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Yale 62

Thoughts on a Possible Second Trump Administration

By Kent Hughes

[Ed. Note: Y62 classmates have expressed concern over the possibility of a second Trump administration. What follows is our latest essay on those concerns. For our first written opinion on this topic, please see Bill Weber’s essay.]

It is still months away from the presidential election and the latest poll numbers point to a close race. Clearly it is time to think about what policies a second term for former President Trump might bring.

Two questions about the election demand our attention: what our allies are thinking about the support they will receive in a future Trump America First presidency; and what an America First presidency could mean for America’s international trade policy?

In his first term, former President Trump expressed frustration with NATO. In his current campaign, he was asked what he would do were he faced with an invasion of one of the NATO countries that failed to meet the 2% of GDP on defense spending? He responded by saying that he would “tell the invading country to do whatever it wanted.”

The U.S. currently spends about 3.1 percent of its GDP on defense. The demand for more European spending is not new. The cry for Europe to do more started in the midst of the Cold War.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine concentrated European minds. In Poland and the Baltic States, where memories of Soviet occupation are still close, defense spending has risen sharply, and more increases are expected. Finland and Sweden have joined NATO, making it a more powerful force to meet any further Russian invasion.

But the “let them do what they want” comment has raised anxiety in Europe and in our allies in the Indo-Pacific. Recent research on European opinion by SWP, a German think tank largely supported by the German government, showed growing European concern across three key areas: support for democracy, defense, and broader economic relations including trade.

Europe is not alone. Japan has committed to doubling its defense spending and has developed closer ties to Korea. The Philippines have forged closer defense ties with the United States in part because of clashes with China over the South China Sea.

The QUAD (Japan, India, Australia, and the United States) are working to coordinate defense and economic policies. India, in particular, is concerned about China’s treatment of a disputed border. Under the AUKUS (Australia, UK, and US) agreement, Britain and the United States are sharing advanced submarine technology with Australia.

Trade is another area in which our allies are concerned about Trump’s past record and what might come next.

In his 2000 campaign book, Trump: The America We Deserve, (he thought of running for the Reform Party nomination) he wrote that our trade partners were taking advantage of America. As a businessman, he touted his negotiating skills and promised to remedy the situation.

As President, he pulled the United States out of negotiations for the Transpacific Trade Partnership. At the time, the TPP was seen as an important entry into international markets and a way to offset China’s growing economic influence.

Trump did not ignore China. In addition to intellectual property theft, Trump saw China as violating a number of trade laws at America’s expense. His response was to impose comprehensive tariffs on Chinese imports. China responded in kind.

The U.S trade deficit with China is still large. Other countries filled the demand for goods that avoided the price raising impact of tariffs on Chinese goods.

Trump’s Current Campaign

Trump is campaigning at a time when there is significant bi-partisan support for responding to China, now viewed as a strategic competitor. President Biden has not lowered the Trump tariffs and has made no indication that he plans to do so in the future.

Since Trump left office, the world has started to “de-risk” its trade with China. Companies have been shifting production to other countries in Southeast Asia, known as the “China + one” strategy. A number of companies have also established facilities in Mexico. In addition to a good workforce, Mexico benefits from the low U.S. tariffs established by the USMCA (United States, Mexico, and Canada) trade agreement that was negotiated by Trump.

Chinese manufacturers have already established plants in Mexico to take advantage of the low American tariffs. Press reports indicate that China is already planning to build electric vehicle facilities in Mexico.

The latest figures show a decline in the U.S. trade deficit with China but, according to the Wall Street Journal, there has been an increase in Chinese value-added-in imports. The USMCA requires a specific level of North American content, but Chinese parts may still fit under the bar.

Both of the major U.S. political parties are competing for the U.S. auto workers’ support – they are well represented in some of the most important states. President Biden has won the endorsement of the United Auto Workers union – even joining their picket line at one point.

Trump is also making a strong pitch for the UAW rank and file. As part of that effort, he has promised high tariffs on imported Chinese cars regardless of where they are made. Senator Josh Hawley (R Missouri) has already introduced legislation that would accomplish what Trump seeks.

