Given the unprecedented year we’ve had in 2016, I thought it would be fun to start a new tradition for the beginning of the year. I’ll make some predictions on how the year will turn out with the new administration (Trump and his presidency). After the next year starts, I’ll tally the correct or incorrect predictions and make some new ones.
None of this is scientific and I’m not going to cite whatever sources make me feel the way I do in my predictions. This is mostly for entertainment value. It’s also a good gauge for me to see how close my perceptions are to reality. That’s pretty important given the number of misinformation that’s out there. In addition, I make no guarantees that anything I put down will be particularly new or insightful. So! Here we go…
Russia: Might as well start with the big one. I’ve always worked off of a “theory of mediocre results” when it came to politics. That is, the result of any political event will be the most mediocre (or at least the least extreme) outcome possible. This theory would have guaranteed a win for Hillary Clinton, but we all see how that turned out. That said, I don’t think Trump is somehow in cahoots with Putin. I think he admires the man and wants anything that could threaten his presidency to go away.
For 2017 there’s obviously going to be warmer ties with Russia. I don’t think NATO will be threatened just yet, but Ukraine will become more vulnerable, but won’t get annexed this year. Russia will be allowed to grow into a more globally-relevant superpower and some US missile defense systems meant to stop North Korea’s missiles will be removed because the Russians think they were meant to attack Russia itself. I expect things will really start to get interesting in 2018 after the basic political foundation has been laid out this year.
Israel: Trump will probably move the Israeli embassy to Jerusalem as promised. This will be problematic for two reasons. First, he’s already causing tension with the Muslim population. With a move to Jerusalem he’s essentially annexing one of their holy sites. Secondly, Israel has a hard-line faction that has no interest in a two-state solution. They may not be happy to go to war, but they’re not interested in giving peace a chance. When Netanyahu was running for election, he claimed that “arabs” were being sent in to vote for his opposition. The hard-liners were the people he was trying to galvanize with that statement.
These hard-liners are also very socially conservative. Trump will be helping a group that tried to make it a crime for women to pray at certain holy sites. In general, Trump will be making relations with the Muslim community more difficult which in turn will help his narrative that we are at war with “radical Islamic extremists” and therefore need a registry or some other action.
The UN: The big secret of the UN is that while US politicians decry it and demand it to be defunded, they also quietly ask for the UN’s help in various international matters. The demands to defund the UN will probably result in money not being given, but given the UN’s utility I don’t see how they can justify removing the whole 3 billion in fees that are paid to it. Any “defunding” will likely be a smaller amount that will appease the masses while keeping the UN largely paid. If the UN is truly completely defunded, then a horrible mistake will be made. The UN would have to find an alternate source of funds. These funds would likely come from Russia or China, both of whom would like the UN to back off on the human rights issue.
They would both also receive more political clout at the UN in general. China in particular has argued that the base currency for international markets should not be the US dollar. So far their efforts to change the base currency have been unsuccessful, but with the recent government shutdown they’ve had a slightly stronger voice. If they replace the US in funding the UN, that voice will get stronger. I don’t think this will happen, though. I think in 2017 the UN will receive something of a symbolic defunding, but will still receive enough funding to prevent it from turning to other UN members for replacement funds
China: Trump’s inability to stop tweeting, his strongman front and China’s demand to be taken seriously will all contribute to escalating tensions with China. For 2017 I don’t think there will be an all-out trade war, though. I think the Republicans will quietly find ways to smoothing things out while trying to continue to look and sound tough on China. China is already mocking Trump as a child and one Chinese business made a statue of a rooster with Trump’s hair. So both sides are going to needle each other and test each other’s boundaries. I still think this will basically be chest-thumping. If it escalates, it will be in 2018 after much back-and-forth. In the meantime, both sides will basically be engaging in various forms of signalling to each other.
