|OUR IDIOT PRESIDENT||
WHAT FOUR MORE YEARS MIGHT BRING
11 MONTHS FROM TODAY
With interviews by Brian Feldman, Ben Jacobs, Sarah Jones, Anna Silman, and Matt Stieb.
From Atlantic Magazine
A second term for Trump seems more possible than ever. But what would it look like?
Here is one starting point for contemplating a second Trump term: The Ukraine scandal only became a Trump scandal because Ukraine refused to submit to a pair of presidential demands that would have been fairly easy to satisfy. If Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky had merely announced that he was looking into a mysterious missing Democratic server and corruption by the Bidens, then the whole affair probably wouldn’t have become a Trump scandal at all. It would have become, to the American news-consuming public, a Biden scandal. Ukraine held off, though, for a very sensible reason. Ukrainians, analyzing American politics, calculated that Trump may not stay in office much beyond this year. It was a hedge against forever Trumpism.
Trump’s favorable rating fell faster than any other president-elect’s in the history of polling, dropping below 50 percent even before his inauguration, a fact that made him look to most civilians as well as politicians like a probable one-termer from the get-go. The assumption that his election was a terrible mistake that would be corrected in four years has been an invisible force propping up the resistance both domestic and international to his agenda. The Iran nuclear deal has primarily kept its head above water because Europe is still respecting the deal rather than joining in Trump’s saber-rattling. When Trump gutted the Obama administration’s fuel-mileage standards, auto companies steered clear, no doubt because it wouldn’t pay for them to invest in gas-guzzlers if a Democrat was to come in and force them to change again.
Only in the past few months has Trump’s reelection started to appear as likely as not. If he wins, a basic calculation about how to deal with him will tip for a whole range of players. Trump has leaned on social-media companies and the owners of such important organs as CNN and the Washington Post to suppress criticism and scrutiny of his administration and to dial up the praise. He has openly promised pardons to anybody who violates the law in the effort to deport migrants or complete his border fence, and as of yet, nobody has taken him up on the offer.
The natural assumption among those rooting for his failure is that four more years will be as unbearable as the first four. But they could in fact be significantly worse than that if a chunk of the resistance to Trump’s power suddenly gives way, revealing something enduring, even permanent, about America. Who else — in the bureaucracy, in business, in governments overseas — is holding off full collaboration with Trump on the premise that he’s just a passing fever? Here are 19 visions of this possible near future. —Jonathan Chait
If he wins again, he’ll be impeached again; I guarantee that with 100 percent certainty. Pelosi cannot stop that freight train, and it’ll be Democrats’ only outlet, since we’ll keep the Senate. And if it’s for the same nothingburger they impeached him on this time, it’ll end the same way. I just don’t think Pelosi can control her caucus.
We’ll see Trump unleashed. Frankly, some of the stuff in the week since he’s been acquitted — even Hope Hicks coming back and Johnny McEntee, his former body guy, becoming head of the Office of Presidential Personnel — show that the guardrails that keep him in the boat have come completely off. So if anyone tells you what that means, policywise, they’re guessing. Nobody knows. There are signals from the conservatives in the administration that the second term is when deficit reduction starts, but that’s complete and utter b.s. I don’t think the president has ever campaigned on deficits or cared about deficits. Look at his budgets: Conservatives at the Office of Management and Budget have cut programs only for the president to try to walk back their decision days later. There may be another run at health care — not Obamacare repeal, but another run at some sort of health-care overhaul. Like the USMCA trade deal, a mushed-up version of reforms that nobody’s excited about.
It will be interesting to see politically, if he’s not on the ballot, if he still has the hold on the party that he does now. Half of the GOP senators are queasy every morning over tweets. Do they start to distance themselves or is it still MAGA town, where you have to stick with him or you will get your ass beat in the primary? Personally, I think the president makes life harder on himself and Republicans at times, but you cannot call yourself a Republican and not be happy about the last four years. All in for four more. —Anonymous GOP Hill staffer
A Politics of Pure Revenge
The signal victory of Trump’s first term, ratified by his impeachment acquittal, was his triumph over the rule of law. In a second term, he will help himself to all the spoils he can.
Trump doesn’t believe in the old axiom “Don’t Get Mad, Get Even” — he gets mad and even. The purge of the Vindmans and Gordon Sondland, closely followed by an induced exodus at the Justice Department and the attempted intimidation of a judge on behalf of Roger Stone, will just have been a warm-up act if Election Day empowers his mob enterprise even further.
