This article is part of a series in which we have asked our contributors to imagine that populist movements continue to gain influence in the coming years. Here Chris considers what America looks like after a second Trump term.
Exhausted. Exhilarated. Thankful. And ready to get back to work. Those are some of my feelings after watching President Kobach take the oath of office this morning. But more than anything else, today is a day of contented reflection. The past decade has been one of constant activity. Since the day Donald Trump descended his eponymous tower to announce his candidacy in June 2015, to the election of former Kansas Governor Kris Kobach – a strong, pro-Trump conservative whose 2017 leadership of Trump’s anti-voter fraud commission made him anathema to the Left – to what many are calling Trump’s third term last November. It’s been a decade of sharp conflict, some serious losses, but ultimately, one of victories that have re-established the foundations of the American republic.
What’s more, the concerted efforts of friendly governments across Europe as well as a few around the Pacific Rim, have made the world safer, more peaceful and more prosperous. Brexit was a resounding success for Britain. Once again, she led a coalition of European countries in a fight to retain their national sovereignty and the liberty and prerogatives of their people. And it’s led to an economic boom across Europe that has even seen a modest uptick in the continental birthrates.
Welcome to the populist decade
Following President Trump’s lead these countries also presented a united front against Chinese economic warfare and its aggression in the South China Sea. What tipped the balance was the collapse of the Chinese currency brought about by robust economic growth from her major trading partners, especially the United States. Under such duress, she could no longer afford to keep North Korea as a vassal. Kim Jong Un made a deal to keep his head, handing power to a military council of colonels that has aligned the country with the West. South Korea is leading the reconstruction of the North while Kim resides in the Philippines where he started a professional basketball league in partnership with longtime friend Dennis Rodman.
Interestingly, an America that under Trump forsook the moral imperialism of the Bush-Clinton-Obama triumvirate (the incessant utopian meddling in the affairs of other peoples and nations), saw its moral authority increase. The wisdom of President John Quincy Adams has rarely been more evident: “Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy.”
Perhaps the most important thing President Trump did in his first term was breaking the ban on free thought. His own transgressive personality paved the way. This has been nowhere more important than on college campuses where legislation tying eligibility for federal student loans to free speech codes liberated students from the stifling orthodoxy of progressive-left thought that has dominated for generations.
President Trump’s achievements on the domestic front marked a new birth of freedom and the definitive beginning of a new American century: reducing the size and scope of the state, appointing constitutionalist judges, and ending the illegal immigration crisis. It’s easy to point to his construction of the border wall as his administration’s signal achievement – especially since it was completed in just three years and under budget. And this in spite of a hail of nuisance lawsuits filed by every leftist lobby group possible. They were all summarily rejected by the Supreme Court in a series of decisions affirming the President’s right to protect the border.
Of course, the ultimate irony is that Mexico City based Cemex provided all of the cement after Trump and Mexican President Manuel Lopez-Obrador agreed to a renegotiation of NAFTA. Perhaps inspired by Trump’s focus on the importance of citizenship, Lopez-Obrador initiated an anti-corruption campaign and a massive infrastructure program. He even borrowed Trump’s slogan: Make Mexico Great Again (¡Hacer que México vuelva a ser grandioso!).
Without eight years of Donald Trump’s relentless, combative, ambitious presidency, a President Kobach would have been unthinkable. But so would have been the border wall which all but ended the misery and degradation of the trade in human beings that characterised the old, open borders world. In retrospect the only surprise is that we waited so long. What’s more, the open border had for years served as a magnet that drained developing countries of their most precious resource – their own people – thereby handicapping their ability to achieve political stability and economic prosperity.
Donald Trump also remade the American judiciary. Over eight years he appointed half of all federal judges and five Supreme Court Justices giving constitutionalist jurists a 7-2 majority. All of them, save for a very few misfires, are dedicated to judging the cases that come before them according to the law as written, not according to motivations known only to themselves.
America 2025: a nation violently divided
This has already had a salutary effect on American government. As the United States Supreme Court – the real seat of political power in the United State since the 1930s – is slowly ceding power back to the legislature and president, and returning to its constitutional limits as an unelected legislature. The full effects of this will only become apparent many years from now.
Trump was able to break the second term curse that has afflicted many post-World War II American presidents and notch significant political victories. There was no scandal to slow him down – his enemies threw everything at him in the first term, and lost – and he was supported by strong Congressional majorities of like-minded legislators swept into office in 2020. Not since Franklin Delano Roosevelt created the modern welfare state and crushed the power of state governments in the 1930s has an American president enjoyed such powerful majorities.
It was a mark of the remarkable weakness of the Democratic Party that they were forced to re-nominate Hillary Clinton in 2020. Bernie Sanders was unable to recapture the energy of 2016, and his young protégé, first term Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, fizzled on the national stage owing to her consistent failure to grapple with (or even acknowledge) basic facts about the country. Former California Senator Kamala Harris may yet re-emerge on the national stage, but for now she is a newly elected governor contending with the state’s massive debt, shrinking population, and one-state recession. We wish her good luck.
The irony is that California’s economy is slowly shrinking at a time when the United States is enjoying a technology-led boom with much of the innovation happening outside of Silicon Valley.
Still, President Kobach has his work cut out for him. He has promised to close unnecessary government agencies and to continue his predecessor’s work of returning power from federal bureaucrats to state government, which are closer and more resposonsive to citizen needs.
Still undecided is the fate of the robust secession movement in California. The statewide referendum won with a supermajority of 65% – more than Hillary Clinton’s share of the 2016 vote in the state. Political and religious minorities in the state – especially Christians and Jews – are concerned about life in the nascent People’s Republic of California without the protections afforded under the United States Constitution, and have asked for a right of return to the United States. President Kobach’s suggestion of allowing California to remain part of a confederation with the United States seems to have been well received.
The world is safer, the West is more unified, and America is both peaceful and prosperous. President Kobach’s job is to build upon the foundations laid by President Trump.