So What Does the Future Hold?

Trump 2.0 is likely to be stocked with experienced people that share the President’s views. The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington, is already developing an agenda for a next Trump Administration and identifying people to carry it out. In addition, it has established a training academy preparing executives for specific positions. A key choice for the Trump will be the Attorney General, given his statements about prosecuting Democrats.

His legislative agenda will be focused on the need to deal with the expiring (in 2025) Bush tax cuts. The outcome will depend on which party controls the Congress.

But the former President’s first term and his current campaign record raise several questions about his possible international agenda. Instead of making definitive predictions, I am spelling out several challenges he could face and an option or options he might well pursue.

How will President Trump treat NATO? At one point, in his first term he threatened to withdraw from NATO. Congress recently passed a law (part of the National Defense Authorization Act) preventing any president’s withdrawing from NATO without approval of the Senate or an Act of Congress.

— Might a President Trump respond by shifting or even withdrawing U.S. troops?

— How will he continue to oppose forcing TikTok to either leave America or sell its U.S. business to an American buyer? His former Secretary of the Treasury has been putting together a group to buy TikTok, confident that he can find American computer scientists to create their own algorithms.

— Might he opt for a policy of reciprocity? We let TikTok in if, say, Google can enter China. Or might Trump agree with proposals that set an age limit for reaching young Americans that would apply to all the platforms (including TikTok)?

— Campaigning, Trump has said he could stop the Russian-Ukraine war in a day. Will he simply stop providing arms and financial support for Ukraine? Or will he shift to a ‘lend lease’ approach for Ukraine? Or will he call on Europe to provide support alone?

— He is likely to continue and even increase pressure on China. Might he insist on added export and investment controls? Would such a move complicate current European international agreements?

— The Inflation Adjustment Act created several requirements that are raising concerns in Europe and elsewhere. Might President Trump relax some of the made-in-America requirements that hinder European imports in return for reduced EU pressure on American tech companies?

— He is unlikely to make radical changes in the Chips Act, but might he press Commerce to support chip-related investments in states that supported his election. Despite the Chips act, the United States depends on TSMC (the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company) to make the most advanced chips. Might he pressure Taiwan to make the most advanced chips in the United States? Might he put similar pressure on AMSL (Advanced Semiconductor Materials Lithography), the Dutch company that alone manufactures the machine that makes the most advanced chips?

— In his presidency and in his current campaign, Trump touts the authoritarian leaders in China, Hungary, North Korea, and Russia. He says he will only be a dictator on the first day. But might he form a new organization that promises to support a “strong leaders” coalition? As he points to authoritarian figures and stresses that strong men need to lead companies and governments, will his seeming tolerance of authoritarians give support to similar leaders seeking power in Europe, Latin America, or elsewhere in the world?

— Taiwan continues to be a potential flashpoint in Asia. Over the objections of China, the U.S. continues to provide arms and favors a peaceful reunion with China. Will Trump accelerate delivery of the arms promised and paid for but not yet provided? Will Trump pressure Taiwan to extend the term of its military draft to two years? (Until recently the term was four months.)

— Japan and Korea depend heavily on shipping through the Taiwan strait that travels between China and Taiwan. Could Trump pressure them to develop a de-facto defense understanding with Taiwan?

— Assuming the Gaza war has ended by January of 2025, would a Trump administration play an active role in rebuilding war-ravaged Gaza?

— Would Trump appoint his son-in-law Jared Kushner as a special representative to negotiate with Saudi Arabia?

— Would Trump accede to the Saudi request to have a Japan-like defense agreement with the U.S? Would Trump agree to the Saudi call for help in developing civilian nuclear power plants?

— Would Trump meet Saudi demands for a two-state solution? If yes, how would he deal with the 700,000 settlers living in the West Bank and around Jerusalem?

— Iran and its proxies will be another challenge for the new President. How will he interact with Iran? Could he relax existing sanctions on Iran in return for a commitment to control Hamas? Or an agreement to assure peaceful access to the Red Sea?

