Let me get this out of the way: I didn't vote for Trump. I have serious, serious doubts about whether or not he'll be even minimally competent as president. I think he's erratic and thin-skinned, and there's not a whole lot of evidence that he has much of a grasp of numerous important issues. Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate, took a lot of heat for not knowing what Aleppo was. But Trump bungled a lot more of these questions and it didn't dent him. He managed to substitute swagger for wisdom and knowledge, a strategy that served him well campaigning, but a frightening way to actually lead a nation. Will he be the worst president ever? How about the worst in our lifetime? I don't feel like that's a safe prediction. George Bush set a pretty high standard for bad presidencies by invading a nation on a premise that later proved to be utterly mistaken. Then he got to close out his presidency with a housing meltdown, a stock market crash, and a big bank bailout that completely shattered any claims that Republicans championed small government and opposed interfering in markets. I'm holding onto a fragile hope that Trump might do nothing over the next four years except get into twitter wars with b-list celebrities and travel around the country holding rallies. I would count him as a semi-successful president if he gets to the end of his term and hasn't mistakenly invaded a sovereign nation and/or wiped out all the value of my 401k.
I told a friend right before the election that I'd be horrified if Hillary won and terrified if Trump won. But, now that he is officially president elect, I do think there are a few upsides to point out.
Upside #1: He's perfectly illustrating my central argument for being a libertarian. My libertarianism boils down to one principal: Don't grant your friends political powers that you wouldn't trust in the hands of your worst enemies. There are people who believe an a sort of soft authoritarianism, where the running of the country is taken out of the hands of elected officials and entrusted to specialized bureaucrats in a agencies like the EPA, the Department of Labor, HHS, HUD, etc. If you're a Democrat, and there's a Democrat at the helm of these departments, you probably feel pretty good when these departments issue rules and regulations that have the weight of law without ever being voted on by congress. Now, these same departments are going to be run by people with a mission of using these same powers to move the country in a direction that will horrify you. Will you be wise enough to see that it's not enough to simply win the next election? The politics in our country is a pendulum. There are no permanent majorities. If you don't want your enemies to have terrifying power, don't give terrifying power to your friends.
Upside #2: The pendulum. Republicans at the moment are in a pretty strong position, controlling both houses of congress and a firm majority of states. You know what it will take to get Democrats back into majorities? A few years of Republican rule. It may be structurally difficult to take back the senate in two years due to the raw numbers of Democrat seats versus Republican seats up for grabs, but it's easy to imagine the House flipping in two years. The divisions of states might also swing, just in time for districts to be redrawn following the next census. Republican's are doomed by a simple calculus: If they're timid in legislating, and fail to deliver on some of their core issues they've been unable to move on due to having a Democrat in the White House, their base won't turn out for them in the midterms. If they set a bold agenda and give the base everything they want, then the base will have no real reason to turn out, since their work will be done. As near as I can tell from observing politics all these years, the party base voters never vote out of gratitude. The next few elections will see Democrats hungry and willing to go on offense, and Republicans bogged down with actual responsibilities and playing defense.
Upside #3. A vivid demonstration that money isn't everything in politics. North Carolina was a swing state, which meant that during September and October, pretty much every ad I saw on television was a political ad. The vast, vast majority of these ads were for Hillary Clinton. I've been trying to find some final spending totals, but I'm getting sums all over the map for how much was actually spent. According to an ABC news story about planned spending (as opposed to the actual final spends) Clinton was slated to spend $14 million on television ads in North Carolina. Trump was only slated to spend $1.3 million. As someone afflicted by these ads, I find it plausible that there were ten times as many Hillary ads as Trump ads. But the final vote wasn't particularly close. Trump won in a year when Democrats were organized and had a good enough base operation to toss out an incumbent Republican governor. Looking at the figures for other battleground states, I see that Hillary outspent Trump in Florida 53 to 1. Nationally, Hillary and associated PACs outraised and outspent Trump and his allies by a 2 to 1 margin. And let's not forget the primaries, when Jeb Bush entered the campaign with an atomic blast of money designed to vaporize any potential rivals and wound up getting, what, six people voting for him, and most of those were family members?
Trump explicitly argued that he didn't need to spend a lot of money on television ads. And, if we must grant he was right about one thing, he proved to be absolutely right on this. One could argue that he was a celebrity, a household name before he ever began his run for president. But Hillary and Jeb Bush weren't exactly anonymous. In the end, I think that this election provided an interesting natural experiment. One candidate saturated the airwaves with ads defining her opponent as a reckless, scary madman, and the other candidate effectively ignored those ads rather than responding to them dollar for dollar. In North Carolina, at least, I feel like the result was that the sort of voter who decides who to vote for based on TV ads wound up sick of Hillary Clinton by election day, and pretty much dismissed every bad thing about Trump as negative politics not to be taken seriously. Negative political ads have all the impact of Chicken Little warning the sky is falling. I think the negative ads might actually have insulated Trump from some of his more outrageous statements, since we're so used to seeing politician's words twisted out of context in 30 ads that the average voter just assumes that everything said in a negative ad is probably false. Will future politicians learn from this and decide that saturation negative television advertising isn't the best way to get a candidate elected? And if the best funded candidate isn't guaranteed a win, will future big money donors question the value of throwing so much money at candidates? I imagine there are a few Wall Street banking firms second guessing the wisdom of paying Hillary Clinton six figure sums for speeches.
Even if you absolute hate Trump, at least you can take some satisfaction in the thought of so many people used to buying the favor of candidates losing so much money this year.