NYT News analysis of Trump's victory

'Strange New Land’: America in a Time of Trump

WASHINGTON, Nov. 9  — A Trump presidency will plunge the United States into an era of unknowns that has little parallel in the nation’s 240-year history.

While Donald J. Trump has been vague about his position on many issues, he has been explicit about several that would fundamentally change America’s direction.

If his campaign promises become reality — and it is not clear how many he will actually pursue — the Affordable Care Act could be repealed with the help of a Republican-dominated House and Senate whose leadership had virtually given up hope of recapturing the White House. Mr. Trump said he would replace the act with something better, but he never offered a plan.

The Supreme Court would veer right – perhaps eventually far to the right of where it was before Justice Antonin Scalia’s death created a vacancy that Mr. Trump will now fill, and there is the prospect of several more openings during his tenure. The wall he promised along the Mexican border would be built, and the prospect of immigration reform may be buried beneath it.

The torture of terrorism suspects, something that President Obama explicitly banned, would return — interrogation techniques the current C.I.A. director recently said his officers would never return to.

Although Mr. Trump will not be able to pull the United States out of the Paris climate accord, he can legally ignore its provisions, in keeping with his questioning of the existence of man-made climate change. He could proceed with what he once called a ban on Muslims’ entering the country, but later amended – after being accused of racism – to a ban on visitors from a list of troubled nations, almost all of which are Muslim-majority.

He would pull back the troops that the United States has stationed around the world to keep the peace – unless America is paid for the protection. He would tell NATO that the United States will live up to its post-World War II security commitments only if other nations first pay their fair share. He repeatedly dismissed the idea that those forward deployments are in America’s own interests, that they prevent Chinese or Russian adventurism and keep open the trade routes for American goods.

As the president-elect, Mr. Trump will soon be briefed on how to use America’s nuclear codes – the codes Hillary Clinton and Mr. Obama said he could never be trusted to hold. And within the first year of his presidency, it should become clear whether Mr. Trump meant it when he said that he was comfortable with the thought that Japan and South Korea, both signatories to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, might abandon its longtime commitment and build weapons of their own.

If the United States “keeps on its path, its current path of weakness, they’re going to want to have that anyway, with or without me discussing it,” Mr. Trump said.

Perhaps the most unpredictable matter is how Mr. Trump will deal with Russia and its president, Vladimir V. Putin, whom he has repeatedly praised in terms that shocked even his own party. Would he lift the sanctions over Russia’s annexation of Crimea – a move that Mr. Trump seemed to suggest was justified – and its harassment of Ukraine? Would he back off from the Obama administration’s decision to bolster the American military presence off Russia’s borders?

There has been a growing bipartisan consensus in the foreign policy and intelligence leadership that Russia must be both constrained and contained, its harassment of the new members of NATO halted, its cyberattacks deterred. But Mr. Trump never once argued for Russian containment – once a staple of his party’s foreign policy – and repeatedly argued that he, and he alone, could negotiate with authoritarians like Mr. Putin.

“My administration,” he said recently, “will work with any country that is willing to partner with us to defeat ISIS, and halt radical Islamic terrorism. And that includes Russia.” On Wednesday, Mr. Putin seemed to return that sentiment, sensing his opportunity and saying he looked forward to restoring “fully fledged” relations with the United States.

Mr. Trump dismissed Russia’s human rights violations, its jailing of journalists and political opponents, its rigged elections. He would measure the country, he said, solely by its willingness to chip into American projects.

“If they want to join us by knocking out ISIS, that is just fine as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “It is a very imperfect world, and you can’t always choose your friends. But you can never fail to recognize your enemies.”

Mr. Trump has been consistent in some areas. Since the late 1980s, he has nurtured a set of preoccupations, chiefly that America’s allies – Japan and Saudi Arabia among them – are ripping America off. He maintained that position even as Japan faded from the scene as a major world power and as Saudi Arabia emerged as one of America’s most critical allies in a region of the world where Mr. Trump sees little reason for the United States to remain.

In an interview in March, he had no compunction about threatening the kingdom’s survivability. “If Saudi Arabia was without the cloak of American protection,” Mr. Trump said during a 100-minute conversation, “I don’t think it would be around.”

The mystery is how much of that kind of talk arises from deeply held beliefs, and how much is an opening bid by the author of “The Art of the Deal.”

“He sees himself as a dealer, a negotiator who knows that you get nowhere unless you threaten,” said Graham Allison, a longtime Harvard professor who has begun a new project in “applied history,” taking lessons from past moments to inform America’s current strategic choices.

Indeed, the world is about to discover whether the most outlandish promises Mr. Trump made in his campaign about rethinking the international order – thoughts that often seemed at best off the cuff – are about to become reality.

Financial markets abroad panicked on Tuesday night, fearful that a Trump presidency would instantly send the country into uncertain economic territory that investors had discounted as wholly improbable just 24 hours ago. But there was a far more mild decline as Wall Street opened, suggesting that investors here saw other possibilities. Mr. Trump, who never argued with the notion that he is a protectionist, time and again vowed to punish companies that move jobs abroad, a task that would begin with the abolishment of Nafta, the trade agreement that once was envisioned, by President Bill Clinton, as the first step unifying the Western Hemisphere. To Mr. Trump, it is “a disaster.”

The Trump vision, in fact, is an America unbound by a half-century of trade deals, free to pursue a nationalistic approach in which success is measured not by the quality of its alliances but the economic return on its transactions. “We will not be ripped off anymore,” he said in the interview in March. “We’re going to be friendly with everybody, but we’re not going to be taken advantage of by anybody.”

He bristled at the suggestion that his wall-building, trade-deal-canceling views would take America back to an era of isolationism, arguing that he was simply freeing the United States from the binds of international rules that are not in the nation’s interests.

“Not isolationist, but I am America first,” he said when he was asked whether his own policies had echoes of the movement by the same name championed by Charles Lindbergh in the 1930s.

“I like the expression,” he said of “America first.” From that moment on, he began using it at his rallies, and it became the stuff of bumper stickers and chants.

He is also unabashedly business first, and that extends to his tax proposals, which also leave the markets deeply uncertain.

Starting with the day he descended the long escalator in Trump Tower in June 2015 to begin a quest almost no one thought would succeed, Mr. Trump laid out an agenda of tax cuts – modest for families, and sharp for businesses – that he argued would be the stimulus a sluggish economy needs.

But he also paired those cuts with a major plan to rebuild America’s dilapidated airports and collapsing bridges, with $137 billion in federal tax credits as an incentive for private industry to spend upward of a trillion more. While privatization is hardly a new idea, Mr. Trump has described an approach few have ever tried before – and it is far from clear how it would work. Presumably, users of that infrastructure would ultimately pay for it, in tolls and usage taxes, through a mechanism few understand.

No one knows how much of this agenda, largely thrown together rather than the product of deep study and debate, is for real. His policy office in Washington, created to lay out the position-papers common to most campaigns, was gradually disbanded. He is famously volatile, capable of changing his mind in an instant if he sees new avenues for profit, all the while denying he had ever suggested another path.

In Mr. Trump, Professor Allison sees a revolution in approach reminiscent of the 1828 election of Andrew Jackson, another populist who rode to power rebelling against what amounted to America’s first Establishment.

“My God,” Professor Allison said on Tuesday night, as the results veered toward Mr. Trump. “We are in a strange new land.”

Last modified: Thursday, 10 November 2016, 9:20 AM