So we’re what, like 8 months into this “presidency?” And it’s not a very effective, or good, administration.
And I won’t even go through some of his obvious personal deficiencies like his relentless golfing (at his own estates), the depletion of federal money for his personal safety, his personal profiting from the presidency, his “royal family” approach to politics (aka monarchy), and I won’t even mention his clear Russia links. All of that are secondary to his actual performance.
And here’s some themes that Trump seems to emphasize:
1) That democracy is a hindrance to his political vision.
2) That white nationalism isn’t controversial.
3) That chaos is the best form of leadership.
And let’s discuss all that:
First off, democracy in the United States isn’t pure democracy. So when I refer to “democracy,” I really just mean the idea that voters choose representatives and participate in decisions via multiple channels. It’s also the idea that organized interests (other than elite interests) are heard, and public input is given. And Trump doesn’t seem to like that. Rather than accept that and maneuver politics, Trump assumed that whatever he says, goes. … and I’m not very certain that he knows how Congress functions, and that the president, for the most part, is in charge of foreign relations, crafting a vision of policy for Congress to rally behind, and signing bills — rather than him dictating policy.
Trump ignores a lot within his government. He won’t listen to Congress (see healthcare), nor will he listen to research within his own government (see climate change). He tries to dictate sweeping policy (see immigration). He ignores intelligence, and brushes off any information that doesn’t fit what he likes (see Russia meddling). His communications team vigorously defends him, and tries to construct any semblance of a narrative, and then he destroys that with a simple tweet (see Mooch or Spicer … or Sanders). His administration uses all kinds of excuses for him: “He was joking,” “he was being sarcastic,” “he really didn’t mean that …” Others, like Mad Dog or Tillerson, will straight contradict or ignore what Trump says.
Overall, Trump seems at odds with not only his own Cabinet, but also any institution within the United States (see bureaucratic pushback from State or Parks even). In fact, the only American institution he seems to be OK with is Fox News and Brietbart (if you consider Brietbart a staple “institution” yet). He clearly hates the media (which is foundational in any functioning democracy).
He also seems oddly fine with Russia and Putin, and admires dictators from afar — only criticizing them when his name is mentioned in the negative. He’ll only pushback when it’s politically expedient and appeals to his base (See North Korea where he wanted to negotiate with Kim Jong but belligerently threatened him with nuclear weapons several months later).
It seems he can’t divorce his personality (and personal views) from any other voice in America — and there’s a lot of voices to balance. He literally wants his personality to mold the United States. He wants unpredictability in a predictable system. He wants authority and order under him, but he has chaos up top. He wants to take all credit when really it’s the system to credit. … And that’s not how the presidency is suppose to function. Presidents don’t define what the government is, nor do they dictate the will of institutions like the Judicial, Intelligence, military, etc … Rather, presidents have preferences and move chess pieces, and emphasize policy points. But they never get what they want in full. And presidents need to speak for the country as a whole, not only to the sliver of supporters they have — and Trump is incapable of doing this. His personality and base is everything to him.
As a consequence, Trump fundamentally misunderstands how government works and is ineffective at running it. He has no discipline, not coherent strategy for achieving policy goals, probably doesn’t understand the policy problems, and more importantly seems to have a distaste for American democracy itself. Institutions are crafted and forged over decades, and entire presidencies are devoted to implementing tweaks and changes that will realize presidential input over time. But not Trump. He just yells about how he can’t get what he want and that everything is against him.
I predicted it in the past. I preached about what would happen. I warned, and the people in my immediate sphere really didn’t pay any attention … But anyone paying attention to the signs during the election 100% saw it coming: Trump’s efforts to ignore white nationalism and acceptance as part of his voting base and part of his administration.
And you can see this many ways:
The KKK officially supported him. David Duke propped him up with the nationalists. Trump highlights Muslim attacks but doesn’t mention when it’s white supremacist attacks. The white supremacist forums and organizations either formally or informally endorsed him. The alt-right waged meme wars against Clinton (probably using Russian propaganda). When Trump was elected, hate crimes increased, and so did the proliferation of white supremacist organizations. He put advisers like Gorka, Miller, and Bannon (now gone, along with many, many others) in the White House. Minority school bullying increased. … In the end, Trump ignored all signs that white supremacy supported and voted for him. At best it’s because he simply wanted their votes, and at worst he, himself, is racist and sympathetic to pro-white policies.
Trump encourages singling out Mexicans as “the” problem … or it’s immigrants in general, or it’s “the media” actively engaging in conspiracy against him (appealing to the Jewish conspiracy white nationalists), or it’s Obama (who happens to be a minority himself) … or it’s “what about” somebody other than Trump himself. Most recently, he most certainly sided with the supremacists during their power-consolidation protest in Charlottesville. And white nationalists praised Trump’s responses … In the end, his entire campaign rested on scapegoating and constructing false conspiracies (and false moral equivalencies) … which happens to be the EXACT tactic of white nationalists and supremacists. And Trump (and a large portion of the voting public) ignored the signs.
Bottom line is, this was the logical conclusion from months of development.
Trump’s actions make supremacist organizations more powerful, and more importantly, a sitting president is endorsing their tactics and propping up their narrative — that America WAS great (when it was more white), and that it can be great again. This narrative, along with his casual dismantling of the bureaucratic apparatus, will likely hamper the ability for government to effectively deal with white nationalism. It’s on the rise for the short term no doubt, and perhaps longer depending on what happens.
