As I’m reading anti-Trump and pro-Trump commentary, I’m finding very few pieces that fully explore the different possibilities of a Trump presidency.
So I tried to create a graph to chart what I think are three dominant considerations we should be using to understand the president elect.
A Framework for Understanding the President Elect
This framework captures 3 primary spectra:
Social Liberalism: Does a leader have respect for people of all races, gender, sexuality, religion, and places of birth?
Economics: Does a leader lean more toward populist economics (which often involves trade protectionism and anti-immigration stances) or globalist economics (which generally leans towards free trade and more immigration)?
Rule of Law: Does a leader behave within the established norms of domestic democracy and international rule of law, or does she lead by greatly damaging democratic institutions and grossly violating international law?
To chart some historical examples, I spent a few minutes trying to plot the last few American presidents and Hitler. I was just aiming to be directionally correct but am in no way trying to argue that I plotted these perfectly.
Each Variable is Very Important, But I Think Rule of Law is Probably Most Important
You could make reasonable arguments for each variable being the most important consideration.
If I had to argue for social liberalism, I’d say that even someone who works within the rule of law can do terrible harm to minority populations.
If I had to argue for economics, I’d say that someone who wrecks the international economic system could unleash untold suffering on the poor of the world.
In arguing for rule of law, I’m mostly arguing from this recent historical fact that so many of the world’s major mass deaths have been caused by dictators, such as Hitler, Mao and Stalin.
This graph is illustrative:
I’d need to think harder before having stronger opinions on the relative importance of each variable.
The only thing I am confident in is that they’re all important.
When to Build Bridges, When to Join the Resistance
I think both Trump and Clinton supporters have reasonable grievances about the world.
I don’t think that it’s in our country’s best long-term interest for each side to: (1) argue loudly about their legitimate grievances (2) not listen to the other side’s legitimate grievances and (3) not differentiate between policy differences and threats to the survival of the nation.
I think economics and immigration are policy differences.
I think respect for rule of law is an issue that gets at the survival of our nation.
And I think social liberalism sits between the two, in that it determines who receives the full benefit of the rule of law within our country, which in its most severe form can threaten the survival of our nation (slavery) but in other cases can be solved through the political process (gay marriage).
I think it’s worth trying to build bridges around policy and less severe forms of social illiberalism.
I think it’s worth considering more radical forms of resistance in cases of major threats to the rule of law and severe cases of social illiberalism.
Our country is deeply divided about many issues.
It’s important to tease out the differences between these issues, both to understand ourselves and to understand the president elect.
I know that this is a rather unemotional way of trying to understand issues riven with deep emotions.
I’ve felt a lot over the past week – it’s been especially hard to hear stories of children in our schools who don’t feel safe – and I’ll continue to listen to these emotions.
But I also want to try and understand the way forward, and, for me, frameworks help.