Apparently Donald Trump is struggling with the whole idea of being president-elect. Yesterday, following a day of protests against his presidency, we initially got the Trump who had his Twitter account taken away by his handlers during the election:

Then, a few hours later, we got the new Trump, totally dedicated to unity and free expression:

It's almost like there's literally a little angel and a little devil sitting on Trump's shoulders telling him what to do. This does not bode well for the next four years.

Fuck You, James Comey

When an election is close, you can blame pretty much anything for your loss. There are dozens of people, events, and movements that can make a difference of 1 percent or so. In this election, you can blame Hillary Clinton, Berniebros, Facebook, Jill Stein, neoliberalism, the DNC, white racism, CNN, Obamacare, or anything else you want. They all deserve a share of the blame, so pick your favorite and go to town.

As for myself, I blame Emailgate. In a purely abstract way, I almost admire the ability of Republicans to elevate a self-evident molehill into a groundless smear on Hillary Clinton for the tenth or twentieth time and still get anyone to pay attention to it. It took dogged persistence and a wide cast of characters to make it happen: Trey Gowdy, Judicial Watch, Julian Assange, a rotating bench of judges, Vladimir Putin, a gullible press corps, Jason Chaffetz, the FBI, and many more. But if we're going to choose one particular person who managed to hand the White House to a buffoonish game show host, it's FBI director James Comey, the guy who inexplicably released a letter a week before the election that yet again implied some kind of vague, amorphous wrongdoing on the part of Hillary Clinton. Joshua Green and Sasha Issenberg report that Trump's comeback picked up real steam only after the letter was released:

Trump’s analysts had detected this upsurge in the electorate even before FBI Director James Comey delivered his Oct. 28 letter to Congress announcing that he was reopening his investigation into Clinton’s e-mails. But the news of the investigation accelerated the shift of a largely hidden rural mass of voters toward Trump.

....After Comey, that movement of older, whiter voters became newly evident. It’s what led Trump’s campaign to broaden the electoral map in the final two weeks and send the candidate into states such as Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan that no one else believed he could win (with the exception of liberal filmmaker Michael Moore, who deemed them “Brexit states”). Even on the eve of the election Trump’s models predicted only a 30 percent likelihood of victory.

The message Trump delivered to those voters was radically different from anything they would hear from an ordinary Republican: a bracing screed that implicated the entire global power structure—the banks, the government, the media, the guardians of secular culture—in a dark web of moral and intellectual corruption. And Trump insisted that he alone could fix it.

Comey provided the match that Trump used to light the country on fire. People who decided on their vote during the last week—after Comey wrote his letter—broke strongly for Trump. People who decided on their vote during the last couple of days—after Comey cleared Clinton—broke about evenly. Did that letter make a difference of 1 percent? No one will ever be able to prove or disprove it, but I'll bet it did.

I would be fascinated to know if Hillary Clinton's data team picked up the same warning signs at about the same time.

The Wall Street Journal reports that investors are giddy at the possibility of Republicans finally embracing crude Keynesian stimulus. Isn't that funny? Republicans have been screaming about government spending for the past eight years, but investors are now pretty sure they'll happily blow a great big hole in the deficit. I wonder what changed their minds?

Of course, there's more to Wall Street's happiness than just that. Thanks to newfound hopes of government spending, bank deregulation, and fat profits for Big Pharma, the stock market hit record highs today:

The moves partly reflected expectations that a Trump administration would push to scale back financial regulation and increase government spending in a bid to boost economic growth....Thursday’s gains came as the president-elect’s transition team promised to dismantle the Dodd-Frank law, regulation that came out of the financial crisis....Pharmaceutical companies also jumped, with some analysts and investors saying drug-pricing restrictions would have been more likely under Democrat Hillary Clinton. Health-care companies had sold off sharply heading into the election.

JP Morgan Chase and Goldman Sachs were big winners today. And bonds are doing well on expectations of higher inflation under Trump. This is all certainly good news for rich people, but I wonder what Trump has in mind for all those rural working-class whites in Michigan and Wisconsin who put him over the top? Oddly, Wall Street doesn't seem too worried that he'll do anything at all for them.

Right now, there's one thin reed preventing Republicans from doing anything they want starting in 2017: the filibuster. During the Obama administration, Republicans set a precedent of requiring 60 votes for essentially everything,1 and Democrats are now the beneficiaries of that. This will substantially limit what Donald Trump and a Republican Congress can do.

But will Republicans keep the filibuster? Democrats killed it for lower court appointments, and the same process can be used to kill it completely if Republicans have a mind to. Jonathan Bernstein cogitates on whether they'll do it:

There will probably be 52 Republican senators in the new 115th Congress. Assuming the vice president would break any tie in favor of change, it would take 50 of those 52 to do away with the filibuster.

