2016 In a Word: Surreal

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PURE SPECULATION-Merriam-Webster, the dictionary publishers, chose “surreal” as their Word of the Year for 2016. I doubt anyone would disagree with that assessment of the events of the past 365 days. The “Top 10” lists of news stories should actually be labeled, “Top One and Everything Else” -- the “one” being the election of Donald Trump. 

The election may not be unique, but the winner sure is. Several pundits have plumbed the depths of American history seeking an example that might shed light on the next four years. Thus far, I’ve read commentaries comparing Trump to Richard Nixon, Warren Harding, and Andrew Jackson. Strangely, at least one conservative suggested Trump was like John F. Kennedy because of a tax cut passed during his administration. Nothing yet about Washington or Lincoln. 

While some aspects of the characters of previous presidents may seem predicative, there’s no way of determining how Trump will ultimately govern. We may have a good idea of his personality, but none of us can guess what external factors and events will affect the future. Perhaps what is more potentially dangerous is not what Trump does, but what others think and do.

About half of Americans don’t like Trump. Many loathe him. As I talk to people about what happened, I’m witnessing a level of anger I’ve never seen before. There’s also a lot of folks depressed about the outcome. What I’m not seeing is acceptance. Does this mean Democrats will now adopt the Republican strategy and just dig in and oppose everything? 

On the other side, there appears to be a cocky defensiveness. A “we won, get over it” attitude. There’s also a self-righteousness based on a belief that what right-wing media says is fact. A large number of Americans choose to exist in an alternate reality that supports their notion that something is wrong and only Trump can fix it. Only he can “make America great again.” 

So, we have two sides more polarized than ever. 

What happens now? 

If we’re lucky, very little. Obamacare, Medicare, and Medicaid remain relatively untouched. Funding will be cut, but hopefully the basic structure remains intact. In foreign affairs, the rest of the world will spend the next four years rolling their eyes at America, but there won’t be any new wars. Trade agreements may be renegotiated, but will mostly remain in force. The federal government will not block state efforts to regulate pollution. There will not be a wall at the border and millions will not be deported. And, despite a likely lurch to the right in the courts, most will follow precedent and not upend established law. 

If the doomsayers are proven correct, we will see the social safety net in tatters and a resulting spike in poverty. Certainly there will be even greater homelessness. The federal government will abolish most clean air and water regulations or, at least, gut enforcement. Massive tax cuts combined with massive increases in government spending will drive the economy into another deep recession. This, of course, will be worsened by the elimination of anything resembling regulation of financial markets. The economic wild card is whether Trump will actually prevail in tearing up trade treaties and getting tariffs to punish importers. 

All of this is pure speculation. The truth is, nobody knows. It’s the uncertainty that’s making everybody crazy right now. Half of America is hoping that Trump will do what he says and the other half is afraid that he will do what he says. More than ever before in living memory, we are in uncharted waters.

 

(Doug Epperhart is a publisher, a long-time neighborhood council activist and former Board of Neighborhood Commissioners commissioner. He is a contributor to CityWatch and can be reached at: Epperhart@cox.net) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

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