Let’s look at the ways the worst intentions of Donald Trump and the Republican Party might be thwarted in the next four years. Not to lull ourselves into inaction, but to figure out where they can be stopped most easily and prioritize resistance. I’m not trying to minimize the dangers, just focusing elsewhere. Looking at these speedbumps can also encourage us to focus and move forward, as we recover from the shock of the election. This is only a selection of the difficulties to be faced in ripping up the domestic and foreign arrangements that have worked reasonably well over the last half-century or so.
A majority of voters chose Hillary Clinton, so Trump is a minority president. Trump’s polling now suggests that when he takes the oath of office, he will be the most unpopular president ever. It appears that some Trump voters are regretting their choice. All of this seems to bother Trump, who has several times tweeted the lie that he won in a landslide. It’s hard to gauge the effects of Trump’s emotional state, or even what that state is. But this factor seems to have some undercutting effect.
The people Trump is choosing for his cabinet are not experienced in government. They will have to lead large bureaucracies that have interests in keeping things the way they are and providing reliable information for governing. Michael Flynn, as national security advisor, will be expected to provide information on national security issues. He has pushed conspiracy theories and seems single-minded on a number of issues. If he is not an honest broker, there will be fighting, particularly between him and the Secretaries of State and Defense. His deputy-designate, K.T. McFarland, seems a particularly weak choice.
There may be splits within the Trump cabinet. Tillerson supports the Paris agreement on slowing down climate change. Trump has called it a Chinese plot, and others in the cabinet agree with him. Flynn and Mattis have very different ideas and approaches.
Pushback within the departments is already beginning. The Trump transition team sent a list of 74 questions to the Department of Energy, among them a request for the names of employees and contractors who had attended meetings and worked on climate change. A DOE spokesperson expressed support for the national laboratories, which are where most of those people are, and said “We will be forthcoming with all publically-available information with the transition team. We will not be providing any individual names to the transition team.” The email included the emphasis. Democratic senators supported this DOE action. Scientists are also archiving data and models on climate change outside the US.
Rules to protect breathable air and the climate constitute a thicket of laws and regulations. Untangling them will take time, and the bureaucrats who do that may not be motivated to move quickly. Market forces may also interfere.
Trump has also claimed he would renegotiate the Iran nuclear agreement. Richard Nephew, one of the negotiators, explains the difficulties there.
The Russia connection is a divisive issue, both within the Republican Party and with Democrats in Congress. The Republican Party has historically been hostile to Russia, but many seem to be bending to Trump’s desire for better relations at any price. Given the current concerns about Russian hacking, endorsement of Rex Tillerson by a Russian spokesperson and his other Russian connections seem likely to make his confirmation more difficult. Tillerson’s likely deputy, John Bolton, is also disliked within the Republican Party. The questions about Russian hacking of the election are likely to be divisive within the general public and will certainly be divisive within Congress and the cabinet.
Trump has already begun a skirmish with the intelligence community by refusing to take their briefings (“I’m a very smart person”) and repeatedly questioning the validity of their findings. I want to write more about this in a separate post.
The Republican Party in Congress may not be a complete pushover for Trump. They have their own destructive ideas, like repealing the ACA, and are not in step with Trump on a number of issues. There are a number of reasons that repealing the ACA will be very difficult. (Although the conclusion in that link is that Congress will repeal the ACA and not replace it.) Libertarians, another branch of the Republican Party, are becoming disillusioned with Trump as he retrenches on some of the issues important to them. They are also split over the Russian hack. Former congressional staffers have prepared a guide for citizens to make Congress listen.
States and localities can resist. Bills introduced in the California state legislature are designed to prevent mass deportation. California Governor Jerry Brown is highly critical of the Trump administration and has said that California will fight attempts to roll back progress on the environment, including launching its “own damn satellite” to track global warming. Santa Fe mayor Javier Gonzales has stated that Santa Fe will remain a sanctuary city, as other mayors have for their cities.
In the private sector, a group of engineers in Silicon Valley has pledged never to help in building a Muslim registry.
The press seems to be getting less distractible. Reactions to Trump tweets seem to be shorter. The New York Times has launched a gateway for leaks, which are likely to become more frequent from the government as employees in the departments see actions they regard as dangerous.
Pushback is having some results. The Department of Energy pushback resulted in the transition team’s repudiation of the request for a list of names. Reporting of a charity auction of time with Ivanka Trump has resulted in withdrawal of that item.
There will be more.