It's by no means certain those votes are available.

For one thing, several senior Republicans, perhaps including John McCain and Lamar Alexander, may sincerely respect the traditions of the Senate and be reluctant to eliminate them. Moderate conservatives such as Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski might feel the current rules give them more leverage than a Senate with pure majority-party rule.

....Cynical Republicans might, as Congress scholar Gregory Koger suggests, see some advantages in having some of their agenda obstructed by Democrats rather than being put in the position of having to pass some items....Far-sighted Republicans might worry about the longer-term consequences of giving a future Democratic majority....And every senator has an incentive to keep the filibuster because it strengthens their individual leverage, even if it reduces the ability of their party to get things done.

I think that pretty much covers it. There might be a few moderate Republicans unwilling to kill the filibuster—though the precedent of Obamacare makes me skeptical of that. At some point, even the "moderates" will convince themselves that Democrats have done something so dastardly that they have no choice but to end the obstruction. There might be a few cynical Republicans, who think they can do better in the next election if the conservative agenda fails and they can whip up the rubes about it. There might be a few far-sighted Republicans, though those seem in short supply these days. And there might be a few selfish Republicans.

So the continued existence of the filibuster relies on moderate, cynical, far-sighted, and selfish Republicans. The good news is that we only need three total. The bad news is that if the tea party and the Trumpkins get mad enough, there might not be three Republicans willing to buck them.

1Except for budget bills, which can be passed with a simple majority.

I said yesterday that I didn't intend to tell anyone to settle down over the Trump victory. It's every bit as appalling as it seems. And yet, there's a strain of thinking out there that really does need a bucket of cold water thrown on it. Here's Andrew Sullivan:

This is now Trump’s America. He controls everything from here on forward....He has destroyed the GOP....He has avenged Obama....He will seek unforgiving revenge on those who dared to oppose him....The House and Senate will fail to resist anything he proposes....His support is not like that of a democratic leader but of a cult leader fused with the idea of the nation. If he fails, as he will, he willblame others....In time, as his failures mount, the campaigns of vilification will therefore intensify. They will have to.

....We will need to march peacefully on the streets to face down the massive intimidation he will at times present to a truly free and open society. We have to hold our heads up high as we defend the values of the old republic, even as it crumbles into authoritarian dust. We must be prepared for nonviolent civil disobedience. We must transcend racial and religious division in a movement of resistance that is as diverse and as open as the new president’s will be uniform and closed.

And here is Charles Stross:

I'm calling it for the next global financial crisis to hit before the 2018 mid-terms. Neither Trump nor Pence are far-sighted enough to realize that the USA is not a corporation and can't be run like one, and that on the macro scale economics is difficult and different from anything they have any experience of. They will, to put it bluntly, screw the pooch—aided by the gibbering chorus of Brexiteers across the pond, who are desperately trying to ensure that the British economy and banking sector commit seppuku in the name of limiting immigration. We've already seen Sterling crash, and continue to crash; what happens when the Dollar joins it? Quantitative easing can only stretch so far before we break out in hyperinflation due to basic commodities getting scarce (as witness the 5-20% food price inflation working its way through the UK's supply chain in defiance of the structural deflationary regime enforced by the supermarkets for the past two decades).

It's going to be a flaming dumpster fire that someone has just crashed an airliner on top of. Even if Trump doesn't fuck shit up by invading Paraguay, starting a land war in Asia, breaking the agreements on climate change, and disenfranchising women, democrats, and anyone who doesn't lick his arse. The only question is how far the fire will spread.

You know, things are going to be bad enough already. Aided by a Republican Congress, Trump is going to do his best to dismantle the entire Obama legacy. He's going to cut taxes on the rich and send the budget deficit into the stratosphere. He's going to appoint at least one Supreme Court justice and probably more. Bye bye Roe v. Wade. He's going to unleash Wall Street from all those pesky regulations they hate. He's going to ignore climate change and let the earth fry.

But he's not a cult leader beyond his own small base of superfans, and he's not a king. Congress has its own ideas about what it wants to do, and they will do it. Trump will learn that repealing executive orders is harder than he thinks, and it's unlikely he has the attention span to really keep at it. Hell, repealing Obamacare will be harder than Trump thinks. He's not going to declare martial law or round up Muslims and throw them in internment camps. He will likely face a recession, but not a financial collapse. When it happens, the Fed will take the lead, and Republicans will throw money at it. That's hypocritical, but also perfectly OK as a policy response. Trump will bluster about China and Mexico, but he's not going to throw up 45 percent tariffs on them. He'll bluster about NATO, perhaps, but NATO has pretty bipartisan support in Congress—and let's face it, Trump doesn't really care much about NATO anyway. He won't put troops on the ground in Iraq or Syria. It would be unpopular, and anyway, his generals will probably convince him it won't do any good. He's not going to gut the First Amendment and put the press corps out of business. He's not going to nuke Pyongyang.

