On Tuesday the 8th of November 2016, I settled down to watch the results of the US election on CNN thinking that Hilary was a shoe-in. In fact, I was so sure that she was going to win that I went to bed at 2 a.m. When I woke up, I turned my phone on and the delayed app notifications caused my phone to buzz furiously. In all fairness, being a bit bleary eyed and sleepy, it took several minutes for the contents of the notifications to filter into my befuddled brain.
I think it really first dawned on me that Hilary had lost was when I read a text from a friend saying “I expected Clinton to be elected at 1.30 am and be in bed”. The message was sent at 5 in the morning. One impact of the Trumps election is that over the last number of weeks there have been reams of voluminous articles and opinion pieces written about the impact of the new President Elect Donald Trump, the failure of Hilary Clinton campaign, the end of neo liberalism etc. This could lead one to spend hours reading all the material written on the election that it would actually make your head spin.
Anyway, I won’t delve into the failures of Clinton campaign or the reason why Trump succeeded as I would never be able to finish and it would end up being a full blown dissertation. As Trump will now be inaugurated President in January 2017, the question now arises is whether he can implement the policies that he advocated during the campaign.
In America the founding fathers of the Constitution established a mechanism to prevent one person dominating the running of the country. It established a series of checks and balances on the powers of each institution. The founders feared giving too much power to the President and thereby gave Congress and the Senate supervisory powers to scrutinise the actions of the President.
In America, the President does not pass legislation. The President signs legislation that is passed by both the House of Congress and Senate and once he signs it, the legislation becomes law. He can also veto legislation that he disagrees with. For example, the Senate and Congress voted on a bill to allow the victims of 9/11 to sue the Saudi Arabian government in the U.S Courts. The reason that a bill was required to be passed to sue the Saudis was that governments have immunity from prosecution in foreign countries and the bill stripped Saudi Arabia of their right to use the immunity defence in cases taken by the families of the 9/11 victims. President Obama vetoed the legislation so as to protect America’s strategic relationship with Saudi Arabia. However, the Senate and Congress voted to override the President’s veto. For a veto to be overturned, there must be a two thirds majority vote in the House of Congress and the Senate. In this instance, the vote was heavily in favour of overriding the veto.
A President is entitled to propose legislation and can draft the relevant bill but unless he can find someone in Congress to bring it to the floor of the House of Congress, it cannot be passed. However, legislation is generally decided in Committees that contain members of the House of Congress and of the Senate. The Chairman of the Committee comes from the party that has an overall majority. For example in the Banking Committee, the Chairman will be now a Republican. The Republicans will have a majority on the Committee and may propose any legislation that they wish to enact.
Trump’s policies will be implemented and shaped by leaders of Congress and the Senate, namely Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan. These two men hold the keys to what will be put before the Houses to be voted on. This creates a check on the power of the President. In fact, President Elect Donald Trump has attacked Paul Ryan several times during the campaign and the relationship between these two men is barely civic and this may impede Trump in implementing his agenda, as Paul Ryan will be the person to decide what legislation that Congress can vote on and as a result he can delay any bills that he dislikes or disapproves of.
One aspect of the legislative process in America that is rarely mentioned or not heavily scrutinised is the impact of lobbyists on bills/policy proposals. In a number of conservative States a lobbying group wrote the legislation that was passed by the State legislature. These lobbyists have a large influence on the drafting of legislation. Along with Congress and the Senate, bills can be rewritten and reshaped by lobbyists before they get voted on. One of the most influential lobbyists, in right wing Republican circles, are the Kock brothers. These vastly wealthy men will try to shape legislation to favour their industries and may seek to dismantle a lot of the environmental legislation which impacts on their businesses.
After the elections, the Republicans will only have 51 Senators to the Democrats 47 when the Senate resumes in January and this slender majority will mean they will have to compromise with their Democratic colleagues. A further complicating factor is that a number of Republican Senators were vociferously opposed to Trump and even indicated that they would not vote for him. It appears, at present, that the Republican party is divided and this again may hinder the Trump administration passing legislation it advocated on the campaign.
As iterated above, the Republicans only have a majority of four in the Senate. In the Senate for a party to pass its preferred legislation without any amendments being made, it requires 60-votes. A party that is in the minority can block legislation by filibustering it or threatening to filibuster it. This has the impact that the majority usually ends up not bringing the legislation for a vote or coming to compromise on the proposed legislation.
