As a blue state, Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly supported Hillary Clinton. She won a majority in all 14 counties, nearly 61 percent overall. In Dukes County, she won nearly 73 percent of the vote. And yet, more than 1 million Massachusetts residents voted for Donald Trump, while in Dukes County the number was almost 2,500. Thus, even in one of the bluest of blue states, Mr. Trump did fairly well. His pronouncements (and they are pronouncements, not yet policy) resonated with many people in the commonwealth, and even with some on the Island.
It is difficult to predict what is in store for Massachusetts and especially the Vineyard from a man who is as unpredictable as Mr. Trump. One thing is certain: He and his administration will make vast changes in many areas that call all of us to combat.
We should remember that the framers of the Constitution were careful to maintain the separation of powers on two fronts: a horizontal one divided power between the president, Congress, and the judiciary, but also a vertical one separated power between the states and the federal government. The states can combat many, but not all, of the changes by the federal government. Here are three areas where states can have varying degrees of influence:
First, immigration. In September 2015, Mr. Trump advocated a so-called deportation force to round up all 12 million or so undocumented immigrants and deport them from the country (he claimed he could do this in two years). He has now reduced that number to a mere 3 million. He says he will send in his squads to workplaces suspected of harboring undocumented people, prosecute the employers, and throw out the immigrants. His choice for attorney general, Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, has long supported this goal. The Island will be in the bullseye of his target, despite the Trump focus on Mexicans.
In Massachusetts, the issue is not an undocumented Mexican but a Brazilian population. One study reported in the Boston Globe in 2010 estimated that between 40 and 71 percent of adult Brazilians were illegal, even though the Massachusetts Brazilian population paid nearly $300 million in taxes. Their fate would be in the hands of Mr. Trump, Mr. Sessions, and the Justice Department.
Also, in December a year ago, Mr. Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown” on all Muslims entering the United States until officials can determine whether they are terrorists. Some of his supporters advocate a registry, requiring all Muslims to submit their names, addresses, fingerprints, and other private matters to a central database. Mr. Trump also proposed the creation of a commission on radical Islam to ferret out potential terrorists. His nomination of Michael Flynn, long a critic of Muslims, to become his national security advisor, will only play into this prospect: Flynn tweeted earlier this year that “fear of Muslims is RATIONAL” (his emphasis) and that Islam is “like a malignant cancer” that has metastasized.
By demonizing all Muslims, Mr. Trump has made it difficult for many Americans to determine whether even innocent Muslims are terrorists simply because they wear a beard or a headscarf. The Trump campaign did not help matters when its rhetoric legitimized white nationalist doctrine, also known as the alt-right, including statements by Stephen Bannon of Breitbart News, who is now a Trump senior advisor. The result has been a nationwide spike in anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic, and racist acts. Mr. Bannon’s appointment does not require Senate confirmation, so only public pressure could downplay his role, moving Mr. Trump away from his influence.
Since 2014, several cities and counties, along with four states, have created sanctuary zones where officials will not pursue undocumented immigrants. Boston is one, for example, as is Baltimore, where I live. Mr. Sessions has promised to “prosecute” sanctuary cities and to try to strip them of some federal funding unless they pursue the undocumented population.
There are two ways Martha’s Vineyard could become a “sanctuary island”: if all six towns agreed to it or, alternatively, if the Dukes County Commissioners agreed to it. On the other hand, it could be done informally by each town agreeing that they would not allow their police officers to ask people about their immigration status and would not turn over any undocumented immigrants to federal officials who might try to deport them.
Second, repeal of the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare. Mr. Trump now says he advocates unidentified changes to the law, some parts of which are very popular, including allowing dependents to remain on their parents’ healthcare policy until they are 26, and forcing insurance companies to accept pre-existing medical conditions. Moreover, his advisors have long advocated the privatization of both Social Security and Medicare, despite the president-elect’s promise not to mess with them. His senior advisor on Social Security, Michael Korbey, a former lobbyist, has long promoted its privatization.
Today, 20 million people who did not have health insurance now have it. But it is very expensive. Congressional Republicans have never proposed an alternative. Healthcare in Massachusetts should be secure, given the statewide healthcare program implemented in 2006.
Third, the Supreme Court. Mr. Trump will probably nominate one of the 21 candidates whose names he announced to replace the recently deceased Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court. All commentators who have reviewed this list have noted that they are men and women who range from very conservative to very, very conservative.
The Constitution requires Supreme Court nominees to win Senate confirmation by a simple majority. Because Republicans now control the Senate by a single vote, it is fairly certain that a conservative will replace Scalia. That said, the Court balance will not have changed: There will again be four conservative and four liberal justices with one, Anthony Kennedy, who is also conservative in most instances, acting as the swing vote. In the meantime, three justices are elderly: Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 83, Anthony Kennedy is 80, and Stephen Breyer is 78. Mr. Trump may have additional opportunities to recast the Court’s direction for a generation, a prospect that could have many Island repercussions.
A new Court within a few years may overrule the iconic 1973 decision of Roe v. Wade, recognizing a woman’s right to an abortion. The states would again regulate it. Massachusetts has one of the most progressive abortion laws in the nation. A woman who is pregnant at less than 24 weeks need only consult her physician and have the abortion in an approved clinic or hospital. A woman pregnant over 24 weeks would have to have her physician certify that either her life is in danger or she will suffer irreparable damage to her health if the pregnancy continues.
These three areas only scratch the surface when considering the prospects of a Trump administration. There is also the environment, a major issue for Vineyarders, given Mr. Trump’s denial of climate change and harsh verbal attacks of the Environmental Protection Agency.
The states retain some authority to resist federal encroachments, but their power is limited. For example, Congress sets the minimum wage, below which states must not fall, though they can increase it above that amount. Many states, including Massachusetts most recently, have passed recreational marijuana laws. The Obama administration has refrained from stopping them from implementing those laws, which it could under the 1970 federal Controlled Substances Act, which bans marijuana as a Schedule I drug. The Trump administration could easily use federal power to challenge these laws.
In short, the states will have to push back any and all federal encroachments if they want to continue to develop policies that differ from those of the Trump administration.
Jack Fruchtman, a seasonal Aquinnah resident, teaches constitutional law and politics at Maryland’s Towson University. His most recent book, published this year, is “American Constitutional History: A Brief Introduction.” He will contribute regularly to The MVTimes.