North Korea: The international community has been waiting for years for North Korea to implode and it hasn’t happened. What’s worse, the leadership is more out of control than usual. Kim Jong Un is determined to be treated as a world power and is signalling non-stop that he’ll go nuclear to get it. China is protecting North Korea because it doesn’t want war refugees to flood into China. It also doesn’t want a democratic state right along its border. The US has pledged to protect South Korea, which would almost certainly be destroyed in the event of a war. Basically, if anything sparks a war in 2017, it will be North Korea’s constant shenanigans. More likely, though, is that Trump or a surrogate will get Russia to talk to China. China will, in turn, pressure North Korea to knock things off. Lately, though North Korea has seemed dead-set on ignoring outside advice. They will probably have a missile ready to hit the US by the end of the year, but won’t be a player on the international stage like they’d like to be. The future is hazy on this one.
Iran: Outside of the famed Iran deal, I have no idea. To get an idea on what will happen when the Iran Nuclear Deal is ripped up, though, just take a look at North Korea. Beyond a certain point there’s a limited amount of affect that sanctions can do to a country. If Trump and company tear up the nuclear deal, then Iran has no incentive not to develop nuclear weapons. I think the basic process for this will start sometime later this year. It will cause a lot of tension and podium-banging, but there doesn’t seem to be anything that could stop Trump from tearing apart the deal, either in terms of his thoughts, his advisors’ thoughts or the legislative body in general. Everyone seems to want the thing gone even though it would really free Iran to become a player in the nuclear weapons game.
The Economy: The economy has been slowly growing under Obama and I think Trump will take advantage of this in 2017 to claim that he is having an effect. He’ll continue actions like the Carrier deal where he saves a few thousand jobs here and there throughout the year. This will enable him to look like he’s doing something when in reality he’s not fixing any problems. Ultimately, I think he’ll have a relatively easy ride in 2017 because it will take time for the policies he and the Republicans lay out to have a noticeable effect.
To get an idea where things are going, however, I generally compare Kansas and California. California has high wages and taxes and a large number of regulations. It’s usually placed about 6 or so on the list of world economies. When Governor Sam Brownback took leadership of Kansas, he proclaimed it an opportunity to show the world that fiscally conservative ideas worked. Instead the economy imploded and the state sold sex toys online to make up a budget shortfall. The Republicans think their way will work, but it’s the same set of tactics that Brownback tried, so I can’t see it doing anything good. That said, I don’t think we’ll see any sign one way or another until after 2017.
Education: I actually don’t have a lot to say about this one. I’ve had friends in the Los Angeles Unified School District. The organization is a byzantine labyrinth of bureaucracy. That’s just Los Angeles. I shudder to think what other cities and states are like. Whatever Betsy DeVos has planned, I don’t think it will have a noticeable effect in the first year due to the infrastructure issues alone. I think some cities and states will implement new policies faster than others, but I think overall this year will be about laying down the basic roots of the new system. I will say that often charter schools appear to do better than public schools because they turn away students that don’t do as well. The fact that charter schools take public money but aren’t otherwise accountable is also a source of concern.
Technology: Trump rather notoriously tweets, but is also something of a luddite. He’s never sent an email, for example. Part of this is just because he’s Trump, but part also seems to be a form of legal protection. He can’t turn over a set of emails in a court case because he doesn’t send them. Anyone who sends them on his behalf can be written off as an out-of-control employee. Because of this he’s going to hand off decisions on technology to his generals and advisors. Unfortunately, it was a general under the Bush administration who spearheaded the PRISM program which involved spying on Americans. Obama was also instrumental here and has taken flack from the tech community for keeping the whole domestic spying thing going.
The problem with Trump is he’s a fan of strongman leaders, has generals for advisors and is also advised by Peter Thiel. Thiel is on the board of Facebook and is the head of his own company that gathers information on people and sells it to the government. Although we probably won’t hear about it until much later, I expect Trump’s administration in general to use intimidation and incentives to get companies to share more information on its users. Obama may have shut down the Muslim registry program before the end of his term, but Trump will have Thiel and his Silicon Valley contacts create a privatized ad-hoc version that can target anybody.
