We’ve all been warned.
President-elect Donald Trump pledged to be a strongman, just like his idol Russian President Vladimir Putin. And American voters have just handed him the keys to the republic. He will assume the awesome power of the presidency along with Republican control of the Congress and, soon, a conservative majority on the Supreme Court. There will be very little check on whatever a President Trump wants to do. His authoritarian tendencies have been clear for all to see and we should expect that he’ll act on them.
Trump’s victory will be celebrated as much in the Kremlin as in Trump Tower. For the first time a foreign adversary has had an overt hand in electing a U.S. president – confirmed a month ago when national intelligence officials said that Russia hacked into the Democratic National Committee emails in order to interfere in the election. Trump had openly encouraged Russia to hack into Americans’ private emails.
As David Frum, conservative and senior editor at The Atlantic, tweeted Tuesday night: “We may be living through the most successful Russian intelligence operation since the Rosenbergs stole the A-bomb.”
The alliance between Trump and Putin that blossomed on the campaign trail will likely become a full working partnership between the Russian strongman and the American President, threatening traditional U.S. alliances in Europe and around the world. And without Trump’s tax returns – unprecedented secrecy for any presidential candidate in the past 40 years – we still do not know the extent of Trump’s financial indebtedness to Russian oligarchs. Given his worldwide business ventures and investments from Russians and foreign banks, his conflicts of interest are likely to be enormous.
The global fallout has the potential to be the most ominous. Human-rights activist and former chess champion Garry Kasparov reminded his Twitter followers Tuesday night what a Trump win means in the Baltic States facing an expansionist and saber-rattling Russia: “Americans joke about moving to Canada on Trump win. People in the Baltics are dead serious about their nations & lives being in danger.”
Based on his campaign statements, here are some of the other ramifications of a Trump victory:
Propaganda as policy: Donald Trump’s rhetoric has regularly repeated the same lines spouted by Russian propagandists – for example, that Russia didn’t hack into the Democratic National Committee emails and is not interfering in the American election, or that President Barack Obama started ISIS. These statements are not true, and a President Trump is not likely to stop spouting false Russian propaganda. Trump has clearly adopted the disorienting propaganda technique wielded by Putin that was characterized as a “firehose of falsehoods” in a recent RAND Corporation study. But now, President Trump will have the bully pulpit of the presidency to spout his misinformation, lies and half-truths, further disorienting the public and undermining democratic governance and institutions that depend on citizens knowing the facts – and supporting policies based on those facts.
Foreign election interference becomes the norm: Trump has never condemned Russia’s hacking of the Democratic National Committee and interference in U.S. electoral politics, even when informed about it by top-ranking intelligence officials. Like propaganda campaigns, hacking and sabotaging the internet infrastructure could undermine faith in American democracy by compromising independent American elections and calling into question the results. Many believe that this has been Putin’s goal in interfering in this election all along.
A weakened NATO alliance between U.S. and traditional allies: Trump has called NATO obsolete and implied that if its members don’t pay more for their own defense, the U.S. will not defend them from attack. This is in direct conflict with the NATO charter. NATO has been the lynchpin of American foreign policy since the end of World War II, and is detested by Putin, who would like nothing better than see the alliance collapse. Since 2008, Russia has moved troops into the former Soviet republics of Georgia and the Ukraine, and now Russia is making military moves that look like preparations to attack the small, independent Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania – all members of NATO. A President Trump, based on his statements of support for Putin, is unlikely to commit U.S. troops for the Baltic States’ defense. NATO would be unlikely to survive such a demonstration of its own futility.
No sanctions for Ukraine invasion, and a freer hand for Russia worldwide: On the campaign trail, Trump has said he sees no need for sanctions against Russia for its 2014 invasion and takeover of the Crimea region. Without U.S. leadership, America’s European allies are not likely to keep the sanctions on their own – giving Putin a freer hand for Russian expansionism. In the interest of what Trump has called “getting along” with Russia, there could there be a dramatic U-turn in other U.S foreign policies, aligning the U.S. more with Russia in the Middle East.
What else can we expect from a Trump Administration:
The bottom line will be new authoritarian rule in America: Trump has threatened to sue women who accuse him of sexual assault, to limit reporters’ access to him and his events, and to change libel laws to make it easier to punish news organizations that report facts about him that he doesn’t like. These are the policies of someone, like Putin, who wants to control his constituency rather than protect a democracy.
American voters have set the country on a dangerous path – one that would embolden Russian expansionism and erode American strength and cooperation among allies around the world. Even with all these real concerns about national security and the U.S. position in the world, the biggest danger is at home: This country will find our cherished democratic values weakened, our constitutional checks and balances upended, and our moral authority squandered at home as well as abroad. But the voters have spoken, and the nation will be dealing with the consequences of this decision for years to come.
(Photo of Donald Trump via Creative Commons)