Not only that, but his actions hurt the American image abroad. The United States was already trying to gain back moral superiority after terrorist interrogation tactics backfired during the Bush years. And stripping away moral superiority simply strips away another layer of soft power that the United States used as political currency in the post WWII and post Cold War era.
… now dictators across the world can justify their own suppression and detainment by saying “look, even in America the president is OK with white supremacy and dictatorial crackdowns.”
Good lord has turnover been intense in the White House. There was even a person, who was an active official at the White House, that everyone referred to as “The Mooch” who had a job for 10 DAYS.
… and can we just pause and think about that? And I won’t bother running through who all has been fired, because that’s an article all to itself.
Where to start. Trump has no approach to leadership. I imagine him golfing, sitting at his desk, or whatever, and just allowing people go in and out of his office while he watches political pundits, just waiting for his name. I also picture him reading nothing but pro-Trump articles that aides bring him. When asked about staffing questions, I see him outsourcing those answers to someone else … one of maybe 5 advisers he trusts with those decisions. And because of that, I see aides going to any one of five of those people, and probably the one they view most favorably, which would in turn create five distinct “houses” in the White House. “Bannon” house (now defunct). “Kushner” house. “Trump Jr.” House. “Spicer” house (now defunct).
… and I have no idea how it works, and it’s pure speculation, but this is what I picture. And there are some reports that confirm that.
Trump’s leadership style seems best akin to an absentee landlord. The White House is there, and [barely] functioning, but when anything goes wrong, good lord is there finger pointing. And Trump is NEVER at fault. For anything, ever, according to him.
Trump’s rollout of the Bannon-backed immigration restrictions were the work of people who have no idea how the legal system works … and you would think Trump himself would take time to weigh the wording, pass it through heads of the bureaucracy, run it through some outside counsel … but no. He steamrolled that bitch. He cause mass anger and confusion at an INTERNATIONAL level because of this haphazard, amateur order.
Thank god the American bureaucratic system is, naturally, fighting back. Sally Yates called out the stupid order, and got fired for it. But there’s many federal bureaucrats preserving information to prevent a Trump coverup, and leaks are still a major headache for this administration.
Then there’s the FBI, where Trump decided to fire the guy in charge of investigating him. This was an event that highlighted both Trump’s disdain for democratic institutions and his chaotic leadership. He really thought the Russia problem would disappear by firing a Senate-approved appointment. And the guy, Comey, heard it via cable news!? What the hell is that? A politically stupid, and emotionally unstable, decision if I ever saw one. And the firing wasn’t even executed properly. So a guy with 30+ years in law enforcement was forced to leave and found out via cable TV because of some dunce who doesn’t understand what’s going on around him.
Then there’s the press briefings where answers are dodged, and the only real answer we get is “the president’s words are very clear …” But they aren’t clear. Other times, the press secretary (whoever it is that day) insists the president was being “sarcastic” with his political ineptitude and lax language. Other times it’s the press’ fault they don’t “understand” the president, and the people do. … what a bunch of BS. Most recently, the administration has done away with televised press briefings.
Reporters have no idea what the president does from day-to-day, and it seems as though he doesn’t even like the White House.
So what the hell is going on? No idea, but you can probably bank on it profiting Trump himself in some way.
… though, thankfully, Trump’s leadership approach is showing signs of fracturing (see his most-recent reaction to white supremacist rallies and the following corporate resignations and charities dumping Trump). He also has a former general as chief of staff … but Trump still has to battle Trump
Overall, the administration is assaulting the very government that’s been developing since the post-WWII era. During the campaign I felt like Harry Potter warning the wizards about the Deatheaters. And now they’re here. Trump is hampering the United States’ ability to claim leverage over other countries in multiple ways:
1) By refusing to acknowledge climate change and the inevitable future economy that will stem from it (China picking up the slack).
2) By ignoring white supremacy (under-the-surface racism is now in the open, and very obvious, and America no longer can tell countries how to act based on any moral argument).
3) By ignoring global trade and taking us out of the TPP (to be fair, Congress would have killed it anyway … but China is picking up the slack).
4) By threatening to fire weapons at the slightest of diplomatic crisis (this could make a trigger-happy world).
5) By ignoring diplomacy in general and outsourcing all foreign affairs to the military.
Domestically, the place Trump is leading America is to a very hostile one. The divisions were amplified by Trump, and now fringe movements from the left and right will probably clash pretty consistently moving forward from his obvious pro-white-supremacist stance.
In addition, he’s attacked those in Congress (IN HIS OWN PARTY) and democratic institutions, and let’s face it, nobody wants to work with him. He’ll throw anyone under the bus if it’s politically beneficial for him (see Sessions, McConnell, or even Comey). So I don’t see any major legislation being passed anytime soon.
He’s also normalized conspiracy as something normal. Who knows what ideas people will push now. And who knows how many will gain traction. Because now people have see the most powerful person in the world buy into idiotic ideas, and it’s acceptable.
Overall, there’s something awful going on. … but there’s also a resistance gaining momentum. And there’s some signs the Trump is giving in to the establishment — like appointing General Kelly as Chief of Staff, or firing Bannon. Maybe Charlottesville tampered the stupid things he does and says — but probably not. And there’s also 30% of the United States that, let’s face it, will support him no matter the outcome of the Russian investigation, and no matter if he’s racist or destroying the government from within.
So that’s about all I got for now.
Joel also writes about politics on his own blog Political Ideas and Education.