Protests and riots in the United States are becoming more frequent. Many are feeling economic pain and disenfranchisement. Families and friends of undocumented citizens are being torn apart because of deportation. Black Lives Matter aims to address police brutality and structural racism in the criminal justice system. Roe v. Wade (1973) is being chipped away in many states, and the decision could possibly be revisited and reversed with a Trump Supreme Court nomination. Hate crimes against Muslim citizens are reportedly increasing and there are astounding mentions in the mainstream media of proposals for a Muslim registry and travel ban. LGBT citizens worry whether the social progress made under the Obama administration will be undone or severely damaged during a Trump presidency. The political climate is stranger than it has ever been during my lifetime.
Many protest out of fear. Many protest the election of Donald Trump. And many protest simply because they believe the system has failed. None of these reasons are without merit to some degree or other. However, I fear these protests and riots will become more frequent and more destructive if President-elect Trump decides to act on much of his grandiose campaign promises.
First, President-elect Trump declared himself the “law and order” candidate during the campaign, and now he’s tapped criminal justice hardliner Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) for Attorney General, a proponent of mandatory minimum sentencing and one who has proposed prosecuting “sanctuary cities”. Sessions was nominated in 1986 to be a federal judge, however his nomination was rejected by the Senate after testimony revealed a history of racist commentary made by the Senator. His nomination to the post of Attorney General, if confirmed, could set criminal justice reform back decades and would be an affront to many Black and Latino Americans.
Secondly, Republicans have been trying to dismantle the Affordable Care Act since its inception, which right now ensures some 22 million people have healthcare. If Republicans repeal or effectively gut the ACA without providing a viable replacement, it won’t be just bad governance, it will literally be a decision of lethal consequence for Americans.
There’s always Medicare and Medicaid to help mitigate the damage, but these two things are on the chopping block, too, as well as social security. There’s been a strong incentive ever since George W. Bush to privatize these services. What does that mean, exactly? Well, there are various ideas floating around as to how it should be done, but the gist of it is the government taking social security dollars and putting it into individual accounts managed by many of the same firms responsible for the 2008 financial collapse.
What’s most alarming, however, is this new wave of nationalism and protectionism that’s taking place not just in the United States, but also across Europe. This is arguably the strongest reason Trump won the election. “America First” is catchy campaign talk, but economic protectionism has proven time and again to be gravely destructive. The cost of goods and services will increase, companies will go out of business or leave the US and jobs will be lost. As always, it will be small businesses and working class Americans that suffer most.
Trump, for example, seems inclined to start trade wars, particularly with China. He’s accused China of currency manipulation and cheating the United States in trade. He vows to fight back by labeling China a “currency manipulator” and proposes imposing a whopping 45% tariff on all Chinese imports. Unfortunately, it will be American consumers that immediately feel these devastating effects. Tariffs end up being a de facto tax on consumers. To tax Chinese imports at 45% means to make life a lot more difficult for hardworking Americans just trying to get by, and to show for it there will be very few jobs returning to the US.
On that note, we need to come to terms with technology and globalization. Both are inevitable, and both, contrary to popular belief right now, are beneficial to us all. Innovation changes the economy, and by extension the labor market. Governments propping up obsolete jobs harms everyone and stifles innovation. What should be undertaken is a serious technocratic effort to train America’s workforce of the future, and these services should come at little to no expense to the displaced. They deserve a dignified place in our world, too.
Some of the damage a Trump presidency could cause can be offset, though, if he and others are serious about revamping our infrastructure. A massive effort to modernize US infrastructure would create several jobs and pump a lot of cash into the economy, but whether this would have a net benefit depends on the details. It’s unclear how Trump would accomplish this without bankrupting the country given the massive tax cuts he’s been promising. He’s also promised to build a huge wall spanning the entire US-Mexico border and to refit the US military, as if it needs it.
Lately, the word “revolution” has been thrown around a lot in our political discourse, both on the left and the right, and here in the United States and abroad. Many view Brexit and the election of Donald Trump as the embodiment of such a movement, but I’m skeptical. I’m of the opinion that we’re seeing only the beginning of the conditions that could give rise to real revolution down the road. If a President Donald Trump has his way, I’d wager the riots that have been taking place will look like child’s play compared to what’s to come. People could get hurt, and when it’s all said and done, we may not like what we end up with.