Last weekend, The Boston Globe went Full Onion, distributing a paper with a fake front page that imagined what the world would look like on April 9, 2017, with one Donald J. Trump in the White House. The short version: It would be doubleplusungood, man!
It was a strange idea, but a noble one. In an editorial published concurrently with the fake front page, the Globe's editors argued that the GOP needs to "stop Trump" because his "vision for the future of our nation is as deeply disturbing as it is profoundly un-American." It was their clear hope that this front-page fake-out might render the dangers posed by Trump less abstract, more immediate and alarming. The paper called it "the front page we hope we never have to print."
The thing is, though, I'm not sure the Globe got it right. In fact, I'm actually pretty sure that a Trump presidency could be worse than they even imagine.
The important thing to remember is that Trump, by all the evidence, imagines governing to be easy. He seems to think it would be easy to implement his plans, and easy to manifest swift results. His basic premise is that America has been taking on water because everyone who is not Donald Trump is an idiot and a loser, and that once he's ensconced in the Oval Office, the "winning" is just going to come naturally.
It would be bad enough if he were correct, and it really were that easy for an American president to just will any old passing whim into law. But should Trump win the White House, the real danger will come when he finds out the job is a lot harder than that -- that the federal government is not, in fact, designed to provide a glide path to his ambitions.
It's this point that I'd argue the editors of the Globe didn't account for, with their whole "Days of Future Past" looming-dystopia thing. Let's examine the contents of that fake front page a bit more closely to see how.
"Deportations To Begin." Obviously, the flagship aspect of Trump's campaign has been his whooping nativism on immigration, especially when it comes to the "tremendous" wall he intends to build on the U.S.-Mexico border. Buuuut... "Deportations To Begin?" Really? The Boston Globe knows as well as anyone that President Barack Obama has already set the modern standard as far as the D-word is concerned. "Deportation push seems at odds with Obama's promise," Boston Globe staff writer Maria Sacchetti wrote back in August. "Local deportation underscores wider immigration debate," she wrote in a follow-up in January.
Of course, the Globe's fake article finds President Trump turning deportation rates up to 11, "calling on Congress to fund a 'massive deportation force'" and tripling the number of Immigration and Custom Enforcement Agents, all to the tune of $400 billion. And that, right there, is the problem with this hypothetical story: Congress. In the real world, this wouldn't be the moment when deportations begin. This would be the moment when Congress starts the long process of watering this proposal down, gouging its funding and probably filibustering it. There's a reason the fake article doesn't include any fake quotes from Congressional leaders: It's impossible to imagine they would cotton to this idea.
"New libel law targets 'absolute scum" in press." Trump has talked about how he'd like to "open up" libel laws so as to prevent reporters from accurately pointing out what an unhinged hairball he is. It's not hard to fathom why the paper lionized (rightly!) in the movie "Spotlight" might have a problem with that. In this hypothetical, the Globe actually put the legislative branch into the story, imagining that a "Republican-controlled Congress... passed sweeping changes to libel law" through a vehicle called the "L.A.M.E. (Limiting American Media Entitlement) Act."
This is a really remarkable Republican Congress! In the Globe's scenario, the party of small government has sought to supplant perfectly suitable state-level statutes and erect a brand-new federal law enforcement mechanism, presumably either funded by diverting money from some other Justice Department priority, or by increasing taxes. And they’ll do all of this in the service of one guy, a thin-skinned baby-man whom very few of them actually like.
Oh, and somehow, the Senate Democrats plumb forgot to filibuster this thing. Also, everyone involved decided to go ahead with this measure even though it would be quickly killed by the judiciary for being howlingly unconstitutional. Yeah, that dog won't hunt, friends. It's no surprise that this article, again, lacks quotes from any of the hypothetical Congresscritters who'd need to aid and abet this monstrosity. Points for that acronym, though; that's actually pretty funny.
"Markets sink as trade war looms." When Trump's not talking about building a wall to keep out Mexicans, he's talking about America getting screwed by China. So it makes sense that the Globe would want to extrapolate on that a bit. The editors imagine a massive market downturn based on "speculation that China is dumping some of its U.S. Treasury holdings" as retaliation for Trump imposing "tariffs as high as 45% for all Chinese imports."
The Globe is basically correct that this would adversely affect global supply chains, at least for a while. And it would certainly touch off a nominal trade war. But the horrific consequences they predict for the Dow Jones Industrial Average -- China would dump its U.S. debt holdings! -- would not be anywhere near as severe as they suggest. In fact, the whole thing might actually benefit the American economy.
See, when Trump (and liberal Democrats) bemoan "currency manipulation," they're talking about the Chinese government's habit of buying up tons of U.S. debt. That's how they manipulate their currency: buying Treasury securities. So if they dump their holdings, Trump (and liberal Democrats) would be happy. By increasing the value of its own currency, China would be effectively sending boatloads of manufacturing jobs to the U.S. It's hard to see why the Chinese government would do this in response to tariffs -- why, exactly, would they respond to our aggressive attempts to recapture our manufacturing base by aggressively decimating their own? -- or why the U.S. economy would suffer as a result.
Also, China only owns 8 percent of U.S. debt. Even if you're worried about the effect on global markets of such a mass dumping, it's really not that much. If American mutual funds decided to dump all of their holdings collectively, it would have roughly the same effect.
And of course, the United States has been in the midst of a cold trade war with China for over a decade, most recently fighting China on steel in a host of international forums.
Whatever convulsions the stock market would endure based on Trump's trade policy would come during the period when a newly elected Trump was just beating his chest and sowing uncertainty. Once we get to the point where this imagined trade war with China is on like Donkey Kong, the thing to worry about wouldn't be the stock market -- it would be the teensy fact that China makes just about every product sold in America. A better Globe headline would have been, "Thanks To Trump, We're All Gonna Be Out Of Light Bulbs For A While." In short, while trade wars can do real damage and Trump could probably come up with 19 different ways to ignite a stock market meltdown, this specific scenario the Globe imagines doesn’t really cohere.