A Complicated Future

Whoever wins the next election, the President will face challenges in Europe, the Middle East, the South China Seas, and the wave of coups in Africa. The next U.S. president will have to deal with the spread of Artificial Intelligence, the emerging challenge of quantum computing, and the disruptions caused by cyber-attacks.

The seemingly relaxed days that followed the fall of the Berlin wall and then the Soviet Union are well behind us. Hard thinking and tough choices are the future.


We welcome your comments below.

13 comments to Thoughts on a Possible Second Trump Administration

  • Charles Michener

    A thoughtful survey of some of the thornier international challenges a second Trump (and Biden) administration would face. Given Trump’s loose tongue, it’s hard to predict with exactitude what he would do the second time around. But one thing about his behavior should be unequivocally clear: he will be a disrupter. Many years ago, I asked his (late) brother Robert, a friend of mine, what Donald was like as a kid. Robert’s reply summed up the Trump we’ve seen ever since: “He was the kind of kid who throws the birthday cake at the birthday boy.”

    At the outset of the previous Trump administration, his two most consequential acts were to tear up the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate accords, which had been painstakingly put together by Obama. Trump insiders tell me that personal pique at his predecessor played a significant role in these decisions, both of which have made dealing with the climate and Iran problems more difficult. In light of Putin’s unabated war in Ukraine and the impasse and open wound of Gaza, our allies are understandably alarmed over the prospect of any U.S. reversals in the efforts to restore world order begun under Biden. On the domestic front, the crystal ball is also ominously cloudy. While members and wannabes of the billionaire bubble will welcome Trump back as a bulwark against tax hikes and regulation, the country at large is likely to see a deepening of party polarization and greater divisiveness over women’s reproductive rights, the limits of academic freedom and the political independence of law enforcement and the Supreme Court, not to mention the larger issue of perceived threats to our democracy and fidelity to the Constitution. By now we all know several things for sure about Donald Trump: his disdain for traditional norms that would constrain him; his indifference to acting “presidential;” his practice of using public office for private gain; his penchant for sowing chaos. As his brother said, he’s the kind of kid who throws the birthday cake at the birthday boy.

  • Larry Price

    Kent raises many issues. I want to address only three: NATO, tariffs, and China.

    NATO’s only enemy is Russia. Russia has a population of 140 million and a GDP equal to that of Italy. If the European countries of NATO put their minds to it, they could easily contain Russia. But for too long, they chose to let the US bear that responsibility. In his first term, Trump bullied the NATO members. It was not undeserved. With President Trump, one must be careful about the rhetoric which is often reckless, and the policy which is usually quite carefully constructed. In any case, the European NATO members have begun to slowly improve their acts.

    Kent said it well in one of our past Zoom meetings: tariffs are paid by the consumers of the IMPORTING nation. Tariffs are a sop to some vocal minority which is perceived as vital to somebody’s candidacy. Trump has talked about banning imports of EV’s from China. Why should we not import electric vehicles from China? They are high quality and cheap. Such talk stems more from the power of the UAW and the votes of plant workers than anything else. Unfortunately, Trump put the tariffs on, but Biden continued them. Both are pandering to their election interests.

    There is general agreement that China is our main adversary, now and for the immediate future. The Biden administration would like to shift its focus there, but finds itself mired in Europe and in the Mideast because of the wars in Ukraine and in Gaza. Trump promises to accelerate that process. That might, or might not, be possible. But in the meantime, the problem seems to be taking care of itself. China has been so clumsy and so offensive, that it has antagonized most of its near neighbors. Its only tight buddies are North Korea and Pakistan. Arrayed against it are Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Philippines, Vietnam, India, and Australia. There is a parade forming there. The US should figure out how to lead it.

    If re-elected, Trump could be lucky. The war in Ukraine resolves, the war in Gaza is over, and China retreats. And we shall all be driving a BYD EV.

  • Bill Weber


    Thanks for this great essay and thanks to Charles and Larry for their comments.

    I would ask our classmates two things.

