It has been a revealing week. Then again the same can be said about any other week in Trump’s young presidency.
A few days ago his agenda took a major hit when the ACA’s skinny-repeal attempt by the Republicans died on the floor with a single “no” vote by McCain. Afterwards, Trump predictably disowned the effort with his usual twitter-fingers, dismissing it by claiming we should just let Obamacare die on its own. A usual course of action for the president.
The defeat of the health care law repeal is just the latest in a series of legislative failures for his half-year administration and for Republicans. And although these are just procedural hurdles, they are joined at the hip by many other actual scandals with a range of flavors which span from the political to downright petty.
Case in point. Just last night Trump twitter-fired Reince Priebus, the White House Chief-of-Staff and the person in charge of baby-sitting Trump, and replaced him with Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly–while Priebus was still on the plane. Who knows if either man was informed of the decision beforehand. According to Reuters (where I first read the report), Trump and Priebus had been in talks for weeks about the exit. Although that in itself could be a lie.
At the same time the drama at the White House was reaching pornographic proportions, North Korea test-launched another missile and the Kremlin suspended hundreds of American diplomats in retaliation for sanctions imposed.
This is the drama that’s been unfolding at the White House. One that gives the appearance that Trump’s administration is a complete disaster. Okay, it is a complete disaster. But that also depends on whom you ask.
For the slice of the American public that does not comprise the 36% who approve of Trump’s job, there is no silver lining. In fact, it’s safe to say that this reality TV show we’re living through is an utter embarrassment before the eyes of the world. We certainly feel it at home. But looked from the angle of those in power, what’s been happening is better than any opposition group could’ve planned given the circumstances.
In the six months that Trump’s been president few pieces of Republican-backed legislation have become law, and the president’s biggest accomplishment so far has been inducting a new Supreme Court Justice. Even Trump’s extensive executive orders have failed to be implemented partly due to Republicans’ in-fighting, not to mention the sloppiness with which the Commander-in-Chief operates. In many of these pieces of legislation–some could even be considered Trump-musings–it is the semblance of civility and morality that have stopped Republicans from going along for the ride. Mind you, the overwhelming majority still approves of the president and his agenda (really their agenda for the most part), or have been cowered by their constituencies’s wrath to support him. However, this conditional loyalty seems to be wearing thin.
The break between the White House and the Republicans could not come soon enough for Trump, as this Atlantic article suggests. And it seems that if that break does eventually happen, perhaps there will be more harmonious cooperation as separate entities. At the very least, there won’t be this disingenuous attempt to appear united. It’s clear Trump under Bannon wants to carve his own way, and the Republicans under Ryan and, now less-influential, McConnell want to carve theirs. And all of it couldn’t work out better for the American public.
Consider the legislation that’s already been passed concerning immigration, the environment, Wall Street, and defense. These are all Republican positions that Trump happened to share. Where they found common ground, they work together fairly well. Now take the bewildering positions Trump has put “his” party in. On topics like NATO, the intelligence services’ assessment of Russia’s involvement in the election, or distractions like voter fraud, when push comes to shove, Congress has had no reservation in flexing its muscles.
So far the few pieces of legislation that have been agreed upon, have decimated years of progress. Pulling out of the Paris Accord is just an example of the colossal mistake that Trump and the whole of the rogue Republican Party have deviously agreed to. But even if it looks like an infant fumbling through his steps, when Trump seeks to extend his power either through intimidation or coercion, to him it’s a very serious matter. There doesn’t exist a doubt in my mind that Trump absolutely believes in what he professes, especially when he knows he’s factually wrong. In an Orwellian context we call that doublethink.
There’s only a silver lining to Trump’s presidency because of his incompetence for discretion–rather his affinity for indiscretion. Which is why the priority seems to be in quashing insurrection. Stopping the leaks. And revamping the entire cabinet. Even if it means firing every single detractor that at any time publicly derided Trump. It only makes you wonder just how long Scaramucci has left on his post.
In light of that revelation, we’ve been forced to root against the president. The more he fails, the longer he golfs, and the more incompetent he seems at his job while still being president, the less time he has to tweet legislation or hiring another demagogue. In essence, the better off we are. The White House doesn’t have a shortage of loyalists ready to man the many battlefronts, but the top of the pyramid does. Of course this frees up Republicans from the burden of responsibility and provides them the room to implement their own agendas. But without the legitimacy of the West Wing, those efforts can sometimes be a hard sell, as it was the infamous case of the little engine that couldn’t pass healthcare legislation.
