He was trying to distance himself from Alabama’s new law begging the Supreme Court to ban abortions even for victims of rape and incest. But it no longer matters what Trump thinks — and not just because the Alabama ban is already signed into law. Trump put Alabama on course to do what it has done.
He rewarded pro-life advocates for their support with two new justices, vetted by the conservative Federalist Society, and likely an antiabortion majority on the high court. Now, pro-lifers are predictably testing to see how far they can go in reversing Roe v Wade. Why wouldn’t they? Trump’s chance to influence this has passed.
This is just one of many cases in which Trump seems to be catching up with the consequences of his own actions. His policies toward China, Iran and on the southern border have likewise produced a variety of ill effects and unforeseen consequences. Unforeseen, but not unforeseeable: Trump seems to govern by smashing crockery, undoing decades of precedent and causing upheaval for its own sake — without much regard for what the consequences might be.
Trump’s loyal supporters see the chaos he causes as its own reward. “He continues to turn things upside down. Love it,” one wrote to me last week in an email that well captured this sentiment.
But turning things upside down causes unpredictable and sometimes ugly results. Some were clear immediately, as in the botched rollout of the travel ban, the family separation policies and the attempt to repeal Obamacare without an alternative. The consequences of Trump’s upending of other policies and norms — alienating European allies, protecting access to firearms by the mentally ill, declaring a national emergency to circumvent Congress and launching a massive economic stimulus during an expansion — might not be felt for years.
At some point, though, the consequences show themselves. Trump, for example, turned Iran policy upside down, pulling out of the “horrible” Iran nuclear agreement negotiated by the Obama administration and badgering European allies to accept tough new sanctions against Iran.
Now, a year later: Iran has declared that it is resuming nuclear fuel production; a rocket fired by an Iran-aligned militia on Sunday landed near the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad; the United States has pulled back diplomats from the area and sent an aircraft carrier amid rising tensions and an attack on oil tankers; and European allies are blaming the United States.
Likewise, the administration blacklisted China’s Huawei, the giant telecommunications-equipment maker. But then the administration realized the decision would cause many Americans, particularly in rural areas, to lose their phone service and Internet access. The Commerce Department is revisiting the just-implemented plan.
In the broader trade dispute with China, Trump slapped tariffs on Chinese goods to push China to negotiate. But trade talks broke down; China’s retaliatory tariffs have caused a growing number of farm bankruptcies, while U.S. steel consumers and natural-gas producers have also been hurt.
Trump upended Middle East policy, ending decades of attempts by the United States to be an honest broker between Israel and the Palestinians. He moved the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, cut aid to Palestinians and, last week, his ambassador, David Friedman, proclaimed that “Israel is on the side of God.” Now Jared Kushner’s long-anticipated peace plan for the region is dead on arrival.
Trump tossed out long-standing policy on North Korea, first threatening the country with “fire and fury” and then giving North Korea’s dictator a world stage with a pair of summits, at which Trump said he and Kim “fell in love.” Trump declared the nuclear threat was over. But now Kim is back to testing missiles (though his nuclear program never stopped).
On the border, Trump vowed a hard-line policy to reduce illegal immigration, but it had the opposite effect. His threats of zero tolerance induced migrants to hurry across the border, his alarms about America’s vulnerability to “caravans” encouraged more, and his crackdown on lawful asylum seekers spurred illegal crossings. Apprehensions at the border exceeded 100,000 for a second straight month in April, the highest in 12 years.
Virtually all of these unforeseen consequences could have been avoided if Trump had spent a few minutes foreseeing them. Instead, they took months to show themselves. And they could take years to repair.