The headline, "Crisis analysis: How much damage can Trump do? (A lot)" is a bit of a giveaway.
"Okay, here's what happened," wrote an American friend after the U.S. election. "Someone threw a switch, and now we're living in an alternative universe."
The big problem with alternative universes is that we don't know how they work. The assumptions, intuitions and rules of thumb we've previously used to anticipate events, and guide our navigation, suddenly don't apply. So we face an exploding range of possible futures, including many that once seemed crazy.
U.S. President Donald Trump's psychological characteristics make such uncertainty acute. It's clear, for instance, that Mr. Trump's lying is less a calculated political strategy than a reflection of his deep inability to distinguish fantasy from reality. He creates a make-believe world for himself and surrounds himself with people who, to advance their narrow ends, help him sustain that world. When Mr. Trump appears to be lying, he's simply reporting what he sees in his own alternative world, where fantasy and reality mush together.
Trump's Bill of Fare: Financial Crisis, Civil Violence, Authoritarianism and/or War.
"Moderate" authoritarianism could involve, for instance, use of federal resources to intimidate or constrain journalists and judges; substantially increased application of force to track, detain and deport immigrants; and criminalization of protest. Mr. Trump, or in the case of criminalization of protest, his acolytes at the state level are already checking some of these boxes, so I estimate the probability of this degree of authoritarianism in the administration's first year to be 70 per cent. "Severe" authoritarianism would involve actions like a declaration of a state of emergency, federalization of the National Guard, or suspension of key civil liberties. This outcome is much less likely; even after five years, I don't think it's higher than 30 per cent.
A "moderate" war crisis, by my definition, would include any regional conflict between the United States and an intermediate power like Iran, or a great power like China, say in the South China Sea. "Severe" war would involve use of massed military force against a great power like Russia. The category would also include any conflict, for instance, with North Korea, that carries a substantial risk of nuclear escalation. In part, because of Mr. Trump's expressed hostility towards Iran and China, and his tendency to see all international relations in zero-sum terms, I estimate the five-year probability of a "moderate" war crisis to be high, at 60 per cent.
Yet the specific probabilities are less important than the overall analytical exercise of categorizing the types of crisis Mr. Trump might create and the causal pathways that might lead to them. It helps us see possible futures more clearly. In Mr. Trump's alternative universe, we need all the help we can get.