Healing the Wounds of 2016?

As the long and bitterly-fought 2016 election drew to a close, President-elect Trump, President Obama, Hillary Clinton and a host of commentators and pundits declared that it was time to heal the wounds and bring the nation back together. It seemed more likely, however, that competing political forces would lick their wounds and move their battles from the electoral arena to the nation’s capital.
During the course of his campaign, Trump had outlined an ambitious agenda of foreign and domestic policies and programs designed, as he said, “to make America great again.” Though we often tend to be skeptical of candidates’ campaign promises, these pledges usually offer a reasonably accurate blueprint for understanding candidates’ plans. Trump seems likely to attempt to make good on a number of his pledges which are consistent with his nationalistic and populist orientation and with mainstream views within the Republican party. With the House and Senate in Republican hands, Democrats will be hard pressed to block Trump’s efforts. Democratic congressional leaders will, nevertheless, wage pitched battles against Trump and his allies, producing new wounds over the scabs of the old ones.
One of the first battles of the Trump presidency will concern the appointment of a new Supreme Court justice to replace the late Antonin Scalia. After Scalia’s death in 2016, President Obama designated Merrick Garland, a moderate Democrat, as his replacement. Senate Republicans refused to move on the Garland nomination which would have given the Court a 5-4 Democratic majority. Trump promised that he would designate a conservative jurist and, during the campaign, published a list of potential nominees that included many of the nation’s most distinguished conservative judges. Among those named were U.S. Appeals Court judges William Pryor, Diane Sykes and Steven Colloton, all of whom were thought to be opponents of abortion rights. Sykes is also known as a proponent of 2nd Amendment rights. Trump’s list pleased Republicans but Democrats vowed to battle any such nominee who, if confirmed, would restore the 5-4 conservative majority of the Scalia years. This battle could produce a Democratic Senate filibuster and a Republican effort to change Senate rules to bring an end to this venerable Senate tactic.
A second battle will almost certainly be fought over Obamacare. During the campaign, Trump frequently asserted that the repeal or modification of the Affordable Care Act would be among his first priorities. For the most part, House and Senate Republicans agree that Obamacare should be repealed and many support the idea of replacing it with Health Savings Accounts (HSA’s). Democrats are prepared to mount a fierce battle to defend a program that they hoped would join Medicare and Social Security as entitlements giving millions of voters a reason to support the Democratic party.
A third battle will involve immigration and border security. Trump famously declared that he would build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, prevent illegals from entering the country, and increase deportations of non-citizens who committed crimes in the U.S. Democrats castigated Trump for his callous attitude toward refugees. The fact is, however, that much of the U.S.-Mexican border is already strongly fenced and heavily patrolled. President Obama, moreover, greatly accelerated deportations while claiming to search for a more humane solution to the problem of immigration. Nevertheless, Democrats view the Hispanic community as an important constituency and will resist efforts by Trump and the GOP to strengthen border security.
Fourth, Trump will seek to revise American economic and trade policy. During the campaign, Trump accused the Democrats of allowing millions of blue-collar jobs to leave the country for China and Mexico while American workers faced unemployment. Trump will seek to provide manufacturing industries with reasons to stay in America by reducing corporate taxes and repealing many current financial, environmental and safety regulations that business finds costly and burdensome. Trump has also promised to scuttle the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership and to revisit America’s various existing trade and international environmental agreements to obtain terms more favorable to American firms and workers. Democrats will argue that under the pretext of helping American workers Trump and the Republicans plan to undermine the health and safety rules that protect American workers while offering unproductive but politically powerful American firms protection from foreign competition.
Fifth, Trump has criticized China while promising a better relationship with Russia. Both Democratic and Republican internationalist elites have long viewed friendly relations with China as a cornerstone of American security and trade policy–protecting American trade interests while enmeshing China in a series of economic relationships with the U.S. likely to prevent military rivalries. To Trump and other nationalists in the GOP, China is a growing enemy to be confronted rather than a beneficent trade partner, and Russia is a useful counterweight to China. Democrats are ready to accuse Trump of mounting a reckless and dangerous foreign policy, especially as Trump seeks to carry out his plan to greatly expand American naval and air power in the Pacific.
Thus, calls to heal the wounds and bring the nation together in the wake of the election seem rather whimsical. The conclusion of the election marked the end of one battle in a long struggle over the nation’s future.