Rudy Giuliani continues to travel to Ukraine in search of smears, in lieu of actual dirt, that can soil the Bidens. But surely that is not his entire brief. What “evidence” is now being manufactured by Giuliani and passed to William Barr to wreak vengeance on former U.S. ambassador Marie Yovanovitch and other diplomats who testified before the House? Meanwhile, Steve Mnuchin’s Treasury Department, having followed up Trump’s acquittal by handing over Hunter Biden’s financial documents to a tarring-and-feathering committee of the Republican Senate, can be counted on to find pretexts to burrow into the finances of the Clintons, Mike Bloomberg, and their respective foundations, as well as the tax returns of Nancy Pelosi’s wealthy husband.
Perhaps highest on the White House enemies list is Mitt Romney, who has already been warned by a key Trump flunky, Matt Schlapp, chairman of the Conservative Political Action Conference, that he might face physical violence were he to show up at CPAC’s annual conclave. If that line of revenge fails, one can imagine Trump finding a way to go after tax breaks and other federal benefits bestowed on Romney’s beloved Mormon church, which the president mocked as his nemesis’s “crutch” after his lonely vote to convict. Mormons, however conservative and Republican, have not signed on fully to Trump, and he has been less popular in Utah than in any other solid-red state. Trump does not need them, and one of his most powerful Christian supporters, the Dallas Baptist pastor Robert Jeffress, has labeled Mormonism “a heresy from the pit of hell” besides. The president’s servile Evangelical base will delight in whatever pain he inflicts on Romney and his co-religionists.
When Trump claimed “America First” as a mantra, he called it “a brand-new, modern term,” oblivious of its historical provenance as a movement that attracted Nazis and Nazi sympathizers in America in the years before World War II. It’s a rare time when he probably was telling the truth. Such is his illiteracy that he probably hasn’t heard of the Night of the Long Knives either. But the evidence suggests that, if nothing else, he has mastered the fundamentals of Godfather 2. —Frank Rich
The Justice Department Brought to Heel
Former Attorney General Loretta Lynch often said the Department of Justice is the only Cabinet agency named for an ideal. If Trump wins a second term, it is not clear whether that ideal can hold.
Any concerns about criminal activity by Trump or his campaign in winning the 2020 election? Those will die a quiet death under Attorney General William Barr’s new policy that he must approve any investigation into presidential campaigns before it may be opened. The Office of Legal Counsel will continue to issue opinions protecting Trump, such as those that the president cannot be criminally charged or investigated and that his aides need not respond to congressional subpoenas. The late Roy Cohn will become known as Joseph McCarthy’s William Barr.
On the civil side, DOJ could be used as a sword in the name of religious liberty by filing lawsuits challenging reproductive and LGBTQ rights. Barr could starve for resources the divisions of DOJ that protect civil rights, voting rights, and the environment and use the Antitrust Division to promote the business interests of Trump’s political supporters while fighting mergers of companies he opposes. DOJ will fail to prioritize threats to national security by using a zero-tolerance approach to immigration enforcement, charging every undocumented grandmother they encounter instead of focusing resources on suspected terrorists.
Lawyers of integrity will continue to leave DOJ, replaced by Trump cronies who disrespect the rule of law and support authoritarian rule. Another four years of Trump, and the Department of Justice will no longer deserve its revered name. —Former U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade
A Big Tech Détente
Trump understands that what TV was to John F. Kennedy, what radio was to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Twitter is to him. These companies have done nothing but help him. And he loves the stock market, and the first trillion-dollar companies are all tech stocks. It’s going to be hard for him to punish them.
The Future, explained by Vox reporters
Trump is pursuing litigation that, if successful, would eliminate health insurance for approximately 20 million people overnight, according to an Urban Institute estimate. DYLAN SCOTT
A t the same time, he has a huge antipathy for people richer than himself and with more accomplishments than him. He will continue to go after Jeff Bezos, because it’s a personal, weird obsession he has with conflating Amazon and the Washington Post. As long as the Washington Post keeps pressing on the Trump administration, Bezos will be linked to that and he will suffer for that. There’s also the contention that the right has been misrepresented on these platforms and that they’re trying to quiet conservative voices. The question is: Will he seek to intervene in how they’re governed, even though it’s in his best interest to let them be?