A Senator or Congressman willing to filibuster a bill simply needs to be able to stand in the Senate or Congress reading long passages from reports, books or just simply talking about nothing for hours on end. This prevents the Senate or Congress from continuing its work and thus preventing a vote on the bill. If successful, the bill will then be removed from the floor and a vote will not be taken on the bill.
An example of the my points above is that when the Obama administration sought to pass a health insurance act, the Democrats were forced to compromise with the Republican members of the Senate as they did not have a big enough majority, at the time, to pass the act. Also, throughout the process of bringing the Affordable Care Act to a vote, the insurance industry ensured that certain provisions preferred by the Democratic party, did not affect them and were removed from the bill. As a result, the Obama administration was heavily criticised by the left wing Democrats for compromising with Republicans and not passing a bill that reflected the values of the Democratic party. However, as the Republican’s in the Senate had the ability to filibuster the bill or could threaten to filibuster the bill, the Obama administration had to compromise on its preferred bill so as to ensure that the Affordable Care Act would be acceptable to Republicans and ultimately, be passed in the Senate.
The example of the Obama administration seeking to pass the Affordable Care Act shows that the Trump administration may not succeed in passing all its desired legislation or if it gets a bill to the Senate, then it will more than likely face stiff opposition and will require amendments before the Democrats will allow a vote to be taken.
In another age a young aspiring black man began a campaign on the promise of bringing change to Washington. However President Obama never managed to deliver on all of his promises. An example of one of his promises was that he wished to close Guantanamo Bay but despite vigorously campaigning on this issue, he was unable to keep his campaign promise. In the last six years of his presidency, Obama’s policy agenda was stymied by the fact the Republicans controlled both the Senate and Congress.
Similarly President Elect Trump has indicated that he wishes to drain the swamp and make America Great Again but as can be seen during Obama’s Presidency, he may not be able to deliver on his promises and his Presidency may end up failing to make any impact on how government is run. Even one of Americas most famous President’s Franklin D Roosevelt completely ignored the proposals that he made during the campaign. In fact when he became President he implemented the majority of the policy proposals put forward by his opponent. In all fairness, it is completely unlikely that Trump will implement Clinton’s agenda but the point is that campaign rhetoric and policy proposals are generally ignored when one actually has to run the ship State and any proposed legislation will undergo rigorous scrutiny by lobbyists and then amendments will be proposed and compromises will have to be made, thus negating the impacts of the extreme elements of Trumps legislative agenda.
So, the impact of Trump may be negated and we may have a quiet four years.
One area that Trump will have a huge impact over is the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court is incredibly powerful institution that has the ability to impact on American society. At present there is one vacancy on the court due to death of Conservative Judge Antonia Scalia. However, the great liberal jurist Ms. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Mr. Justice Stephen Bayer are in their eighties and seventies respectively. These two Justices will likely be replaced in the next couple of years. One quirk of the Supreme Court in the US is that the Supreme Court Judges have life appoints and only on their death or their retirement can a vacancy arise.
At present the Court is split with four conservatives and four liberals. However, due to the election of Trump, the Supreme Court will see the appointment of several conservative justices over the next few years, due to the retirements of liberal Justices Ginsburg and Justice Bayer and thereby ensuring that conservatives will retain a majority on the court for a generation. One major decision that Conservatives will hope the court will address over the coming years is Roe v Wade which granted a women the right to have an abortion in the US. Another area that will be reviewed will be the issue of college admission policy which allow universities to put in place quotas for minority students, particularly black, Hispanic and Asian minorities and the court will probably decide on voting registration legislation which requires people to have specific form of identification on them when they vote. This type legislation generally discriminates against minority voters and the justification for its use is to stop voter fraud. However in a recent case in a Southern state, e-mails provided to the Court showed that the rationale for the voter identity legislation was to stop black people from voting for Democratic candidates.
It appears to me that the biggest potential impact of the election of Donald Trump for the US is in reshaping the Supreme Court, due to the power and influence that the US Supreme Court has on American Society, as sometime in next four to eight years the court will move to having six conservative judges to three liberal judges. The possible impact on US society will be the rolling back of rights gained by minorities, women and environmentalist and making America a very conservative country.