    Would those who dispute our predictions, please tell us and their reasoning.

    And I ask our classmates to suggest ways to convince Trumpers to see the truth and danger to America.

    The 2024 election for President will probably be the last one of our limited lives and I hope the results will not lead to a different sort of life unfavorable to our offspring in the ensuing years.

  • Ken Merkey

    It seems a bit odd that someone would pen an article about Trump’s trade issues with everything else that is going on. International relations and trade are so far down my list that they don’t even make it on to the first page.

    We have 10 million migrants wandering around our nation. They are unknown, unsupervised, and bleeding our country dry. Recently, 2 containers loaded with arms and ammunition were intercepted at the border. They were headed for one of the many terror cells carefully hidden around our nation. My hypothesis is that no act of terror will occur before election time. That would certainly tilt the votes towards Trump. The migrants don’t want to bite the hand that feeds them.

    Meanwhile, the bozos in the White House continue to undermine the strength of our country. We are using strategic oil reserves to control the price of gasoline at the pump. This is not what the reserves were to be used for. Hundreds of new regulations are killing our energy industry. Why would the boobs favor EVs over plug-in hybrids? Where is fertilizer going to come from once our gas reserves are shut down? Nuclear power is the answer, but the boobs favor less controversial technologies such as solar and wind.

    We have populated our judiciary and bureaucracy with racists, miscreants, and nincompoops. Just check out Gigi Sohn, Nancy Adubu, Neera Tanden, Rachel Levine, and Sam Britton to get a feel for who is getting approved by the rubber stamp Senate. The Senate has yet to reject one appointment by the White House.

    Once the curtain is pulled back on this administration, we will see the rot that has been festering there. Crooked Joe will go down in history as the most incompetent and most corrupt president ever. We have populated our judiciary with corrupt, racist AGs and prosecutors. Cops are being killed by people that enjoy the swinging doors of justice. At the same time an ex-President is convicted of a victim-less crime. The entire justice department and the FBI have been weaponized.

    Great civilizations are seldom conquered; they implode from within. We have a nuclear arsenal that guarantees that we will never be attacked at the homeland. It is the ultimate deterrent. However, the violins keep playing while our country sinks deeper and deeper into something the founding fathers never visualized. Wokeism, liberal justices, spendthrift budgets, bloated bureaucracies, open borders, weak management at every level of government, and an ever-growing welfare class.

    When you cannot brag about your own party, the default is to try and denigrate the other party.

  • Thanks, Kent! This is a good checklist of international issues to keep in mind as the campaigns (Trump’s and Biden’s) develop. It’s a good heads up for what to be listening for.

    I guess we’ll just have to stay tuned and keep learning!

  • Bill Weber


    I recognize your total dislike of the Biden administration and probably the Obama one as well.

    In your comments on this essay by Kent Hughes and my essay, Rip Democracy, you point out and refute many of the points made by Kent, not to mention my predictions of what might happen to Democracy in America with a second Trump administration.

    You have also told us the good things that Trump did during his 4 years in office, not all of which I agree with.

    But given what we have tossed back and forth via the Yale62 website essays, I would now ask you to outline what Trump could/would do, if elected, bearing in mind the various rantings made in his political rallies.

    I do not think any references to the legal issues Trump faces would be beneficial to our discussion.

    You have mentioned the problem with migrants and the border crossings, so a proposed solution to this issue would enlighten me and our classmates.

    So–Ken, you told me you were surprised with the lack of comments on the Kent Hughes essay, so here are some of mine I hope you will address.

  • Ken Merkey

    I fail to understand why anyone would vote for Biden. He is not going to debate Trump, he never has any press conferences, he will campaign from the basement (again). In all of the rantings I have yet to hear why anyone would vote for Biden (other than he is not Trump).

    I am still waiting to hear why you endorse Biden. Please list just 3 things why someone should vote for Biden.

