It is possible to make the point that it doesn’t matter who is president by speaking in generalities: how the political system is rigged to ignore all inputs that lie outside of a narrow range of interests of a self-serving elite; how the level of political discourse within the US is far too low for a constructive discussion of any serious issue; how artificially generated partisan divisiveness is specifically designed to prevent people from finding common cause while skillfully hiding the fact that the US is not a democracy at all (as explained here). Lots of people have gone into considerably more detail than I wish to in explaining all of this, and yet if you ask “the man on the street” whether it matters who is president, it is highly likely that he will respond in the affirmative.
Since speaking in generalities fails to persuade, let’s look at some specifics. Specifically, let’s look at Trump’s desperate antics, which enrage some people, drive others to distraction and, oddly enough, cause a few more to admire the man. Nobody seems to be making the point that no matter how Trump thrashes around, the result will be virtually the same. Here are a few examples.
• Trump is doing everything he can to dissuade the Europeans from accepting another natural gas pipeline out of Russia and to instead start buying liquefied natural gas from the US, which is at least twice as expensive and not nearly as plentiful. He has threatened to sanction European companies that do business with Russian energy companies. And yet Nord Stream 2, the pipeline that will connect Russia to Germany via the floor of the Baltic Sea, is proceeding. Another president might have acted differently, but the result would have been exactly the same.
• Trump has been flip-flopping on Russia. Sometimes he says that nobody is tougher on Russia than him; then he turns around and invites Russia back into the G7 (to which Putin says that he has other plans). He expels Russian diplomats for made-up reasons, then appears to be planning a summit with Putin. Again, whether he is friendly or hostile toward Russia doesn’t matter at all. Whether he is imposing or easing sanctions, Russia’s goals remain the same: become free of US influence and end reliance on the US dollar. The ultimate result will be exactly the same.
• Trump has gone from insulting Kim Jong Un of North Korea by calling him “little rocket man” and threatening to “completely destroy” his country to most recently holding a summit with him and signing joint letter promising to pursue peace and cooperation. Kim Jong Un has embraced the ultimate goal of a fully denuclearized Korean peninsula while Trump promised to provide North Korea with security guarantees. But what are these security guarantees worth, considering that Trump had just pulled out of the nuclear agreement with Iran, and given that before that the US had destroyed Libya after it voluntarily gave up its nuclear program? It didn’t matter when Trump threatened North Korea with complete destruction because he couldn’t have attacked it: if attacked, North Korea would have responded by destroying South Korea and Japan, voiding US security guarantees to these countries. And now it doesn’t matter when Trump is making promises, because by now everybody knows that the US is incapable of keeping its promises.
• Domestically, one of Trump’s few legislative victories was in pushing through a tax reform package that provides inducements for US companies to repatriate their foreign profits and invest them domestically. These tax cuts may stimulate some short-term financial activity and prop up an increasingly wobbly financial system a little longer, but longer-term it will only exacerbate the fiscal imbalances that are by now structural features of the system, bringing on trillion-dollar budget deficits even sooner. No matter what the president does at this point, the federal budget of the US, along with all the state budgets, is going to blow up.
• Also domestically, Trump is a politically divisive figure who has increased the chasm between liberal and conservative sides of the political spectrum (the term is a misnomer, because two colors do not a spectrum make). But this doesn’t matter, because hefty majorities among the younger generations have decided that they want nothing to do with the democrat/republican duopoly, has embraced various tenets of socialism and have decided that capitalism is bad and needs to go away. This is not a helpful development for the capitalist party or the other capitalist party; they’ll need to go away too. Trump can be as divisive as he wants to be, but all he can do is provoke a brawl at an old folks’ home. The world will move on regardless.
I am sure you can think through many more examples in the same vein. No matter what Trump does or doesn’t do, says or doesn’t say, results will be independent of his actions. The entire political system is by now just a bit of shadow puppetry, the presidency at its center is a mirage, and all the available news coverage of it is pure propaganda. Some people are eager to give Trump credit for “destroying the system,” but as we work through various specific examples we can see that the system is destroying itself quite well, thank you very much, no presidential help needed. In this sense, Trump is almost the perfect president: loud, obnoxious and ultimately irrelevant. And to remove the qualifier “almost” and become the perfect president, he would only have to achieve one thing: make everyone see that it doesn’t matter who is president.