Those who had lauded the expansion of executive powers when Barack Obama was president perhaps now see the dangers of an imperial presidency with Donald Trump as president. It doesn’t matter if you are Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, because we all know what Lord Acton said about the corrupting influence of power.
In previous columns written during the presidential campaign, I observed that Trump is devoid of ideology. His appalling inauguration speech was loaded with vague objectives which he apparently thought he could achieve by edict. In his nomination acceptance speech, he recited a list of issues which he said, “… I alone can fix it.” That is some chutzpah and it is more revealing than Mr. Trump realizes.
I noted, “Trump follows a long line of populist leaders who use tired terms like ‘America first’ or the ‘Forgotten Man’ to incite their followers. They promise big and deliver little.” Populists sacrifice principles for power.
The chaos that is engulfing the Trump administration should be worrisome to all of us. Trump as president has revealed his true self and he is unlikely to change. Attempts to inject gravitas into President Trump have proven futile. Trump supporters enthusiastically welcomed General Kelly as Chief of Staff whom they thought would tame Trump and bring some order to the chaos that has been the hallmark of his administration. That has not been the case as we have seen in Trump’s Charlottesville tweets.
His supporters now similarly cheer the ouster of Steve Bannon, another agent of chaos, as a turning point in Trump’s administration. That would be wishful thinking. If we’ve learned nothing else from Trump, we know he is uncontrollable and will dig in and double down on his blunders.
One wonders why President Trump continues to sabotage himself. Any rational politician would wish to build a consensus of support in Congress to achieve his policy goals. Yet Trump seems pathologically incapable of doing that. The Charlottesville missteps have seen the Republican Congress backing away from him, afraid his noxiousness will rub off on them. Ditto with the business leaders on his advisory councils. Even worse, the press hate him and the long knives are out, digging for anything that would take him down. Why would a rational man keep doing this?
The answer is that he can’t help himself. You don’t have to be a psychiatrist to see the inherent flaws in his psyche. He either has seriously defective judgment or he has some mental issues that cause his compulsivity. Whatever it is, it is something beyond his arrogance, narcissism, and thin-skinned ego.
Which leads me to wonder if he is becoming irrelevant.
He alone is sabotaging his presidency. He has alienated a Republican Congress, his key advisers are at odds with him, and he lacks an ideological vision of what really does makes America great. It is obvious that he will not be the agent of change that voters hoped for. This makes him irrelevant and it is likely that the result will be a do-nothing presidency.
Being irrelevant does not make him harmless. He has a penchant for lashing out without consulting his key advisers. One could argue that “lashing out” is just harmless rhetoric, but in the foreign policy realm it is not. His attempts to top Kim Jong Un’s empty commie-rants, his threat to bomb the s**t out of ISIS, his threats against China and Iran, and his cosseting of Putin present him as a potentially dangerous, unpredictable, and destabilizing force. We need friends, not enemies, in this world.
Other than blundering onto another war, the greatest danger he presents is his threat to disrupt free trade which demonstrates a shocking ignorance of economics. Withdrawal from TPP, trade sanctions against China, and his goal of destroying NAFTA will only serve to destabilize our economy and bring on recession and unemployment.
What can we expect of Trump’s legislative accomplishments? Apparently, nothing. He failed to articulate true healthcare reform and a divisive Republican Congress failed spectacularly to fill the breach. Perhaps they will do nothing and let Obamacare fail. Tax cuts are a possibility, but it appears that it will be driven by Congress not the Executive branch.
There is something to be said for legislative paralysis. The fewer the legislative “reforms”, the better the economy. Once businesses, the drivers of prosperity, believe there will be stability and predictability in government action, they can better plan and invest for the future. If they believe that the playing field will be changed (regime uncertainty), they are less willing to invest in future expansion.
That is not to say there are not significant problems that government needs to address, but there is no political will to solve them. No president nor any Congress, left or right, seem willing to sacrifice power for solutions.
As much as his detractors would wish it so, unless the press or Robert Mueller come up with a smoking gun, a dead body, and a cache of rubles, it is unlikely he will be impeached. We must assume the man will last for a full four-year term.
Trump risks becoming irrelevant because no one will take him seriously. He reminds me of the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, where, after warning King Arthur that, “None shall pass”, he keeps defiantly taunting Arthur even after the king chops off his arms and legs. Trump just had a leg chopped off; he might be limbless by 2020.