Trump is bad for the country in the same way that, say, Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio would be. Beyond that, though, he's less conservative on the policy front. The reason Trump is uniquely bad is mostly symbolic: he's willfully ignorant; he's vindictive; he's a demagogue willing to appeal loudly and proudly to racial animus; and he has the attention span of a small child. He'd be an embarrassment to any country, let alone the most powerful country in the world.

Isn't that bad enough? There's no need to pretend we're about to spiral into a fascist nightmare or a financial collapse. We have not embraced tyranny. The United States is a very big battleship, even for Donald Trump.

UPDATE: I've changed the title of this post.

In the past quarter century, Republicans have won the popular vote for president once.

My pal Josh Harkinson tweets:

That's certainly possible. But I think it suffers from a lack of imagination about the counterfactual.

It's obvious that Hillary Clinton's biggest weakness during the election was Emailgate. Republicans successfully took a fairly minor bit of misjudgment and turned it into the world's greatest crime—and kept it alive by shrewdly dribbling out new information regularly. Aided and abetted by Vladimir Putin, Julian Assange, a last-minute assist from James Comey, and a press corps that played along gleefully, this turned into a huge millstone around Clinton's neck that Donald Trump hammered on relentlessly. He also kept up a drumbeat of criticism on TPP, NAFTA, and other economic concerns of the working class.

Plainly Bernie Sanders wouldn't have suffered from either one of these problems. So does that mean he could have beaten Trump?

Sure, maybe. But it probably just means Trump would have attacked him in a different way. Most likely, he would have hammered away at Sanders being a wild-eyed communist. Then Sanders would have lost, and we'd be sitting around wishing we'd nominated Clinton. After all, Trump certainly couldn't have attacked her as a crazed radical. As for that email thing, it was old news. It wouldn't have hurt her much.

In the end, this is unanswerable. For myself, I doubt that Sanders could have beaten Trump. Once he left the cozy confines of the Democratic primaries, he would have been pilloried.

POSTSCRIPT: To put this in plainer terms, of course Sanders could have won some votes that Clinton didn't. But a leftier agenda would also have lost him some votes. It's not at all obvious that this would have ended up a net positive for Sanders.

Jim Tankersley:

For the past 40 years, America's economy has raked blue-collar white men over the coals. It whittled their paychecks. It devalued the type of work they did best. It shuttered factories and mines and shops in their communities....They were not the only ones who felt abandoned by a rapidly globalizing economy, but they developed a distinctly strong pessimism in its face.

On Tuesday, their frustrations helped elect Donald Trump, the first major-party nominee of the modern era to speak directly and relentlessly to their economic and cultural fears....It was a rejection of the business-friendly policies favored at various points by elites in both parties, which deepened trade relationships with foreign countries and favored allowing more immigrants in. And it was a raw outburst at the trends of rising inequality and economic dislocation that defined America's economy thus far this century.

We're going to hear a lot about this over the next few months. We're going to hear about it so much we're all going to get sick of it. But every time it comes up, I ask myself: Just what are Democrats supposed to do about this? Whatever they are or aren't doing, you have to keep two things in mind:

  • It's only the white working class that has abandoned the party. Working class blacks, working class Latinos, and working class Asians all seem to be perfectly happy with Democratic policies.
  • By any objective measure, Democratic economic policies are better for the white working class than Republican economic policies. And yet the white working class keeps moving inexorably toward the Republican Party anyway.

So is this about policies? Is it about NAFTA and the decline of unions and friendliness to Wall Street? It's hard to see how, since Republicans support these policies far more avidly than Democrats.

Is it about economic decline? Absolutely yes. Nonwhites may be in worse shape than whites, but they've generally made progress over the past few decades. White men alone have seen absolute declines. But what can Democrats do about this? Blacks and Latinos started from such a poor position that they were bound to close some of the gap with whites.

Is it about taxes? Not in any objective sense. The American working class barely pays any federal income tax at all. They're on the hook for payroll taxes, but that's about it. It's all but impossible to cut their taxes any more.

I could go on. And maybe I will eventually. But it's hard to conclude from all this that the white working class is angry about Democratic economic policies. It's mostly about racial and cultural identity—and Republicans appeal to that primarily via symbolic attacks on welfare and immigration and affirmative action and "inner city" crime. Can Democrats join them in doing that? I don't see how.

What is Donald Trump going to do in office? Beats me. For the most part, I'd ignore what he said on the campaign trail, since he said so many different things at different times. It's obvious that (a) he doesn't know much, and (b) he doesn't truly care about very many things—and that means he's going to be willing to negotiate. On that score, I mostly agree with Tyler Cowen, who speculates that "his natural instinct will be to look for some quick symbolic victories to satisfy supporters, and then pursue mass popularity with a lot of government benefits, debt and free-lunch thinking."

