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A Third Take on Trump

Following two other posts on Trump, I think there is a third viewpoint which seems more true after observing the first few months. 

The election of Trump could be a net positive vs Clinton, but not because he is a better president.

This is based on two assumptions:

  1. The president’s party loses seats at every other level of government
  2. The president doesn’t actually have that much power

For the first point you can see how many losses there have been for Democrats since 2008. Losing the House and the Senate, as well as over a thousand state legislators and going from 29 governors to 16.1 This isn’t unique to Democrats, since 1944 the president’s party has lost, on average, 8 seats in the Senate, 36 in the House and over 450 state legislator seats.2 

For the second point there is less hard evidence but even with executive orders, the majority are either statements of intent or actions that will have to be passed through congress otherwise the next president will roll it back instantly.3 The president does have more power than any other person, but not 100% and probably not even 10%. It’s not just the other branches of government, it’s also state governments, media, lobbyists, industry, the bureaucracy and even the White House is split between various groups.4 

If we take these two assumptions as plausible and think how the next decade will pan out we can see two very different scenarios. If Clinton had won there would still be a Republican House and Senate and it would be hard to pass legislation on areas Democrats care about. It’s likely there would be continued election losses for Democrats as their usual voters would be less motivated to vote and in 2020 the Republicans would take control of every level of government. They could be even more stable with a less divisive figure than Trump and have the presidency until 2028.

Alternatively, with Trump winning in 2016, there seems to have been a large mobilisation of Democrats, registered voters more likely to turn out,  more likely to volunteer, volunteers more likely to organise and go to town halls and stand for election.5 There is potential for the House to swap in 2018 and for Democrats to sweep more seats in a 2020 election against a figure at least as motivating as Obama and Clinton were for Republicans.

If Clinton had won, it’s likely Democrats would have to wait until 2028 until they control the Presidency and Congress whereas now there is a higher chance it could happen 8 years earlier, rather than waiting nearly two decades since they last held all three in 2010.

 

What does that mean for individuals interested in effective altruism?

If you're passionate about politics and in America, than getting involved now seems like a potentially positive action but it wont be neglected if you align with Democrat positions (but potentially easier to get involved if you are Republican).

Otherwise it may be more important for politically minded people to focus on countries that have less stable political structures and more potential to improve policy.

Comments (6)

Comment author: Peter_Hurford  (EA Profile) 31 March 2017 07:38:57PM *  3 points [-]

If Clinton had won there would still be a Republican House and Senate

These two outcomes are correlated, so it's unclear to me how true this statement is.

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If Clinton had won, it’s likely Democrats would have to wait until 2028 until they control the Presidency and Congress

I agree that had Clinton won and had the Republicans still won the House and the Senate, it would likely be awhile until the Democrats would control all three, given the strong trend of midterm loss.

Comment author: DavidNash 31 March 2017 08:34:26PM 0 points [-]

It's probably correlated but it seems easier to imagine the scenario where Clinton got 10,000 more votes in Michigan, and 120,000 in Florida. Rather than winning three seats in the Senate and 20+ in the house (and still be massively behind in state legislature).

Comment author: Michael_S 01 April 2017 01:21:38PM 5 points [-]

I agree that the modal outcome of a Trump presidency is that he changes little and the Democrats come out stronger at the end of his presidency than they entered. However, I still think it would have been better that Clinton had won (even if we assume the same congress).

The most important reason is tail risk. As others have commented, the risk of nuclear war may be greater under Trump than it would have been under Clinton. So far, he seems to be pursuing a more conventional foreign policy than I feared, but I still believe the risk is higher than with Clinton. Additionally, I'm worried that the Trump presidency is increasing the salience of Russian hostility among Democrats and could increase the chance of conflict in the future even when a Democrat takes office.

Another are of concern is pandemics. Trump has expressed anti-Vaccine sentiments and submitted budgets which cut pandemic preparedness. Furthermore, the overall level of incompetence in his administration and many of his appointees leaves me worried that the response of the US to a major pandemic could be diminished.

None of the above is likely to happen, but I'd much rather play it safe with a Clinton presidency. Additionally, even the modal outcome of a presidency isn't all good for the liberals. Most notably, he'll almost certainly be able to move at least one conservative into the supreme court and has a high chance of moving at least one more. If Trump replaces a liberal with a conservative on the court, the court will move to the right and it will likely be quite a while until Democrats retake it. With a Clinton presidency, liberals would have been able to achieve a majority on the court that would likely have lasted a long time itself.

Comment author: HaydnBelfield 03 April 2017 07:03:29PM 0 points [-]

Thanks for this!

I personally agree that Democratic control of Congress, or even Congress and the Presidency, would be great. But I'm not sure how likely that is, or how certain that I should be about that likelihood.

Even if there was a high certainty and high likelihood, I probably still wouldn't take that option - the increased risk for four years is just too high. As Michael_S says you get higher nuclear risk and higher pandemic risk. As I said in my post, I think Trump also raises the risks of increased global instability, increased international authoritarianism, climate change, and emerging technologies. Take climate change - we really don't have long to fix it! We need to make significant progress by 2030 - we can't afford to go backwards for four years.

[Writing in a personal capacity, my views are not my employer's]

Comment author: ChristianKleineidam 18 April 2017 03:48:33PM 0 points [-]

If you're passionate about politics and in America, than getting involved now seems like a potentially positive action but it wont be neglected if you align with Democrat positions (but potentially easier to get involved if you are Republican).

Why do you believe it's easier to get involved as Republican?

There are a lot more ways to get involved in state politics than in national policy.

Comment author: DavidNash 20 April 2017 10:46:25AM 0 points [-]

At the moment Democrats are a lot more motivated and have a lot of people volunteering for them. As the Republicans have a majority less people will be getting involved with them as there doesn't seem to be a need to be helped and there'll be less competition for good positions.

I agree that you can get involved at every level and depending on the state dynamics it may make more sense to get involved or to focus on national or international politics.