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T Minus 64:
Countdown to Trumpocracy

Don Curren November 16, 2016

In the third and final October U.S. presidential debate, president-elect Donald Trump refused to say if he would accept the election result, telling the moderator that he would “keep him in suspense.” We all know how that turned out.

He won the election and immediately accepted the results. But now, thanks to one of the many quirks of the U.S. Constitution, we’re back in a state of suspense. Trump has won the right to occupy one of the most powerful offices in the world, but he won’t actually start as president until January 20, 2017.

That creates a vacuum. We will be hearing from the president-elect and we’ll see the people he chooses to surround himself with. But we won’t know how his policies will actually unfold. With President-elect Trump, the curiosity is more intense than during a more typical presidential transition. That is in part because of the unconventional stands he took during his campaign, but also because there’s sometimes a considerable gap between what he says and what he does (and also between what he says at one time and what he says at another.)

And much of what Trump talked about doing flies in the face of conventional wisdom – and conventional practice. Tearing up trade agreements, to name one of particular relevance to Canadians, is just one.

I once worked for a newspaper that was acquired by Conrad Black. The deal was announced just before the end of the year and due diligence took a couple of months. During that time, there was an information vacuum.

Nature abhors a vacuum. And human nature abhors an information vacuum. So the vacuum was quickly filled with rumour, gossip, speculation, paranoia and wishful thinking. The paper would be a flagship for Black’s operations. Dozens would be laid off. Employees would have a fast track for promotion to his properties in the U.S. and elsewhere. He would install one of his offspring as editor, etc. etc.

At the end of February the deal was finalized and two days later 25% of the staff were laid off.

The U.S., Canada – and in fact the entire world – are undergoing a vastly amplified version of the same thing now. Speculation, rumour, unreasonable fear and wishful thinking are filling the void. And they will continue to do with increasing intensity until January 20.

Much of that will be based on emotion rather than reason. If last week taught us anything, it taught us that beliefs are often dictated by emotion rather than observation and reason – even if the people holding those beliefs don’t recognize that.

The stock market’s remarkable pivot after Trump was elected is a sample of how volatile the situation is. The ride is likely to get more bumpy rather than less.

The absence of hard information and the low signal-to-noise ratio in the coming weeks are not, however, a reason to tune out completely.

There’s also room for intelligent analysis. The impacts of substantive developments such as announcements about key staff can be explored, as can market reactions to those events. And there will be plenty of debunking to be done. We will explore some of the events and issues surrounding the Trump presidency in the coming weeks. Stay tuned to our blog as we present “Countdown to Trumpocracy”, an occasional series of posts stretching from now until Trump’s official inauguration.