Critics (myself included) tend to predict President Trump’s policies will lead to catastrophe. But with Trump, catastrophe is always coming but never gets here. At least not yet. His disruptions of normal economics and diplomacy have so far not blown up. His volcanic spoutings are noise with few results.

A year from now, things will be pretty much the same. Many fear Trump will lead us into another war, but I doubt it. Trump promised a quasi-isolationism and seems to be delivering. He has systematically alienated America’s allies and trading partners at all points of the compass.

Trump’s pullout from the Iran nuclear deal, for example, will not result in much if the European signatories, following their own national interests, continue to observe it and do business with Iran — and they’ve made clear to Trump that they will. Tehran, broke and eager for European commerce, will keep the deal with its inspections and not gin up a nuclear weapons program. This points away from war, not toward it.

International oil trades have long been denominated in dollars, giving the U.S. the potential to punish banks that deal with Iran. If Washington attempts to exercise that power, though, deals will be written with euros or yuan, making Europeans and Chinese happy, diminishing the global role of the dollar and U.S. leadership.

The move next week of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is largely symbolic for domestic audiences. Muslims worldwide oppose it, but protests in December over U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital were mild. The official opening of AmEmb Jerusalem will likely trigger little or nothing. One factor: Saudi Arabia and the Gulf emirates, fearful of Iran and seeing Israel as a potential ally, demand calm. They tell the Palestinians to accept a two-state solution. (Probably too late; on the Israeli side, two states is virtually dead.)

I doubt the wall with Mexico will ever get built — too expensive and ineffective — but it thrills Trump’s base. Youths scale the 30-foot barrier for sport. (Hmm, a new Olympics event, wall-scaling?) Drugs enter the U.S. by truck, aircraft and boats, few on foot. But it’s not about a physical wall but a psychological and political wall.

One potential catastrophe is Trump’s pullout from successful postwar global trading arrangements, but it may take years to impact. Trade talks with Beijing and NAFTA are stalled. Most dysfunctional here is Trump’s dismissal of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would have sent no jobs overseas but brought greater trading fairness.



A good issue with the base, but withdrawal hurts U.S. exports and hands the western Pacific to China, which is setting up a world trading system that favors China. The 11 remaining TPP countries are instituting a TPP-11. Same thing, just without us. Already Trump mutters about rejoining, but we would have to accept the terms the other countries have settled on.

The economy looks good, although some detect “secular stagnation” under the surface. Wall Street periodically “corrects” but nothing like the 2008 collapse. No one knows where else to put their money. (Example: bigger corporate buybacks of their own stock.) In contrast to Greenspan, the current Fed guards against bubbles. The recent tax cut and attendant big deficits by themselves neither accelerate nor destroy the economy, which grows at the ho-hum postwar average of 2+ percent. None of these economic points are Trump’s doing.

Russian information warfare, cleverly amplifying our political polarization, is a bigger threat than nukes. The intel agencies sound alarms, but the White House firmly denies it exists. It is a broader threat than cyberwar, which is merely one technique of information warfare. Moscow, through disinformation, has gotten incredible results with minor expense for bots and trolls that widen pre-existing American fissures. The Russians help us hate each other.

Much of the revulsion to Trump stems from his personality and hate-filled rhetoric. Trump enjoys being impolite; he wages a permanent, bitter election fight that puts the mean back in demeanor (or misdemeanor). Educated people recoil from his coarse language, but for his base, this is normal conversation.

Strip away Trump’s verbiage, however, and his policies largely continue what has gone before. We have long fretted about immigration, deindustrialization, wars, and trade deficits. Trump just uses nastier words.

Trump’s long-term damage stems not from any particular policy, foolish as some may be. It is in the decay of America’s governing institutions, which weakens and could doom us. Justice, State and several others have been misused, gutted and disparaged. Institutions mean nothing to Trump; they are to be used for partisan advantage and discarded. Only personality and personal loyalty, he supposes, matter.

Some Republicans — at least privately — recognize that destroying institutions is profoundly unconservative. As Tory philosopher Edmund Burke argued long ago, conservatism above all means preserving institutions that have evolved over generations. Behind him, Trump will leave a vacuum and a major repair job.