As I sit drafting this post, it is only a few hours until six months will officially have passed since Donald Trump’s inauguration as the 45th President of the United States. Looking back on many of the opinions I offered over those months (and before) as well as what a lot of people who actually get paid to write down their opinions on political affairs, there has been a lot of doom and gloom. Six months is not a lot–there are still (supposedly) 42 months to go in Trump’s administration, and a lot could change. I have no confidence, though, that there will be any positive change any time before 2020, and if there is not a change in thinking by a lot of the US electorate, maybe not even then.
To take a look at trends and directions and the possible effects on the body politic of the USA, six months is probably long enough to evaluate who Trump is and is not, as well as to take a look at how he seems to see the political landscape of the country, and maybe to take a stab at predicting how he will react to what has happened during those six months, as well as what may happen during months to come.
One frequently-asked question is whether Trump is in fact a Republican. Commentators from both ends of the political spectrum have tried to assign him to one place or another on that spectrum. I think that is a waste of time. It appears to me that he is neither a Republican nor a Democrat, in any conventional sense of either term. His public pronouncements and his unconventional methods of communicating with the public (especially his tweets, which are worth a whole analysis of their own) reveal several things. Foremost is an enormous ego, reinforced by a seemingly rock-solid conviction that no one will or should ever call him on some of his more absurd statements.
Just to take an example, he has made pronouncements on the current state of health care law that have been all over the map–from braggadocio to the effect that he would be signing a repeal of the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) on his “first day” in office to complaints that such a repeal has not yet been possible because of Democratic obstruction. He thus has gone from complete confidence that he could dictate the fate of the most significant federal legislation of the last decade to whining that legislators of the opposite party won’t assist him in undoing their biggest accomplishment of that period! What does this represent in terms of his thinking? In partisan terms, I would submit that these pronouncements mean precisely nothing: they are self-evaluations of his own goal of self-promotion–he wanted to show his own mastery of the whole government apparatus, and reacted with anger and frustration when he was thwarted.
In the James Comey affair (I love the guy, no, he is a disastah who had to be fired because he had lost the confidence of the bureau. Or something…anyway, I had to fire him!) I am old enough to remember Nixon and the Saturday Night Massacre; there was a significant debate over whether the President could fire someone who was investigating the President, and in the end, Nixon fired people in the Justice Department until he found one who was receptive to his own views, but Trump didn’t even look for such a fig leaf. He simply fired Comey totally on his own, with no recourse to anyone else, and apparently no advance consideration of possible backlash. The backlash continues to this day, though, and Trump’s discomfort with the situation has been related chiefly to his inability to stop anyone from questioning the propriety of his action. Again, he appears still to be absolutely convinced of his own ability to do as he pleases without criticism or questioning. In truth, he appears to have believed that he was elected to exercise dictatorial powers. None of this indicates an inclination toward either major political party, but a serious tendency toward megalomania.
Much has been written or said about Trump’s treatment of the “emoluments clause” of the Constitution, about his own insistence that the President of the United States can not have a conflict of interest, and other such flouting of convention, at the least. The more extreme examples of this type of operation are going to come back to haunt him at some point, I think. The comedy (that wasn’t really funny) of Trump’s trotting out a private attorney, complete with audio visual aids consisting of a pile of papers, to tell the country that his “arrangement” to have members of his own family directing his business affairs during his term satisfied the need for a “blind trust,” as had been customary in the case of previous presidents, was ludicrous. Not a single government attorney supported it, but of course Donald, Jr., repeated in interviews that this constituted a blind trust, and Trump, Sr. continues blatantly to helm his various business ventures. Similarly, he has named various members of his own family to official positions requiring security clearances.
Jared Kushner may find himself in significant trouble over this in months to come. He filled out a government from (SF-86) that requires disclosure of financial interests as well as any dealings with foreign nationals. (Disclosure: I have filled out several of these, and each contains a warning that failure to disclose requested information or to furnish false information may create legal problems.) Kushner not only omitted contacts with several Russians (of course, this was inadvertent, wink, wink), but I suspect that coming months may bring news of financial interests in foreign countries, most notably Russia. This is not an accusation, just a hunch–for now. Information continues to drip, drip over time.
Fervent Trump supporters point at President Kennedy, who named his own brother as Attorney General. Bobby Kennedy, though, despite his relative youth, was an attorney of some note and considerable experience in the Civil Rights division of the Department of Justice when he was chosen. Jared Kushner’s chief qualification is that he is Trump’s son-in-law.
What, then, is the aim of Donald J. Trump in becoming President of the United States? I would submit he saw it as a chance to enlarge his “brand” and concentrate even more wealth in his own hands as well as the hands of his extended family, and was confident he could bluster his way past any objections. His unfortunate tendency to venerate Russia and with it, the bloody-handed Vladimir Putin, is, I think, mostly a result of an excess of trust in Steve Bannon.
Bannon would merit considerable exploration as a topic. I’m not going to do it here or now, and I don’t even want to know enough about this sinister character to do it at all. Suffice to say that before coming aboard the Trump campaign, he was the publisher of Breitbart news, an online source about which the eminently innocent Wikipedia says,
“…A far-right American news, opinion, and commentary website…”
“Breitbart has published a number of falsehoods and conspiracy theories.”
With this as your “strategist’s” background, who needs an erratic, megalomaniacal personality of one’s own?
All in all, in my own humble opinion, Trump eagerly grabbed at a job that is much too big for him. He is relying on advisors whose expertise is sparse. He speaks recklessly on topics on which he is ill-informed. And he seems not inclined to admit any of it, preferring to try to intimidate all in his way.
Two things, I think, can happen within the next three years. First, Trump could change and moderate his habits and his behavior, which is not likely, given his self-image as the ultimate success story. Second, the adults in the Republican party could find a spine and begin to try to purge themselves of this menace. We’ll see.