And the companies will keep their heads in the sand. Don’t expect them to be brave on immigration or anything else. They’re not showing up at a rally in a MAGA hat, that’s for sure, but they certainly are not going to be doing anything to oppose him. Why should they? It’s been great for them. —Kara Swisher
The Death of Global Climate Efforts
Let’s start with a conservative estimate. Trump’s deregulatory environmental rampage completely stalls — rolling back no more protections against small-particulate pollutants or toxic carcinogens and nuking no more policies like the Clean Power Plan or parts of the Clean Water Act, but merely locking in the sadistic legacy of his first term — there will be as many as 80,000 additional American deaths over the course of the next decade. That’s roughly ten times as many as on D-Day, more than 20 times as many as on September 11, and almost 40 times the number of Japanese citizens who have died in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear meltdown. One million more Americans, The Journal of the American Medical Association reports, will suffer from respiratory illness.
Most presidents spend second terms trying to leave a lasting mark on foreign policy, and it is abroad where Trump’s environmental cruelty is likely to be felt most intensely. This is not just about the 2016 Paris accords, which technically Trump can only pull out of on November 5, the day after he’s reelected. In the meantime, he’s already fatally undermined them, along with like-minded sadists Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia and President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil — a trio of world leaders who may come to be seen much more clearly, in a second term for Trump, as a climate axis of evil. In the latest round of post-Paris climate negotiations, the three countries spiked nearly every possibility of meaningful progress. If you add to the axis Vladimir Putin and his petrostate and Xi Jinping and his have-it-both-ways approach (building renewable farms alongside new coal fleets), the loose alliance of climate inaction accounts for more than half of all global emissions. That’s a very powerful veto.
It may sound glib and vacuously patriotic to say that the world needs American leadership, but the path of the last few years suggests, on climate at least, it is also distressingly true. That’s not because action within the U.S. is so important — the country is the second-biggest emitter, but responsible for only about 15 percent of the global total. It’s because, without American support, prospects for any coordinated international program seem distressingly dim. In Trump’s first term, the U.S. has dithered and, in part as a result, the rest of the world has, too — breaking emissions records in 2017, 2018, and 2019. This is not just because of Trump — or Morrison and Bolsonaro, Putin and Xi. It’s because even many self-styled global leaders on climate (Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron) have merely paid lip service to climate action (while approving new oil pipelines and failing to pass carbon taxes, for instance). It is not just “ecofascists” peddling delay anymore, but climate hypocrites.
Trump’s proposed freeze on mandatory fuel-efficiency improvements will cost consumers about $460 billion in increased fuel costs, according to ‘Consumer Reports.’ MATTHEW YGLESIAS
These leaders don’t look or talk like Trump, but they share a concerning, nationalistic climate logic: that leaders should emphasize the material benefits to their people first, with the understanding that, at least for the time being, calculations about climate policy made by nations individually may turn them away from the path that would benefit the world as a whole. If the next years are presided over by Trump, they will likely spell the further breakdown of the international alliances on which any truly global solution to this global problem would, theoretically, depend. Which means they may also break the hope, sustained now through decades of frustration, that global cooperation must be the path forward, and initiate instead a terrifying new go-it-alone era of climate suffering and disaster. Policymakers the world over may start to deemphasize the project of reducing emissions and instead begin preparing nation-by-nation assessments of how to live with climate change and all its terrible brutality. And we may find ourselves, on the ground, asking less and less often what global actors are on the side of angels, and more often simply who is on our side. —David Wallace-Wells
Trump doesn’t need Congress in order to cut benefits. As president, he controls federal agencies. Three proposed rule changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program through the U.S. Department of Agriculture may ultimately take food stamps away from 3.7 million people. And snap isn’t the only welfare program on the line. Through the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare, the White House has already approved changes to state Medicaid programs that cost thousands of people their health care. That’s why West Virginia teacher Sam Yurick is disturbed by the prospect of Trump’s reelection. Many of Yurick’s students live in poverty and often miss school because of their living conditions. “When they do make it in, they have headaches from not eating or aren’t completely recovered,” he said. Trump boasts of his support in West Virginia, but if he gets four more years to slash welfare, Yurick’s students might get sicker. “The amount and quality of instruction will get eaten into more and more,” he said, “as we put more and more of our energies into making up for ways the world outside our classrooms has failed the kids we serve.” —Sarah Jones