A lot of companies make a big deal about caring about the privacy of their users, but it’s important to point out that the ideals that spawned hacker culture have been replaced in Silicon Valley by neo-Randian pseudo-Libertarians. Thiel himself once wrote that freedom and democracy are incompatible and I once heard a tech investor speak on NPR’s Fresh Air show that the future might involve two classes of society; the creators and the consumers. In effect, very seriously and without realizing it, he was advocating a caste system for America. Regardless of what Google, Facebook and other companies state publicly, they will cut a deal if it makes sense for them in terms of business. Look for more ways companies quietly collect information on users in 2017.
Media and Press: The press is only going to become more irrelevant in 2017. First there are Trump’s tweets, which let him bypass the press and promote his own reality with little pushback. Secondly, there has been a report or two that he’s making a deal with a cable network to allow him to broadcasts statements and speeches without having to take questions. In addition, the Republicans have pushed forward a bill to make streaming video on the House floor illegal. This is a punitive act against the Democrats for engaging in a sit-in protest and then streaming the event on their phones. Finally, Trump has near total control of The Voice of America, a state-run radio network. It was originally designed to provide news and information to other countries and was never intended for domestic broadcast. That said, he can reorient the network however he pleases.
Individually, these events might be written off, but I think we’re witnessing an uncoordinated, ad-hoc construction of a propaganda arm. I think it’s uncoordinated because in each case it appears that an action was the result of a specific and immediate need (the sit-in for example). I think, however, it will be a matter of time before the pieces are pulled together into a cohesive form. 2017 will be about building the infrastructure in this area. I think a coordinated effort will come in 2018 or later.
Health Care: This one is a foregone conclusion. The Republicans are going to announce some kind of repeal or defunding of the Affordable Care Act, but they don’t have a replacement in place. They’re going to push off replacing the program to four years in the future, but that won’t do anything. The Democrats are happy to use this as an opportunity to win points with the public against the Republicans. Of course, this is the same party that has shown expertise in pulling defeat from the jaws of victory, so who knows how that will turn out.
Once the ACA/Obamacare is defunded, the health insurance companies aren’t going to have much if any incentive to play ball. I expect a lot of companies to pull out of the deal over the course of 2017. A lot of people are going to lose their health insurance, but I suspect that Trump will spin it in a way that makes him look good, while the Republicans will say some sympathetic things here and there. There might be an emergency bill passed to help ameliorate the effects, but who knows. I think 2017 is the year affordable healthcare just goes away.
Society in General: The white supremacist faction of society has been empowered by Trump and they’re not going to be relegated to the shadows anymore. That said, I still don’t think there’s enough of them to cause more problems than they’re already causing on their own. For 2017 there will be white supremacist parades and other attention-getting activities, but I think it will settle down into a sort of “new normal”. I think in general, however, there is going to be more of a hardening of opinions and people will be less likely to want to talk to the other side. American Democracy requires discussions with those who are different from ourselves. Unfortunately, we’re now at a point where everyone has adopted an “I’m right and I attack those who are wrong” approach. I think physical conflict will be the result of the white supremacist factions initiating something, but I also think as Trump continues in his presidency, the other side will become more militant in response.
It’s important to note that Trump has surrounded himself with generals and people who advocate a hard-line against opposing groups or ideas. Trump will encourage, in an oblique sort of way, an undercurrent of intolerance of anyone who doesn’t support him. The natural reaction of those around him will be to engage in strong-arm tactics in order to intimidate and suppress. They’re naturally inclined to be insensitive to the problems of those who don’t agree with them. So far tensions have been relatively low while everyone waits to see how Trump handles himself in office, but I think tensions will start building by the end of 2017. I think we may see serious problems after that, but I could be wrong. Maybe everyone will take that metaphorical chill pill and everything will be all right.
So there you have it. Nothing truly out there or unexpected, but worth it for me to come back to once in a while to see whether I’m accurate or not. If anyone else reads this, let me know your thoughts or opinions. I’ll update this post based on the circumstances as they develop.