However, this also means Trump is likely to follow the lead of Congress, which is completely in Republican hands and likely to follow the lead of Paul Ryan. Given that, I think there are a few things we can speculate about. Here's a short list:

  • The filibuster is toast. Republicans will get rid of it as soon as they need to.
  • There are three Supreme Court justices who support Roe v. Wade and are getting on in years: Stephen Breyer (78), Anthony Kennedy (80), and Ruth Bader Ginsburg (83). Using standard actuarial tables, there's a 60 percent chance that at least one of them will die during Trump's term. That means there's a 60 percent chance that Roe v. Wade will be overturned.
  • Repealing Obamacare will be harder than Republicans think, and it's possible that they'll shrink from it when they truly have to face up to the consequences. For one thing, it's impossible to keep the "good parts" (pre-existing conditions, community rating, etc.) and only get rid of the bad parts. In the best case, they'll pass a bill that repeals Obamacare in name, but leaves most of it in place under a different name. But I doubt that. In the end, I think they'll rip down the whole thing.
  • There will be a recession sometime during Trump's term. I don't know what this means. But I'll bet the Republican Congress will be a whole lot more eager to fix it with crude Keynesian pump priming than they were for Obama.
  • Trump seems to really care about infrastructure, which makes sense since he thinks of himself as a builder. So we might very well get an infrastructure bill passed. I expect that a wall on the southern border will be part of it.
  • Congress will pass a big tax cut for the rich. Not as big as Trump's, I think, but plenty big anyway.
  • Winners from a Trump presidency: rich people; pro-lifers; Paul Ryan, who will now be reelected Speaker easily; China; Wall Street; Vladimir Putin; James Comey; and CNN president Jeff Zucker, who did everything in his power to help elect a guy who could keep his ratings up.
  • Losers from a Trump presidency: poor people; anyone on Obamacare; illegal immigrants; climate change; the white working class, which fell for Trump's con but will get virtually nothing from his presidency; anyone who cares about human decency and national dignity; Barack Obama, whose presidency will now be considered a failure; and the Democratic Party, which has lost control of the presidency, the House, the Senate, the Supreme Court, and most of the states.

Since I have the Reconstruction era on my mind right now, it's hard to avoid the obvious comparison. Reconstruction lasted about eight years, and then was dismantled almost completely. Barack Obama's presidency lasted eight years and will now be dismantled almost completely. I will withhold my opinion for now on the obvious reason for this similarity.

Among liberals, one of the most popular explanations for Donald Trump's victory is that it was a "whitelash," a primal scream of lost influence and latent racism among white voters. I myself certainly talked about racial animus quite a bit during the runup to the election. However, in the spirit of figuring out where we were wrong, the actual voting patterns suggest this is flat wrong. Using exit poll data from 2012 and 2016, here is Trump's share of the vote compared to Romney in 2012:

Whites voted less for Trump than for Romney, while both blacks and Latinos voted more for Trump.1 There's nothing here that suggests Trump appealed to white backlash in any special way. Quite the opposite. But now let's add a column to the table:

Among whites, Trump lost 1 percent of white votes, but third-party candidates gained 3 percent. Among Latinos, third-parties gained 4 percent, and among blacks they gained 3 percent.

This is the big difference. Who did third-party candidates hurt the most, Trump or Clinton? And why? Or was the damage equal? You need to answer this question before you can say anything sensible about race.

It's worth nothing that this doesn't mean that race played no role in this election. But it does mean two things. First, white racial animus seem to have played no more of a role than it did four years ago. Second, although Trump's blatant appeal to white ethnocentrism did him little good, it also did him no harm—and that was true among all racial groups. That's disheartening all on its own.2

When more detailed data is available, it might turn out there are specific subsets of the white vote that moved very strongly toward Trump. But what we have so far doesn't suggest anything of the sort. If you still want to claim that whitelash played a big role in this election, you need to contend with this.

1You can break this down by age or gender, but it doesn't really change anything. For example, white men moved slightly toward Trump while white women moved slightly away from him. Likewise, middle-aged whites moved slightly toward Trump while young and old whites moved slightly away. But the differences are small enough that they don't change the picture much.

2Since I first put up this post, several people have suggested that national data isn't the right way to look at voter demographics. Instead, we should look at the key swing states of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan. But that doesn't change things. If you look at the exit poll data, Trump did slightly worse than Romney in Pennsylvania and slightly better in Wisconsin and Michigan. But the operative word is "slightly."

Still, maybe turnout was up among white voters? That's possible. But we don't have that information yet, and I'm not sure when we'll get it.