It’s been four weeks since the stunning election of Donald Trump as the next president of the US. Every day since then, I’ve woken up feeling, to quote Kevin de León and Anthony Rendon, like a stranger in a foreign land. The result is only not depressing in the moments that it’s terrifying.
I’ve been trying to think of something to say (though that doesn’t explain the silence on the blog, I just haven’t had time). There are some transportation & housing posts in the works, but it just doesn’t seem right to carry on as if nothing is different. Sometimes you have plans, but sometimes larger events intervene. If you were an aqueduct engineer in 410 AD, you’d probably want to pay attention to Rome being sacked, even though it’s not your department.
The outcome of the election was swung by a ridiculously small number of votes – not even half the population of Glendale. No matter what anyone says, they didn’t predict this. It is simply unprecedented for someone to lose the popular vote by such a wide margin (2%, likely over 2 million votes) and yet win the electoral college, excluding the 1876 election which was wracked by fraud, voter intimidation, and political dealing. Because the margin of victory was so small, many seemingly minor things could have affected the outcome, and many people can plausibly claim that their pet issue made the difference. Everything mattered.
Now, on that slim margin of victory, despite Democrats getting far more votes for president, we are set to lurch into the unknown. The obvious short-term problem is a budding kleptocracy; Trump has already been using the presidency to further his business interests. In the long term, it’s hard to know what to expect, though there’s little reason to expect anything good.
Trump’s unexpected win has temporarily suppressed ideological disagreements that had riven the Republican Party throughout the primary and general election. On some issues, like reproductive rights and climate change, Trump and traditional Republicans are in agreement and the only question is how much damage they’ll manage to do. But for others, Trump’s ability to implement his proposals may be restricted. Will Republicans who favored positive immigration reform go along with Trump’s cruel and demented deportation and wall proposals? Will influential lobbying groups like the US Chamber of Commerce and American Enterprise Institute sit idle if Trump tries to impose tariffs or restrict trade? How much of Paul Ryan’s agenda to slash the safety net will be implemented? How much of Obamacare will be repealed, and what, if anything, will replace it?
Trump is a master of deflection and has manipulated the media to great success so far. However, once he takes office, success through propaganda will become much more difficult. Trump made many outlandish promises, and the people who voted for him chose to selectively believe the ones they like and disregard the others. Thus there are Trump voters who want to build the wall, and others who think that was just bluster. There are Trump voters who hope he won’t touch some Obamacare provisions or Medicaid. There are Trump voters who think coal and manufacturing jobs will come back, and there are Trump voters who thought he would buck Wall Street.
How will Trump voters react if no action is taken on immigration? If Obamacare and Medicaid are cut? When the coal industry remains moribund? When Hillary isn’t put in jail? When he deregulates Wall Street and enables predatory financial products?
I’m not sure if Trump actually cares about any of these things, or anything beyond self-promotion. But there are a lot of people who voted for him who do, and Trump has spent the last 18 months whipping them into a fury. If they feel betrayed by Trump, their rage will only grow, paving the way for someone even worse to seize power, the way the Tea Party grew on the supposed betrayal of Bush-era Republicans. Trump seems perfectly content to let the wave of racism and hate he’s called forth roll on, but could he stop it if he wanted to?
In light of all that, it seems a little macabre to focus only on what Trump’s presidency will mean for transportation. The selection of Elaine Chao as secretary of transportation is at least not perplexing or worrying, since it means the post will be held by someone who (a) knows what it is and (b) isn’t dedicated to destroying the agencies under its control. Most likely this means a return to Bush administration policies favoring rural freeways, and reduced federal money for transit. There are probably enough Republicans who want to bring home the bacon to ensure some money for transit, but Trump’s legendary vindictiveness may be bad news for blue state cities that try to fight his terrible policies on other fronts. But again, transportation just seems so inconsequential at the moment.
I’m not quite sure where to go with things from there, but perhaps it can be worked out over the coming months. In the meantime, there are some good transportation & housing posts on the way, and it will feel nice to write about something I can comprehend.