The mainstream media, with rare exceptions, has been making a Herculean effort to re-invent Donald Trump as a normal human who won't carry over his demagogic, bigoted, authoritarian and impulsive campaign persona into the White house. The Democrats and President Obama are also playing along, hoping if they pretend he is not whom he has always been, he will truly evolve into someone who can be reasoned with.
Trump has apparently even been talking regularly to President Obama during the transition, which provides a "sign" to those whose optimism is boundless. It reminds one of the period between the anointing of George W. Bush by the Supreme Court in 2000 and his ascension to power. Newspapers were repeatedly cautioning Bush that he became President under a cloud, the country was bitterly divided, and he had to unite the country by finding a middle ground with Al Gore supporters incensed by the Court's actions.
Of course, Bush talked the conciliatory talk, but he had no desire to walk the walk. He used his power to do what he wished, which included invading a country that posed no threat to us and then proceeded to violate the Geneva Convention by instituting a torture regime.
Trump will be the same. Chats and photo ops with Obama and soothing words from the playbook whereby a new President must say they will work for all Americans will have no predictive value when Trump is sworn in. Republican control of both branches of Congress will embolden him and those who surround him: a collection of foreign policy cranks, believers in unregulated capitalism and hostility towards unions. The GOP legislators will do what he says, both out of shared conviction most times, or, on some issues, fear of enraging large segments of Trump voters and being challenged in their future primaries. Trump and the new Congress will take full advantage of his unanticipated monopoly of governmental power from his first day in office.
As Evan Osnos' interviews with several of Trump's key advisors reveal, the new President will quickly begin to vacate Obama's executive orders, possibly renounce treaties on climate control among others, and embrace the discredited trickle-down economics mantra: tax cuts for corporations and the rich and unfettered capitalism will bring prosperity to all. China will be confronted on trade, despite the risk of a ruinous tariff war.
Medicare and Social Security might be relatively safe for the moment, if we take Trump's pledge not to touch them seriously, but the GOP stalwarts have always wanted to "reform" it in ways that will reduce benefits. Obamacare will almost certainly die a slow death, since immediate total repeal without any replacement will leave too many millions angry. The most popular part of the program. i.e., insurers cannot refuse those with preexisting conditions, will be impossible to retain without healthy people required to purchase insurance when they do not have a medical crisis.
Non-whites will, at best, face malign neglect, but local police will feel freer to violate their civil rights, and the 11 million illegal immigrants appear to loom especially large on Trump's radar, with mass deportation strategies from the Eisenhower era viewed as a possible model.
Trump is not Hitler, for he has no coherent evil political ideology. He is a garden-variety bigot with minimal capacity for focusing on any issue for more than a few minutes. His authoritarian style and personality traits, could, however, wreak havoc on democratic institutions as well as the economy and further marginalize non-whites. The same could happen if he essentially delegates decisions to highly motivated and well-organized extremists, like Stephen Bannon, his new senior counselor and chief strategist; Jeff Sessions, the nominee for Attorney General; Mike Pompeo, the proposed CIA Director.
A quite astute analysis of Trump's personality, based on his own words and deeds, indicates his propensity to express anger and feed his bottomless need for acclaim by trying to hit a home run on every pitch against his designated enemies, i.e., opting for an extreme policy, instead of compromising or just moving on. In his business negotiations, this was his approach as well, but he recognized his "adversary" had some chips and he might have to compromise, even if only slightly. As President of the most powerful country on earth, and with an obeisant Senate and House, he may have little or no incentive to compromise in dealings with foreign countries or Democrats. Those he has nominated to the cabinet, thus far, also seem to view the world and the solution to challenges in their future domains in black-white terms. Where will the countervailing power be?
The mainstream print and broadcast media might be expected to play such a role, but four problems will make that less likely. First, this election has shown that the internet has played an out-sized role in generating propaganda and outright fabricated "news," which have left many unsure about what is real news. Second, the news networks need to have access to the President and his appointees. If CNN or the other networks did real journalism by exposing Trump, he would boycott them and punish other aides and politicians who did not fall in line. Third, the news media also know that Trump's volatility and the likelihood of myriad crises are good for ratings. As Leslie Moonves, CBS CEO said of the Trump campaign, "It may not be good for America, but it's damn good for CBS." Finally, the tradition by which mainstream journalistic "objectivity" turns news into stenography (e.g., "Senator X says 2+2=4, but Senator Y says it is 5. Ok, they disagree on that one. Now, on to long division."), instead of searching for truth, has played into the hands of the GOP for decades. Trump's mass production of lies would, however, overwhelm the media's ability to to fact-check, even if they were so inclined.
The chilling words, attributed to Karl Rove, in a 2004 conversation with journalist Ron Suskind, during the George W. Bush Administration are truer now than ever before:
The aide said that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." ... "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality--judiciously, as you will--we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors...and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."