Now, I’m not suggesting that Mueller and his hounds should call off their investigation. But every day that Trump is still in office buys us time. And we need it now more than ever.
Trump has opened the floodgates to a bevy of ideologues to take positions of power. Or slightly worse, positions of influence. While Bernie was inching the Democrats to the left, Trump violently jerked the entire apparatus of government to a hard right. Now, it’s the fringe who’s in control: hard-leaning Tea Party-ers, demagogues, and the occasional white supremacists. All the while the respected professionals have become the minority and have grown increasingly frustrated with Trump’s antics.
The success of failure rests solely in Trump’s inexperience in governing. But this model is unsustainable. Eventually Trump will learn the ins and outs of his position. He’ll know which levers to pull and what buttons to push and when. Already he’s adept at the changing tide, shifting positions on virtually every issue that’s gone sour and taking the base with him. Now imagine for a second if Donald Trump were as organized as Maduro, or Duterte, or Putin? He certainly praises those characters and even talks like them. Ponder for a second the implications of his ambition coupled with a willingness to learn. With his level of alleged corruption and a masterful expertise in politics, his administration could wreak havoc on the nation at a level that would shadow Nixon’s.
For the moment, other world leaders friendly to the US pass this off as rookie ineptitude. Certainly they believe that nearly seven decades of diplomatic relations cannot be undone in the course of six months as is the case with NATO. But then again, heeding the lessons of Brexit, they are more than cautious as to the president’s latest shenanigans and rhetoric. They know what he’d like to do, but they’re also thankful that Congress is more or less united in what he can do.
As for the ability to wage war, that’s a separate assumption. That is entirely a failure of the process. A failure that grants presidents too much power and the ability to bolster their support when they needed it the most. Arguably, one of the best things that could have happened for Bush’s presidency was 9/11. I know this will come off as an unpopular, if even hyperbolic, statement, but all the romanticism we’ve acquired over these 16 years hasn’t changed the fact that the “Patriot Act” reached much further than it should have. The fact is that war-time presidents are hardly ever opposed by their party, and only to a manageable degree by the opposition. Once Trump figures out this is really the only card he has to play, it’s inevitable that he’ll play it.
Now be sure that there are scores of people waiting in line who are equally ambitious and just as knowledgeable and cooperative without the volatility and baggage. People who share the same Conservative agenda and are able to navigate the torrid waters of politics. People like Mike Pence, a party-liner, a swamp politician, who won by default.
The sole reason why most of the public is involved in politics to an alarming degree is because the situation is too fucked up to ignore. Not a week goes by where there isn’t some crisis. There isn’t a single news cycle where one of the headlines is not something related to Trump or his cabinet, most of which is factual gossip or unavoidable scandal. I surmise that much of our involvement would vanish were we to have a more competent president. Note I didn’t say a more moral president, but a more competent one.
Trump is really only as powerful as his ignorance allows him to be. He’ll only be president as long as his scandals hold. And he’ll only be given as much latitude as Congress allows him to have for as long as he (and as an extension his base) can be controlled. But only until then.
There’s no doubt that in time Trump will fire himself. The question is how much will he learn, and simultaneously how much chaos will he sow, before he does. The citizens of this country are doing their part. But we can only trust on the fail-safe of mid-terms for so long before our confidence crumbles apart.
It’s a difficult thing to admit that you want your government to fail. But given how ineptitude doesn’t equate with innocence, it’s imperative that Trump and his cabinet fail as much as they can. We need to take a nuanced view of the situation and realize that there are failures and then there are failures. And what Trump might consider a success is not necessarily, and most likely isn’t, a win for us. In that regard when he promised on the campaign trail that there would be so much winning we would get tired of it, for once he wasn’t lying. We are tired of winning.
I remember not long ago we, myself included, wished that Trump succeeded as president. Today, it’s safe to say that is no longer the case. At 70 years old it’s proven very difficult to teach this old dog new tricks. So for as long as the kids love him, leashed and rabid, we’ll keep him. But only as long as we understand that a man of his psychological profile in such a position of power is much more dangerous teaching other dogs the tricks he knows, than learning from them.