The Unsustainable Administration of Donald Trump
Donald Trump’s four-month old administration is in a state of perpetual crisis. The White House is filled with suspicion and leaks like a sieve. The President constantly undermines his own position in interviews and on Twitter. Approval ratings continue to steadily decline. Americans disapproving of the president outnumber those with a positive opinion by almost two to one.
Can this go on for four years? It doesn’t even seem possible. It appears instead as though the system – our system of Constitutional government – is at a breaking point, and we’re not even half-way into the first year of the first Trump administration.
We’ve seen now that through thick and through thin, courts have been blocking incompetently-drafted executive actions, particularly those focused on immigration. Some Republicans are beginning to think more loudly about the desirability of a President Mike Pence.
Does Donald Trump Even Want to be President?
So is it true that the popular legitimacy of the presidency is collapsing in a way not seen since Watergate? The firing of James Comey provides a window this world. Removing the FBI director appears to have been a politically tone-deaf and ill-advised move. But the firing was promptly followed by Trump’s open admission that quashing an investigation into inquiries between Team Trump and the Russians was his goal. He even repeated that in an Oval Office meeting with Russian diplomats!
To rational observers, the only serious question remaining was: Does Donald Trump have a firm enough grasp of “obstruction of justice” to be, in fact, guilty of it?
Trump’s business empire continues to provide blatantly corrupt pay-for-play opportunities for which he once blasted the Clinton Foundation. That puts him in ongoing violation of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, that forbids the president from accepting any payments from a foreign power. His personal profiteering from his office ranges from patronage of Trump hotels by foreign governments, conducting state business as an attraction for paying members of his club at Mar-a-Lago, and awards of trademarks to the Trump Organization by the Chinese government.
The President cannot “take care that the laws be faithfully executed” when he’s so hopelessly ignorant of the law that he can’t even avoid breaking it himself.
One of the basic foundations of the American constitutional system is that the President may be corrupt, and he may be wrong on policy matters, but he’s still presumed to be, in a basic sense, competent and sane. The Trump administration is hopelessly, chronically, systematically incompetent.
Minor scandals become major blow-ups because of the self-inflicted damage. Talking points articulated by administration spokesmen become worthless once the President opens his mouth or his Twitter account.
Ever since January 20, Trump has revealed an uncanny ability for pushing buttons to bring down a presidency. Does he really even want to be President?
A Silver Lining To the Current National Nightmare
There is one silver lining to this national nightmare. Recall that after the twin nadirs of Viet Nam and Watergate; positive reforms came. The Church Committee, and the post-J. Edgar Hoover reforms of the Federal Bureau of Investigation rolled back the worst excesses of federal law enforcement, surveillance, and intelligence operations. The War Powers Resolution constrained the President’s ability to start wars. Though poorly designed, the first major laws requiring transparency in campaign finance were passed. Tax revolts swept the nation and the ballot box in 1978. The draft ended.
In short, the practice of aggressive congressional oversight of the executive branch was revitalized, as was the role of the judiciary in standing up for the rule of law against a lawless President. The Madisonian genius worked when the grand design of the United States Constitution swung into action and functioned as intended.
If the wisdom of our Constitution could take down Tricky Dick, a popular president (if cynical, paranoid, criminal and smart) who had won re-election in a landslide, then what hope does Donald Trump have of completing a four-year term at this frantic pace of self-destruction?
In fact, people are betting against Trump. ElectionBettingOdds.com, run by John Stossel and Maxim Lott and using information from real betting markets, currently places the chances of Trump completing his term at just 48.9 percent.
(Photograph of Donald Trump by Gage Skidmore used with permission.)