back.
International relations are a giant, scary question mark. The world is watching, and they are bewildered and scared. Who can blame them? So are a lot of us. Newt Gingrich or John Bolton as Secretary of State? Holy crap – and I even saw a story suggesting that defeated Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio was a potential candidate for Secretary of Homeland Security. Undoing the Iran deal? The Mexico/wall thing? His secret plan to rapidly defeat the Islamic State? His weird fascination with Vladimir Putin? I honestly have no clue how any of this is going to go. But an unpredictable, destabilizing force like Trump in an already dangerously unstable world seems like a really bad thing.
Trumpism is becoming normalized. This one isn’t policy, it’s who we are as a country. Throughout the campaign, we’ve all seen Americans saying and doing things in public that are shocking, and that seemed hard to imagine only a couple of years ago. And early post-election indications aren’t great – here, for instance, is a short video of middle-school students in Michigan chanting “build the wall, build the wall.” Trump’s overt appeals to racist, misogynistic, and xenophobic elements in American society have had an impact and probably will continue to do so, and it’s on all of us to combat that in every way we can.
Are there silver linings? To be honest, it’s not easy to see them right now. There will no doubt be a good deal of intra-party soul-searching among Democrats, as there should be. The Elizabeth Warren wing of the party may find itself ascendant; that would be a constructive development, but it remains to be seen whether it will happen and how much impact it will have. In the short term, though, the levers of power are all controlled by Republicans. And it will not be pretty.