By James Poulos, GOOD.is
We have a love-hate relationship with presidents. Our challenges are so entrenched, it’s easy to think that only a strong POTUS can right the tilting ship of state. And it’s just as easy to give in to hysteria when it looks like the wrong party’s front man or woman could win.
Before you panic, consider some context. Presidents matter for sure, but monumental achievements are rare; legacies only come into focus over time and even presidential “failures”—think George H.W. Bush’s single term or Bill Clinton’s first—don't do much lasting damage on their own. For all the passion and fervor that boils up during election season, presidents have rarely caused catastrophes, and even the most volatile commanders-in-chief are usually kept in check by the limits of their power and the forces of state and circumstance. At the end of the day, it’s going to be ok no matter who wins in November.
Hillary Clinton is predictably pro-choice and Donald Trump’s running mate, Mike Pence, is rabidly pro-life, but neither candidate will revolutionize abortion law by way of their Supreme Court nominee. In the biggest abortion ruling in 25 years, justices this June left little room for future challenges. By a vote of 5 to 3, they sank Texas rules that sought to limit access to abortion through unrealistic regulatory standards.
Barack Obama’s immigration legacy has been scattershot—over 2.5 million deportations mixed with quasi-amnesty for the undocumented who remain— but won’t be abandoned by Clinton. She’ll aim to satisfy big business and activists alike by promoting a pathway to citizenship while deporting repeat criminals. Trump’s tough talk, meanwhile, is already fizzling. Texas Governor Rick Perry admitted that Trump won’t build a real border wall, and his biggest fan in Congress, New York Rep. Chris Collins, confessed Trump’s call for mass deportation is empty rhetoric.
Under pressure from the left, Clinton has proposed $350 billion in tuition relief, which won’t do anything to help those already drowning in debt. Trump says he would focus on debt relief, but he hasn’t explained how, nor has he offered anything on college costs. A comprehensive package covering both sides of the problem would probably have to come out of Congress—which might consider a bill promoting financial literacy, but isn’t on track to let students dump loans in bankruptcy. Don’t expect student debt to go away anytime soon.
Trump has scared hawks and doves alike, praising Vladimir Putin while slamming Obama for helping our enemies. Clinton has Republicans and Democrats nervous that she’s tough but sloppy. Exhibit A: Benghazi. Exhibit B: those emails. Despite their differences, both big talkers will have to think twice in office before risking another long and costly war. And even if they did, both Trump and Clinton would be hugely constrained by an already-strained military, a hostile Congress, and American people weary of foreign entanglements.