When you look at the budget cuts he’s proposing for 2021, they’re going to disproportionately impact the black community and low-income people and the most vulnerable. His white-supremacy agenda is reflected in his new budget proposal, his birther attitude toward African-Americans especially. So do his cuts in foreign aid, for example, and on the development front. Those accounts specifically are there to provide development assistance to what he calls the “s—hole countries.” Those are countries where you have majority people of color. It’s almost Make America White Again in terms of his budget cuts. I worry that people of color, African-Americans, the most vulnerable, will unfortunately be forced to pay the price for his outlandish policies. —Representative Barbara Lee
No one wants to watch excruciating, serious dramas when everything seems terrible. The TV we talk about the most in 2020 already reflects a shift from the bleak prestige projects of the Obama era toward trashy, middlebrow escapism like You, The Witcher, and 90 Day Fiancé, or the middlebrow-in-prestige-drag tentpole The Morning Show on Apple TV+. Or they’re shows like Evil or Dickinson, which package niche weirdness inside fluffy-looking, silly exteriors. Even a show like Succession — with pitch-black terrifying nihilism at its center — is palatable because it’s so magnetically fun. Already, only a few hyperserious shows a year crest into mainstream awareness (When They See Us, Chernobyl). In a second term of Trump, there’ll be even less cultural bandwidth for dire self-reflection. We’ll see more social-experiment reality shows in which people do ridiculous things for love, more shows with bards and elves, and somehow even more superheroes. As the world swings toward catastrophe, TV will be doing its best to be a countervailing force, desperately swinging the pendulum back toward light, undemanding delights. —Kathryn VanArendonk
A Democratic Party in Revolt
Analyses suggest Trump could lose the popular vote by as many as 5 million, or potentially even more, and still win the Electoral College. (The Electoral College doesn’t care that you almost won Texas; it only cares that you lost Wisconsin.) Just to think about this for a second, if Trump wins the Electoral College while losing the popular vote, that would mean that, since Bush’s very contested, strange Electoral College win in 2000, fully half of presidential elections will have gone to the loser of the popular vote and the winner of the Electoral College, and, in each case, to a Republican. If this happens, if a younger, more urban, more diverse majority keeps growing but finds itself locked out of political power, there will be a backlash on the left against the legitimacy of a system that it feels, correctly, does not represent it and does not give it a fair shake. The scary thing is not just that the electoral geography is not reflecting the popular vote but that the party that is winning despite losing the popular vote realizes its only path to sustaining power is disenfranchisement. And that party begins passing more rules — from voter-ID laws to gerrymandering efforts to things like Citizens United — that build the power it fears it would lose and make it harder for the emergent popular-vote majority to express itself. —Ezra Klein
A More Vulnerable Electoral College
Recognizing that getting approval of a constitutional amendment to switch to the popular vote would be an extremely difficult and lengthy process, the National Popular Vote Initiative, begun in 2006, aims to circumvent the Electoral College by getting enough states to collectively carry the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency to agree to cast them all for the national-popular-vote winner. What once looked quixotic is beginning to seem possible and may only become more so. Fifteen states and the District of Columbia, with a total of 196 electoral votes, have already joined the initiative, and another Trump win despite a loss in the popular vote could give it the momentum to get over the hump.
“Every year,” says National Popular Vote chair John Koza, “we add a state or two, and that’s what we plan to keep doing from now until it becomes law.” If not 2021, then 2023, after a likely strong second-midterm backlash against a Trump presidency, could be the year: All it would take is for Texas, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Minnesota to sign on. —Ed Kilgore
Trump seems poised to allow the last of the deals limiting U.S. and Russian arsenals, the New start Treaty, to expire in 2021. Meanwhile, his defense team is eager to build several types of new nuclear weapons on top of the estimated 6,185 we already have (second only to Russia’s total). The just unveiled federal budget would bring spending for maintaining and developing nuclear warheads 50 percent above its level when Trump took office. Trump has spoken eagerly about resuming nuclear testing, which the U.S. has not done since George H.W. Bush, though we are still contending with the health and environmental consequences. That might well open a rush of other nations following suit.