Of course, the fun part of hypothesizing is that I could be wrong about all of this, too! Let’s face it -- Congress is weird, money is bullshit and all economic assets derive their value from ephemera. Worst of all, Trump has proven that fascist demagoguery can take a person pretty far in America. But -- but! -- he's also demonstrated that fascist demagoguery in America tends to provoke fierce resistance. And that will probably still be the case even in the unlikely event that Trump becomes president.
The Globe’s editors think Trump would be at his most dangerous when all the institutional bulwarks against his grand plans fail. I offer a counterpoint: Trump is going to be dangerous when those bulwarks -- whether we're talking about structural checks against executive power, or just the implacable nature of reality itself -- attempt to stand firm.
What have we learned about Trump in the past year? Aside from the fact that he resides in a wack-a-doodle wonderland of his own making, in which his sheer willpower is the magic ingredient necessary to solve each and every problem the nation faces, we’ve learned that he’s seen as toxic by most Americans. He doesn’t like being questioned, or countered. He has no sense of propriety or diplomacy or discipline. He expects to be catered to at every turn.
Donald Trump is now contending that the primary process itself is a rigged system. To some extent, this is true: The primary process is incredibly byzantine, and winning a primary or a caucus, as it turns out, doesn’t necessarily guarantee you the delegates as advertised. It’s a weird system in which “winning” isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be. That said, there is a process to it. The whole thing has been codified. There are rules and procedures, written down even, that a person can refer to and follow. Trump’s getting outworked by Ted Cruz in numerous venues right now because Cruz did the work and Trump didn’t, and it turns out that the skilled operators tend to accrue the advantages.
Trump, of course, makes himself out to be the operator with the most skills. The primary is demonstrating that this is not the case. But here's the point: If Trump perceives the GOP primary as a rigged system, just wait until he has to work with Congress -- packed stem to stern with people who have their own interests to guard and the expertise to do so. Trump’s going to have a pretty rude awakening when he discovers how the process of governing really works. Imagine the look on his face when he finds out that plans get killed by committee, watered down by special-interest shills and filibustered by the opposition. There’s nobody less prepared to learn that “the president proposes, but Congress disposes” than Donald Trump. It’s going to make his hair, or whatever connective tissue loosely swaddles his head, stand on end.
Trump’s going to find out pretty quickly that he can't command legislators the way he does the army of yes men who typically surround him. And how does Trump respond to that sort of adversity? What do we know about how he responds? He goes aggro, he gets litigious, he shifts right to revenge mode. Here’s where “Trump passes a libel law” falls well short of the mark. Left to his own devices, he would still get to direct a slew of regulatory agencies and government departments. He could use them to harangue, investigate, persecute, prosecute. He could order up any number of witch hunts.
He could also order those agencies to stand down. Would the next "Trump University" scam face any heat from the federal government? Would Trump's pals worry about bank regulators? Would the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau help anyone? The opportunities for Trump to sow corruption would be vast.
Trump is also a habitual breaker of deals, and any forecasts about a DJT presidency should account for this. How would he rattle important alliances? What rifts between the White House and important foreign leaders would open up within days of Trump taking the oath of office? What would happen at NATO headquarters the morning after an avowed fan of Vladimir Putin assumes the role of commander-in-chief? At the very least, they’re changing the locks.
The Globe’s front page does feature one fake article where Trump faces some resistance: “US soldiers refuse orders to kill ISIS families.” The story describes the tension between the White House and officials from the Pentagon and the CIA after “two Army Special Forces soldiers disobeyed direct orders to kill everyone in an ISIS compound.” In other words, they didn’t commit a war crime. Here, the Globe is imagining what would happen if President Trump met a bulwark that didn’t fail.
But if you think it through a little bit more, you can see where real danger lies. Which general is getting cashiered? How many soldiers are being drummed out of the service? How much expertise and institutional knowledge do we lose? And who's taking their place? Madmen, most likely. And the follow-on effects would be what? Something bleaker than even the Globe imagines.
The real problem with the future as foretold by the Globe -- an all-is-lost doomscape wherein America descends into something out of The Man In The High Castle in, like, 11 weeks' time -- is that it's not really the story of a lunatic tyrant’s success. It’s the story of everyone else’s failure. It assumes that everyone who keeps a duty, harbors a bit of patriotism or serves to preserve a norm will either happily go along with Trump’s designs or knuckle under with marvelous efficiency.
It’s a highly cynical way of envisioning America, one that I doubt The Boston Globe really intended. It's good to keep in mind, though, that as bad as Trump’s proposals are, the way he responds to people challenging his authority is what really makes him dangerous. The more authority he's given, the more dangerous he'll become.
If he’s elected, Trump is going to find out pretty quickly that the job isn’t as easy as he thinks it is. He’s going to learn that it brings endless scrutiny, criticism and demands. However he imagines the prestige of the office, when he discovers that he’s actually just a public servant who’s penned in, in many ways, by institutions, he’ll react badly. He’ll lash out, he’ll hide, he’ll sulk. And he’ll do it because Congress won’t fund his deportation scheme or pass his libel laws, and because China and Mexico won’t just willingly step up to become beggars to their own demise.
Alternatively, he could just bail on the job. Here's a really fun headline for April 9, 2017, five months after Trump wins the presidential election: “Vice President Ben Carson Sworn In Between Naps.”
So, one way or the other, God help us all.
Editor's note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims -- 1.6 billion members of an entire religion -- from entering the U.S.
Jason Linkins edits “Eat The Press” for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.