Donald Trump has not drained the swamp, and it is debatable whether or not the DC establishment can be stripped of its power at all. All of Trump’s campaign promises and rhetoric, combined with the constant media coverage of oval office buffoonery, have overshadowed the realities of this presidency. Our Commander in Chief wields power with absolutely zero concern for democratic norms and legal precedent, yet his populist movement has surprisingly accomplished very few of its goals. American troops are still stationed in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria, Mexico has yet to make a down payment on the border wall, and the manufacturing sector is performing worse than ever before. Resistance and incompetence in the administration has effectively checked any attempts at installing a truly authoritarian regime. So far it is unclear if Trump can articulate the true identity of a corrupt elite class in America. The power base and leadership of the Democratic and Republican parties are too entrenched in the established avenues of political competition. Both ends of the legislative spectrum actively prevent the progress of real populist-authoritarian action because they benefit financially from the democratic status quo.
Trump can’t be an authoritarian leader because of the enduring United States constitution and the economic interests that protect it. The strict barriers to an initiation of a constitutional convention prevent a fundamental reset to the democratic system and the president is so far unwilling to attempt a coup or flagrantly illegal executive action. The zero tolerance immigration policy that DHS enforced was walked back by the white house after a few weeks of public outrage (1). Although Trump does “espouse the most xenophobic sentiments,” his management of foreign policy is not especially volatile or aggressive compared to that of the Bush or Obama administration (2). His statements during the 2016 campaign concerning the validity of election results bring into question his dedication to the democratic norm of the peaceful transition of power (3). It is doubtful that should Trump fail reelection he could actually prevent the inauguration of the democratic nominee, even more unlikely that this move would succeed. Trump has made ridiculous claims like the fabricated story of millions of illegal votes cast during the 2016 election (4). Even though this falsehood is relatively tame compared to the extremes, it implies that Trump supporters would not be blamed for disbelieving unsatisfactory electoral results.
The republican majority in the Senate is likely to persist through a democratic presidency or a second Trump term. Recent developments in the Senate indicate that Mitch McConnell and his allies are prepared to cram as many nominees through the last months of this term in order to tip the ideological balance of the greater bureaucracy towards conservatism. The president is unable to enact real immigration reform or authorize wall funding but his republican party has used his presidency as a launching platform for tax reform and health care proposals that are materially anti-populist. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act lowered the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21%. This reform does nothing to relieve economic hardships at the poverty level, but it does accelerate the continued concentration of wealth at the tallest peaks of industry. Turnout across the country is rising but voter registration laws and the fact that the election occurs on a workday limits the influence of popular preferences on positions of power(5).
- Zero Tolerance policy Congressional review, https://fas.org/sgp/crs/homesec/R45266.pdf
- Taylor and Frantz, How Democracies Fall Apart
- tax cuts and jobs act https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/1/text