The Interior Department has finalized plans to shrink Bears Ears, a protected area of 1.3 million acres in Utah, by 85 percent. LAUREN KATZ
North Korea, meanwhile, is very likely to achieve a missile that can reliably deliver a nuclear warhead to the East Coast during a second Trump term — even as it grows its arsenal. It increasingly looks as if a second Trump term would also see Iran restart its program full speed. Those two events, plus Trump’s threats to withdraw U.S. nuclear deterrence from our allies, has voices in Germany, Japan, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey — among others — saying their countries should get their own weapons. Those who believe a world with more nuclear powers is more stable would get a chance to see their theory play out. So would the rest of us. —Heather Hurlburt
In the past four years, I saw people in my clinical practice experiencing a level of anxiety specific to the political climate that we really hadn’t seen before. It’s why I started writing about “Trump anxiety disorder.” The American Psychological Association does a “Stress in America” survey, and the 2019 one had 62 percent of American adults citing the current political climate as a source of stress, which has gone up since Trump took office. It’s not unlike a child living in a home that’s chaotic; we don’t have faith in the leaders we have historically put trust in, and that’s creating a lot of trauma. If Trump does get reelected, we’ll see a spike in this feeling of fear like we haven’t seen before. People will have to come to terms with the prospect of another four years of trying to keep up the fight. We can feel anxious for only so long, because anxiety is exhausting, and eventually that fatigue could transform into depression and leave us feeling really helpless. All of that could lead to more civil unrest or unhealthy behaviors such as drinking and emotional eating — people trying to deal with the stress in any way they can. —Dr. Jennifer Panning
Expect more fumbling studio attempts to reach a red-state demographic. The trouble is that no one on either side of the political spectrum seems able to agree on what a conservative movie looks like. Consider the box-office failure of Richard Jewell, which looked from afar like a surefire appeal to the resentful quadrant: a movie in which cackling media hordes descend upon and destroy the life of an innocent white man, made by a seeming stalwart like Clint Eastwood. It has proved easier to stir up right-wing outrage against a release, as demonstrated by the baffling furor that bumped the thriller The Hunt, sneering liberal villains and all, from the schedule last year. Look for studios to steer into tried-and-true territory, investing more in faith-based films like Breakthrough (the reason Chrissy Metz sang that song at the Oscars) and rah-rah war movies (because who could get mad at 1917?). But also be ready for more ex–Trump staffers to be anointed with normalization by way of reality-competition shows, along with the second coming of Mel Gibson, who has basically been welcomed back into the fold with his already-in-the-works follow-up to The Passion of the Christ. —Alison Willmore
Escalating Trade Wars
Trump will get more out of the box on economic policy, and 2021 will be his big chance to take the fight to China. This year’s “Phase One” trade agreement was a pause in hostilities to avoid preelection economic damage, but after he has won, he’ll be free to impose more tariffs and further impede global trade without fear of immediate electoral consequences from the economic drag those actions will cause.
If Trump cranks up the trade war, he will need more help from the Federal Reserve, cutting interest rates to offset the economic damage it causes. So you can expect Trump to replace Fed chairman Jay Powell — whom he has called naïve and a “bonehead” who is “like a golfer who can’t putt” and whom he “maybe” regrets appointing to the job in the first place — with a more loyal leader who is more likely to cut interest rates when Trump wants them cut.
In Trump’s second term, maybe a financial crisis or an energy crisis or a geopolitical crisis will drag down the U.S. economy. Or maybe fundamentals will shift so that his favorite economic tools don’t work anymore — maybe big deficits will slow the economy or low interest rates will push up inflation. But if I had to guess, I’d say economic performance in Trump’s second term would probably be similar to the first. The pattern since Trump’s election is his pursuit of output-boosting policy in two key areas: fiscal (cutting taxes while growing spending) and monetary (pushing for lower interest rates). Expansionary policy in these areas can cover up a lot of sins, such as an expanded trade war. —Josh Barro
And Escalating Self-Dealings
A month after Trump’s inauguration, his sons Don Jr. and Eric laid out an ambitious plan for the future of their father’s real-estate and branding empire. In a front-page article in the New York Times, accompanied by a photo of the two posed authoritatively at a shiny boardroom table, they touted developments under way in Vancouver and Dubai and a new domestic hotel chain called Scion, which Eric said would be focused on “trendy” cities like Austin.