    I could probably pen several thousand words as to why I will vote for Trump. But I will be brief and touch on the major issues:

    Trump will:
    1) Close the border
    2) Get inflation under control
    3) Get our energy independence back
    4) Rebuild the military
    5) Stand up to China militarily, economically, and technologically
    6) Reinforce Israel and get us out of an unwinnable war in Ukraine.
    7) Slam the door on Iran and all of its satellites. (Why did Biden give Iran billions of dollars?)
    8) Reduce the size of the federal bureaucracy
    9) Focus on chip production, battery production, etc. that does not rely on foreign sourcing
    10) Get rid of a large percentage of the federal regulations that are strangling our businesses
    11) He will make sense of climate change, stop the waste of money by chasing solutions and focus on doable technologies such as nuclear .
    12) He will be tough on crime, close the swinging doors of justice.
    13) He will overhaul the AG’s office and the FBI.
    14) He will work towards a balanced budget. He will defund many liberal entities including NPR, Planned Parenthood, and gender studies everywhere.
    15) He might even eliminate (or severely reduce) some cabinet level departments. High on the list would Education, Labor, and Commerce.
    16) He will not appoint cabinet members based on DEI.

    On the flip side:

    1) Why did Biden cancel the Keystone pipeline
    2) Why did he approve Nordstream 2?
    3) Why did he take Hunter along on Air Force 2 to China?
    4) When is he going to have an open press conference?
    5) Is he pandering when he tries to cancel student debt?
    6) Why did he give Iran all those billions of dollars?

    I am anxiously waiting for answers.

  • Bill Weber


    Three reasons why I will vote for Biden.

    1) He is a decent person with honorable associates and I do not believe any of the allegations of crime or financial wrong doings. His son, Hunter, is an unfortunate situation having no bearing on my opinion of Pres. Biden

    2) He understands the importance of our foreign relations including treaties and associations with our partners in the critical parts of the world.

    3) He understands the global position of the USA in international trade and knows we cannot simply make us great by attempts at isolation and trade restrictions.

    I have felt many of the people I deal with favor Trump simply because they dislike Democrats and Biden and/or they could be good old upstate New York Red Necks!

  • Jim Wechsler

    Kent Hughes started this discussion with a thoughtful list of many key issues facing the next administration. I think that he made a serious error in characterizing a second Trump administration as a straight-forward sequel based on the history of the first. The first Trump administration benefitted from the existence of a functioning legacy civil service. The civil service is what keeps the government going, and it works within constraints dependent on international, national, and job position history. Many of those civl servants left government because of the first Trump administration. Unfortunately, Donald Trump is the symbolic leader of the Republican Party of the United States, which is no longer a party to American or any other democracy. Democracy presupposes a basic willingness to work with others to find a mutually-acceptable compromise solution. That is not the Republicans of Mitch McConnell, of Donald Trump, of Jim Jordan, or of Marjorie Taylor Greene. They are all fighting for the end of democracy in America in the hope that the undemocratic result will elect Donald Trump.

    And just who is Donald Trump. He inherited 10 million dollars as the offspring of a rather harsh landlord for middle income tenants. Donald managed to take that prosperous business and his ten million dollars into personal bankruptcy. Then money came from somewhere, and he opened a casino in Atlantic City. That, too, went bankrupt. Now, that was a significant achievement. How does a casino go bankrupt? Maybe he should teach a course. After two bankruptcies, Mr. Trump found it difficult to get a loan in the United States, but a bank of somewhat questionable reputation in Switzerland came to the rescue. You probably thought that Swiss Bank means honest. whereas it actually means secrecy. Secrecy is quite good for both real estate operations and casinos, both of which are prize industries for money laundering. (that’s not an allegation, just an observation). Subsequently, Trump made a lot of money by selling the Trump name to put on buildings owned by people (money launderers?) in other countries. His first show of entrepreneurship!

