Pri­or­i­tize your panic but­tons

Cecil Whig - - FRONT PAGE - Doyle McManus

— Don­ald Trump has given peo­ple plenty to worry about in the first 10 days of his tran­si­tion to the pres­i­dency — espe­cially any­one who thought all along he was un­qual­i­fied for the job. It’s as if a bunch of peo­ple who never ex­pected to win the White House have been sud­denly asked to or­ga­nize an ac­tual ad­min­is­tra­tion. The re­sult has been chaos, ec­cen­tric nom­i­na­tions (Jeff Ses­sions — re­ally?) and Twit­ter out­bursts from an un­re­formed pres­i­dent-elect.

But you can’t hit all your panic but­tons si­mul­ta­ne­ously. So I thought it might be use­ful to do triage, sort­ing the big­gest con­cerns from lesser ones. Call this a semi-op­ti­mistic guide for the se­ri­ously dis­tressed.

Let’s start with is­sues we can put off wor­ry­ing about for a while.

The econ­omy is go­ing to be fine for the short run. Fi­nan­cial mar­kets didn’t crash when Trump won; they soared when in­vestors fig­ured out his plans to spend tril­lions on in­fra­struc­ture, de­fense and tax cuts will add up to a gi­ant eco­nomic stim­u­lus. Al­though Repub­li­cans hated the idea of stim­u­lus when it bore Pres­i­dent Obama’s name, watch them hail Trump’s as an act of ge­nius.

Over time, all that stim­u­lus is likely to boost in­fla­tion, just as con­ser­va­tives warned in 2009. It may even lead to a re­ces­sion in time to dis­rupt Trump’s re­elec­tion cam­paign.

Im­mi­grants and their ad­vo­cates are fran­tic over the prospect of mass de­por­ta­tions. This has been a cen­tral theme of an­tiTrump marches in Cal­i­for­nia. Last week, the na­tion’s Ro­man Catholic bish­ops, in a mes­sage to Trump, tartly reaf­firmed their com­mit­ment to keep­ing im­mi­grant fam­i­lies in­tact.

Their alarm may be un­nec­es­sary. Trump has been pretty con­sis­tent: He wants to de­port un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants with crim­i­nal records im­me­di­ately, but he’s will­ing to de­lay ac­tion on oth­ers un­til he builds a bor­der wall and puts a com­pre­hen­sive pol­icy in place. His bark may prove worse than his bite.

On health­care, the pic­ture is also muddy. The Repub­li­can ma­jor­ity in Congress is most cer­tainly go­ing to re­peal Oba­macare — but that doesn’t mean they’ll dis­man­tle it im­me­di­ately. Con­gres­sional lead­ers may keep the pro­gram in­tact af­ter it’s “re­pealed” while they work on the “some­thing bet­ter” Trump keeps promis­ing. Who knows? By the end of an­other long de­bate, more vot­ers may de­mand a sin­gle-payer plan.

Race re­la­tions, law en­force­ment and civil lib­er­ties are more worrisome. The nom­i­na­tion of Ses­sions, Trump’s choice for at­tor­ney gen­eral, will force a se­ri­ous de­bate on these is­sues, which were roil­ing even be­fore Trump’s elec­tion un­leashed a wave of ug­li­ness. (It was good that the pres­i­dent-elect told his sup­port­ers, “Stop it.” He may need to say it more than once.) In 1986, the Se­nate re­jected Ses­sions’ nom­i­na­tion to the fed­eral bench af­ter sub­or­di­nates ac­cused him of racist state­ments; he ad­mit­ted call­ing the NAACP “un-American.”

It’s up to Trump to de­liver on his prom­ise to African Amer­i­cans to make their lives bet­ter. It’s up to lo­cal of­fi­cials to make sure law en­force­ment isn’t abu­sive. And it’s up to the rest of us to make clear that racism and misog­yny are what’s re­ally un-American.

Equally se­ri­ous: the en­vi­ron­ment. Trump has called hu­man­caused cli­mate change a “hoax.” He has promised to dis­man­tle the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency, with­draw from the Paris agree­ment on cli­mate change and scrap reg­u­la­tions on power plant emis­sions. But as Ge­orge P. Shultz told me last week, cli­mate change skep­tics are “get­ting mugged by re­al­ity.” Trump need only ask the man­agers of his own Florida golf cour­ses how soon they ex­pect their greens to be un­der water.

It’s for­eign pol­icy, how­ever, that wor­ries me the most, be­cause that is where the power of a pres­i­dent is nearly ab­so­lute.

Since World War II, the sta­bil­ity of in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions has rested on two pil­lars: se­cu­rity al­liances, for­mal­ized in de­fense treaties like NATO, and global eco­nomic in­te­gra­tion, em­bod­ied in fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions and trade agree­ments. The United States has worked hard to main­tain that struc­ture for 70 years.

But Trump doesn’t much like ei­ther pil­lar. In­stead of see­ing them as im­pres­sive if shaky struc­tures, he views them as bad deals that cost too much.

So will he choose to con­trib­ute to sta­bil­ity — or dis­rup­tion? Will he an­nounce a draw­down of troops from NATO or a trade war with China, just to shake things up? Will he try to rene­go­ti­ate Obama’s nu­clear deal with Iran care­fully, or tear it up com­pletely? Will he blun­der into a shoot­ing war in the Per­sian Gulf or the South China Sea?

His ap­point­ment of re­tired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn as na­tional se­cu­rity ad­vi­sor isn’t re­as­sur­ing. As Cal­i­for­nia Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Bur­bank) put it: “I’d be wor­ried about an im­pul­sive pres­i­dent with an im­pul­sive na­tional se­cu­rity ad­vi­sor.”

Al­ready, by putting U.S. com­mit­ments in ques­tion, Trump has prompted other coun­tries to look for other, more re­li­able al­lies. Last week, for ex­am­ple, Ja­pan and Aus­tralia en­dorsed a new, Chi­nese-spon­sored trade pact in Asia — one that doesn’t even in­clude the United States.

I asked an em­i­nent for­eign pol­icy scholar, Michael Man­del­baum of Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity, what it all adds up to. Are we go­ing to wind up in a 1930s sce­nario, in which no dom­i­nant power — or group of pow­ers — can keep a lid on in­ter­na­tional con­flicts? Man­del­baum smiled sadly. “We could,” he said. “It’s the end of the world.”

The end of the global or­der as we’ve known it, any­way. Trump, who cast him­self as a can­di­date of re­newed American strength, may lead us to a dan­ger­ous era of weak­ness in­stead.

Doyle McManus is a colum­nist for the Los An­ge­les Times. Read­ers may send him email at doyle.mcmanus@la­times.com

LOS AN­GE­LES

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