The Scion chain never went anywhere after its first reported location attracted resistance-led street protests. A second expansion plan, for a heartland-based budget chain called American Idea, also imploded, and the Trumps’ partner in the project was charged last year with stealing luggage from an airport baggage turnstile. Many of the family’s overseas partners have been revealed to have unsavory pasts, and Trump’s own behavior as president has turned his brand toxic.
More than 210,000 former students at for-profit colleges have asked the Education Department to cancel their loans because they were defrauded. Betsy DeVos’s department has said most of those students will still have to repay. LIBBY NELSON
B ut Trump’s reelection could serve as an adrenaline shot to his moribund company. “I think Trump unleashed in a second term,” says Andrea Bernstein, author of a book about the Trump family business, American Oligarchs, “means he continues to find ways to get people to pay him, and that becomes turbocharged.” Bernstein points out that, so far, the financial bright spot in the Trump Organization’s portfolio has been the place that most baldly trades in influence: the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. (With an uncertain election on the horizon, the company is reportedly trying to cash in by selling the hotel for as much as $500 million.) Trump has also sought to capitalize by selling access to his private club in Mar-a-Lago — which doubled the joining fee to $200,000 after he was elected — and only fierce criticism from key Republicans kept him from staging the next G7 summit at his ailing golf resort in Doral, Florida. Look for that brand of audacity to be deployed more creatively after 2020.
The most obvious direction for the Trump Organization to expand would be overseas. In a raucous press conference before he was inaugurated, Trump promised he would do “no new foreign deals,” but the pledge was purely voluntary. For now, it may be that the Trump family has discovered a more lucrative line of business. Hundreds of millions of dollars in donations flow through political campaigns, creating an immense opportunity for consultants and fund-raisers — not to mention hoteliers and caterers. “The business of Trump in the next year is the business of getting Trump reelected,” Bernstein says. “It is an incredible money machine.” —Andrew Rice
A Generation of Judges
In just three years, Trump has already filled 51 vacancies on U.S. Courts of Appeals, the “circuits” that provide much of the guidance federal trial judges utilize. His appointees now represent more than one-fourth of appeals-court judges, and he has succeeded in “flipping” three of the 13 circuits from Democratic-appointed majorities to Republican-appointed majorities. This administration has installed 135 district-court judges and is on pace to significantly exceed Obama’s 268 in much less time — if Trump is reelected and Republicans hold on to the Senate (which they are likely to do in most “Trump wins” scenarios).
Trump’s judicial counterrevolution could happen most decisively in the Supreme Court. He quickly exploited two openings on SCOTUS, and, in a second Trump term, the odds of court liberals Ruth Bader Ginsburg (who will turn 87 this year and was recently treated for pancreatic cancer) and Stephen Breyer (who will be 82 this summer) hanging on until the next Democratic administration will go down significantly. One more flip of a liberal seat on the Court could produce a landmark conservative era in constitutional law, almost certainly including the reversal or significant modification of Roe v. Wade and other key precedents, not to mention a decisive new era of sympathy for corporations, reactionary state governments, nativists, vote suppressors, and foes of civil liberties. Names reportedly on Trump’s short list include Kavanaugh runner-up and Seventh Circuit judge Amy Coney Barrett, a favorite of hard-core cultural conservatives; Sixth Circuit judge Joan Larsen, who is viewed as hostile to LGBTQ rights; another Sixth Circuit judge, Amul Thapar, a Kentuckian who is close to Mitch McConnell; and Tenth Circuit judge Allison Eid, a former Clarence Thomas clerk. The relatively diverse nature of this group reflects the feeling that three white men in a row might be a bit much. —Ed Kilgore
A Crisis of Faith
“The fact is, no President has ever done what I have done for Evangelicals, or religion itself!,” Donald Trump tweeted last year. A dubious claim, but it could come true — just not in the way he thinks. His alliance with white born-again Christians helped make him president. It may also help end American Evangelicalism as we know it.
Trump is unpopular with America’s youngest adults in a moment when Evangelical Christianity is desperate for young members. Last May, Christianity Today — the same publication whose editor called for Trump’s impeachment and inspired that defensive presidential tweet — reported that merely half of all children raised Southern Baptist stay Southern Baptist as adults. The politically conservative, mostly white denomination isn’t winning enough souls to make up its losses, either. Overall membership in the Southern Baptist Convention hit a 30-year low in 2018.
