Like the racist Leicester City of politics, Donald Trump has defied all expectations to win the Republican primary and mount a serious challenge for the White House. Hillary Clinton remains most people’s favourite to win in November but as the race tightens its worth asking what might happen if Trump actually triumphs. The prospect may seem too apocalyptic for those of us on this side of the pond to even comprehend. However, Trump’s lack of support amongst even Republican members of Congress, the character of the man himself, and aspects of the US Constitution suggest we shouldn’t be rushing to stock up the nuclear bunker just yet.
Much of the horror at the possibility of a Trump presidency derives from his divisive and ridiculous policy proposals. The ban on Muslims entering the US, proposed in the wake of the Paris attacks, typifies this. In reality though, such a ban would almost certainly be ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court – according to experts such as Prof L.H. Tribe of Harvard Law School. The separation of powers set down by the US Constitution would likely derail some of Trump’s other key pledges. The infamous Wall along the Southern border would – despite The Donald’s unfounded assertion that ‘the Mexicans will pay for it’ – need congressional approval. With the Democrats looking likely to wrestle back control of the Senate, and a number of Republican Representatives at odds with their party’s nominee, this seems unlikely. Indeed, Trump’s lack of congressional support may be the biggest obstacle to a ‘successful’ presidency (on his terms), making the prospect of the narcissistic New Yorker occupying the Oval Office somewhat less apocalyptic.
Trump may even be his own worst enemy when it comes to achieving his policy aims. The billionaire businessman has ‘flip-flopped’ relentlessly throughout the primary and general election campaigns, appearing incapable of sticking to a line. Quite simply, Trump can achieve nothing if he doesn’t know what he is aiming for. His off-the-cuff, cavalier style might be considered refreshing by many Americans but there’s a reason it is not shared by actual politicians. To be successful in politics you need clear aims, relentlessly pursued; Trump lacks both the vision and the focus to do this. His presidency – should he defeat Secretary Clinton – could amount to little more than a sideshow with the real decisions being made in Congress. On trade, taxation, reproductive rights, and more, Trump has been vague, inconsistent or both. Were this to follow him into the Oval Office, policy would have to be set and guided through Congress by advisors and civil servants more accustomed to mainstream politics. Without Trump actively running the show, the outcomes are bound to be more moderate and predictable.
In some ways then, Trump could almost be the type of President that the authors of the US Constitution intended. The President of the United States has always had more political power than their ceremonial namesakes, in countries such as the Republic of Ireland or India, but recent Presidents have arguably overstepped the mark. The increased use of Executive Orders to sidestep an unfavourable Congress – though not quite turning the Presidency into a dictatorship as the authors of Freakonomics recently suggested – arguably violates the principal of separation of powers. Given his lack of vision or political nous (not to mention his lambasting of President Obama’s use of EOs) it’s unlikely that Trump would take this route around Congress. Admittedly, the prospect of a policy agenda initiated by House Republicans is far from appealing. On LGBT and women’s rights, refugees, and race issues they are largely in line with Trump. In practice however, they will be constrained by the usual rules of politics in a way that he is not.
There is absolutely no doubt that Hillary Clinton winning the presidency would be a far better outcome for America and the world. Should her outspoken, outrageous opponent become Commander in Chief however, the result will likely be far less horrific than many currently fear. Trump’s regressive, reactionary, and frankly racist platform will be blocked at almost every turn by the Constitution, political reality, or his own personal shortcomings. This realisation should not foster complacency amongst American liberals, there is still plenty at stake on election day, but it should help those of us without a vote sleep easier on the night of November 8th.