I have paid more attention to American politics since the rise of Trump than ever before. I went from proud agnostic who wrote articles like Don’t Vote to someone who created a tag for my rants and, ultimately, attended my first ever campaign event this year (a primary debate “watch party” at a Bloomberg office).
To be clear, I don’t think any higher of Donald Trump as a leader of our federal government. I’m still certain that his run in politics will end badly, his reputation in tatters and the Republican Party disgraced. Finding a Trump voter in 20 years will be like finding a supporter of the Vietnam War today. But when? When will it all come crashing down?
Around the time Trump sailed to acquittal of impeachment charges, I realized that, with the advantages of incumbency and a strong economy, he could very well eke out another electoral college victory in 2020. And I resigned myself to that outcome. Would four more years be that bad? The answer, after gaming it out, was no.
My calculus hinges on the two scenarios which will have the greatest impact on the 2020 election.
- Strong economy and sustained bull market.
- Weak economy and/or bear market.
Trump’s prospects are married to the economy. Whether that is fair or not, he has made his bed. If there is a recession or bear market in November, Trump is doomed, end of story. And the reputational damage and GOP disgrace will follow in short order.
But what happens if the economy hasn’t slowed? What if the longest bull market in history hasn’t corrected before November 2020?
If the Democrats win control of the White House despite a strong economy, that means the inevitable correction will come on their watch. The right-wing propagandists would spin it into a Democratic failure, much like they tried to pin blame on Obama for the financial crisis he inherited.
If the Democrats took the blame for the next correction, we could end up with a Trumpian president in 2024. And more important than defeating Trump himself, I’d rather see his policies defeated in the arena of ideas. I’d like to see protectionism and disdain for experts discredited in the hearts and minds of the American public.
That is how I divested from any emotional attachment to the outcome of 2020. And just like with professional sports, that’s where I like to be. The losses don’t hurt so much. The wins aren’t so great, but who cares?
And in a strange way, I think Donald Trump has been good for American governance. He’s an enduring stress test. For you Taleb followers, he’s making the American government “anti-fragile.” This is how I came to love Trump. By engaging is conduct that runs the gamut from unethical to blatantly corrupt, from ignorant to infantile, he is forcing society at large to confront an unfit leader.
Obviously a good portion of society applauds his behavior, which enables him. That has forced our system of checks and balances to kick in. Institutions have been tested, and they have largely answered the bell. Others have come up short. All of this will make us stronger.
Think about a sheriff in a small town. Do you want to everything to be completely safe all the time? Because if the sheriff never faces danger, he won’t be prepared when somebody shoots up the school with an AR-15. You want a sheriff who is a little battle-hardened. That is what Trump is doing. He is the hoodlum who has cold-cocked the sheriff and is trying to get his gun. He is forcing the sheriff to toughen up.
Society will confront certain questions after Trump is gone, whether that is in 2020 or 2024. It’s one thing to have an emoluments clause in the Constitution, but how can we ensure it’s enforced? For generations, Congress has abdicated its war powers. Is it time to reverse that trend? Should presidents be required to disclose their tax returns?
Trump’s reality TV show has prompted a surge in interest in civics, especially among young people. There has been a great redemption of public servants in government, an increased esteem for everybody from diplomats to science wonks.
This is how Trump is making America great again.
I came to this thinking before the developments of the coronavirus pandemic. At the moment, it looks like both a recession and bear market are in the cards for November. But that could change. As Trump himself suggested, the virus could go away when the weather gets warm. Markets could recover to their artificially inflated levels, and Trump could enjoy a stable election cycle.
If the American public elects him, I’m OK with it. That means we’re not ready to move on, and our government will get more of the “anti-fragile” treatment.