Southern Baptists aren’t the only Protestants with shrinking churches; liberal traditions are losing young members too. But the values held by young adults are at odds with those behind the political goals of white Evangelicalism. According to one Associated Press poll, young adults are more likely than members of any other age group to say they disapprove of Trump. For white Evangelicals, Trump may prove a Moloch, an idol who devours the young in exchange for his favors. —Sarah Jones
The Wall, Abandoned
By the time he exits the office, the president has said he wants a 1,000-mile structure along the border, an ambitious goal considering that U.S. Customs and Border Protection has only completed 100 miles in the past three years — around 90 miles of which serve as replacement for run-down barriers already in the ground. Though Trump has permanently altered legal immigration to the U.S. through his travel ban and nativist policies like restricting immigrant access to safety-net programs, a finished wall along the 1,954-mile southern border will not be an enduring piece of the administration’s legacy for a simple reason: It will not get done. According to construction-cost estimator Ed Zarenski, it’s just unfeasible to build such a substantial structure in such harsh, remote territory. At his low-end estimate of $22 billion, it would take 10,000 workers 11 years to build 1,000 miles of steel-slat barrier. “But you might not be able to get concrete trucks to deliver to such faraway sites,” he explains, “meaning the contractors would have to build plants along the way. That is unlikely to happen.” Another practical concern: “Where do these men stay overnight? That cost isn’t built into any estimates, and there aren’t hotels along this 1,000-mile corridor for people to stay in.” These infrastructural problems don’t address the apparent quality of the barrier. Despite Trump’s claim that “this wall is not something that can be really knocked down,” in January a strong gust of wind toppled newly settled panels in Southern California. “I can’t believe that an engineer designed what photos show them using for foundations on that wall,” Zarenski says. “They’ve taken a lot of liberties in how things are getting built to get it done as cheaply as they can.” The current taxpayer cost for the wall sits at $18.4 billion. —Matt Stieb
Don Jr. 2024
If social media seems particularly vitriolic, deceptive, and stupid in 2020, wait until 2024. The top executives at platforms like Facebook and Twitter have already demonstrated a willingness to bend backward to satisfy baseless Republican accusations of suppression; just as the news media found itself bullied into false equivalencies by charges of bias at the end of the 20th century, social media will feel obligated to give conservatives more leeway in what they post. One particular beneficiary of this will be Donald Trump Jr., who already has an Instagram account with 2.4 million followers and a Twitter account with 4.4 million followers — both larger than any current Democratic presidential candidate besides Bernie Sanders — to which he posts unbelievably popular jokes, memes, and complaints. Newly empowered by his father’s victory in 2020, Don Jr.’s online presence will only get louder.
The sage grouse has evolved to survive for tens of millions of years in some of the most brutal climates. Researchers estimate there are only about 500,000 of the birds left owing to habitat loss—a dwindling population that could be severely at risk because of the Trump administration’s decision not to honor a conservation plan set in place by Barack Obama in 2015. LAUREN KATZ
But Don Jr. isn’t just shitposting on Instagram. He’s building a political base for himself. President Trump will not run for a third term in 2024, less for any particular legal reasons (by then, his party would have an inescapable Supreme Court majority), than because he’ll be turning 78 and will be exhausted from another four years of security briefings and Cabinet meetings that take him away from his true vocation: watching and tweeting about cable news programs. What reason would he have to continue in a job he hates, especially if he could garner nearly all the benefits of the presidency — the graft, the platform, the attention — by handing the job off to someone tied closely to him? Like, say, his son?
Don Jr., among his father’s most energetic and devoted surrogates, is already highly popular in the Republican Party. He has openly speculated about running for governor of New York, but more recently he’s said to be considering a run in a more Trump-friendly state in the Mountain West. (Some allies have reportedly pushed Don Jr. for chairmanship of the RNC.) An Axios–Survey Monkey poll from December found that 29 percent of Republicans already would consider voting for Donald Trump Jr. in the 2024 election. That’s nearly double the support for his more polished sister, Ivanka, and behind only Vice-President Pence. Assuming enough of Trumpism’s senior-citizen base is still alive, Don Jr. could sail to the presidency or at least face off in a fiery run against Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Trump Senior, meanwhile, could keep tweeting about politics to his heart’s content. —Max Read