    There is another questionable shadow lurking in Trump’s history. One of his close allies was Paul Manafort. Manafort was the American advisor paid by Victor Yanukovych, the disgraced, Russian-leaning ex-president of Ukraine. Look up Paul Manafort on Wikipedia and you will read: “The Republican-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee concluded in August 2020 that Manafort’s ties to individuals connected to Russian intelligence while he was Trump’s campaign manager “represented a grave counterintelligence threat” by creating opportunities for “Russian intelligence services to exert influence over, and acquire confidential information on, the Trump campaign.”[34]
    On May 13, 2020, Manafort was released to home confinement due to the threat of COVID-19.[35] On December 23, 2020, U.S. President Donald Trump pardoned Manafort.[36][37][38]
    In mid-March 2024, Manafort re-emerged on the political scene, with reports of him potentially joining the Trump 2024 campaign.[39][40][41]”

    Not to put to much stress on the facts but it would seem to be of some note that the allegations regarding Hunter Biden came from a Russian in some financial difficulty and were shown to be false, and the millionaire/billionaire who put up money so Donald Trump could pursue his current appeal is also a Russian. I am not suggesting that Trump is himself a money launderer or a Russian spy but suggesting that he is or could be a stooge for either or both enterprises. He should not be either a bible salesman or a candidate for President of the United States.

  • Bill Weber


    Thanks for these comments that nicely reflect Kent Hughes along with Larry and Charles essay and comments.

    Given my predictions and the facts laid out by the writers above, we are left with the ultimate question of what kind of a person do we want to be President?

    On the dark side of the issue of the upcoming election, we are left with the pro Trumpers who espouse selfish motives and those who are anti Biden and Democrats.

    Imagine for a moment our children in school reciting the pledge of allegience in a classroom where there might be a picture of a past or present President.

    When they come home from school, what shall we tell them about our Democracy if Trump were elected and have been told how terrible things were under the former President(s)?

  • Ken Merkey

    I asked my granddaughter to score the current debate. She scored it Merkey – 13, WK* Liberals – zero.

    I listed 13 reasons to vote for Trump. There were no challenges to any of them. I then listed 6 questions about Biden, and none were answered.

    Then I was given 3 reasons to vote for Biden. 1) He is likeable. Actually, he is not. Many insiders have described him as a mean, old, foul-mouthed SOB. He is a known womanizer. He can’t keep his hands off young girls. And worst of all, until public pressure became too much, he refused to recognize Hunter’s out-of-wedlock daughter as a grandchild. The VP’s office has seen a 100% turnover in staff. No sane person can work there.

    2) He understands foreign relations. Actually, he doesn’t nor do any of his advisors including the compromised Blinken. Why would he pull out of Afghanistan leaving behind many Americans, friendly locals, and billions in armament? Why would he give back billions to Iran? Why won’t he support Israel in eliminating Hamas?

    3) He understands foreign trade. Any evidence that you might have of this statement would be greatly appreciated.

    As to the corps of civil servants who have left; good riddance. Is this the same corps that has weaponized the FBI? Is this the same as the one that directed the IRS to focus on conservatives? Is this the one that missed the armament of Hamas and the subsequent attack? Is this the one that has lost control of inflation and gas prices? Is this the one that has imposed thousands of new regulations over every industry? Is this the one that has seen our education system spiral down to common dumbness? I could go on, but you get the point.

    This link should be required reading:

    I hate to see this debate come to an end. I was just getting started.

    (*) weak-kneed

  • Ken Merkey

    Breaking News: Biden’s uncle was eaten by cannibals. Stay tuned.

  • Larry Price

    Having just re-read Kent’s essay, I would like to add the following comment.

    Probably the most significant point in that essay is that the Heritage Foundation and other think tanks are preparing for a second Trump administration. That is in sharp contrast to the first Trump administration for which there was almost no preparation. In many ways, Mr. Trump was an accidental President. His personal attorney Cohen testified that Mr. Trump had no realistic chance of winning, recognized that, and fully expected to bow out after garnering a lot of free publicity. Now, Mr. Cohen told a lot of fibs, but I believe that one. Much of the grief of the Trump Administration stemmed from that lack of preparation.

    This time they are determined not to repeat that mistake. Whether you view Mr. Trump as a Man on Horseback or as a valiant warrior against the deep resistance, recognize that this time they will be better organized.