Feb 13th 2018

Trump’s Battered Presidency

WASHINGTON, DC – It’s gotten to the point where one might almost feel sorry for Donald Trump. While that “almost” reflects a gap too wide for Trump’s opponents to bridge, it can be said that February has, thus far, been cruel to the US president, though he clearly is no innocent victim.

During the first full week of the month, Trump’s White House faced more trouble than befalls most presidencies in a couple of months, or longer. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 1,000 points twice, wiping out all the gains that the bull market had racked up for the year so far. No one knew when the markets would steady themselves or whether Trump’s vaunted tax cuts, among other policies, were fueling fears of economic over-heating and higher interest rates.

Trump had made things worse for himself by doing what his predecessors in the Oval Office had wisely avoided. He regularly took credit for stock-market gains. The supposed great businessman had forgotten that what goes up eventually comes down.

Also that week, Congress passed a two-year budget agreement. Ordinarily, a longer-term and bipartisan deal would be good news; but the deal was estimated to guarantee a staggering $1 trillion annual budget deficit. The Republican Party, which had long claimed to be the party of fiscal responsibility, forfeited that identity. Congressional Democrats and Republicans were able to agree by giving each side essentially what it wanted in new spending – without budget cuts or tax increases to offset the impact on the deficit.

Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton all presided over tax increases, with Clinton’s fiscal policy actually generating a budget surplus in the final years of his second term. But then along came George W. Bush, who argued that the surplus should be returned to the people. And so it was – and then some. From then on, raising taxes became anathema to the Republicans, and, in time, most of Bush’s “temporary” tax cuts became permanent.

Trump’s promise to cut taxes again is widely viewed as a major reason why Republican congressional leaders – and, most important, the party’s big donors – supported him in 2016 and continued to do so. But the members of Congress also became fearful of Trump’s “base,” which may represent only about a third of the electorate but is very strong in Republican congressional districts and could back a more right-leaning challenger in the party primary.

Republicans pretended that the tax cuts were aimed at the middle class, though they mostly helped the wealthy and business. Trump and his allies have been strenuously trying to talk the country into liking the tax cuts, which are front-loaded to help people before the 2018 midterm elections, in which the entire House of Representatives, a third of the Senate, and many governorships and state legislatures will be up for grabs. Republicans have been in a panic that they might lose both the House and the Senate, though the latter is less likely, given that many more Democratic than Republican incumbents must defend their seats. And much can happen by then to change the electoral equation.

As if all this weren’t enough, the Trump White House was suddenly hit with a wave of wife-beating charges. The Republican Party was already in trouble with women, and how Trump and his aides handled the situation was not helpful. Early in the week, it became known that two ex-wives of the little-known Rob Porter – whose anodyne job title, Staff Secretary, belied the importance of his job (getting the right papers to the president) – had told the FBI that Porter had been physically and emotionally violent with them during their (brief) marriages to him.

As a result, Porter had never received the full security clearance that his job required; even after a year, he had only “interim” clearance. It is unusual for uncertainty about the security fitness of a senior White House aide to last so long – as it also has in the case of Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who handles foreign-policy issues. The concern in such cases is that there may be information that could expose the official to blackmail. A Trump speechwriter also had to step down after complaints by his ex-wife.

The story grew worse when it became known that Trump’s chief of staff, John Kelly, and White House counsel Don McGahn had known about Porter’s situation for some time (McGahn had known for a year, and Kelly for at least several months), and had apparently taken no steps to prevent Porter from handling highly classified information. So a scandal about spousal abuse quickly morphed into one about possible security lapses.

The Trump presidency has featured an uncommonly long trail of aides forced to resign or fired for various reasons. Most experienced veterans of the executive branch weren’t drawn to work for Trump, and he and his circle of advisers blackballed anyone who had opposed him during the 2016 election. So the Trump presidency didn’t start with first-class personnel, and the staff hasn’t improved.

This is not surprising. Trump is known to be a very difficult person to work for: impetuous and intemperate, he routinely screams at his aides. People have risen and fallen in his estimation within a matter of days, and factions within the White House have feuded constantly.

Kelly, the retired four-star Marine general who in late July 2017 switched from Secretary of Homeland Security to White House chief of staff, has established some order in the West Wing. But he has foresworn trying to change Trump’s behavior – from his unpredictable but often consequential tweets, to calls made on a personal phone from his private quarters (so that Kelly couldn’t monitor or listen in).

Kelly, it turned out, was also almost as morally obtuse as his boss: he’d already displayed racial insensitivity, and when it came to domestic violence, he was clueless. He cared only that Porter had been doing a good job and was needed, so he put out a statement praising Porter to the skies and privately urged him to remain on the job.

But, as the media firestorm spread, Kelly changed his story and directed the White House staff to lie on his behalf – to assert that he had responded swiftly and negatively to the news about Porter’s former wives. Kelly’s fate today is uncertain.

And what about Trump, of whom at least a dozen women have complained of unwanted sexual advances (if not worse)? At the end of an eventful week, he set off a new firestorm, by speaking of his sympathy for Porter, and suggesting that women who make such complaints aren’t necessarily to be believed.


Elizabeth Drew is a contributing editor to The New Republic and the author, most recently, of Washington Journal: Reporting Watergate and Richard Nixon’s Downfall.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2018.
www.project-syndicate.org

 


This article is brought to you by Project Syndicate that is a not for profit organization.

Project Syndicate brings original, engaging, and thought-provoking commentaries by esteemed leaders and thinkers from around the world to readers everywhere. By offering incisive perspectives on our changing world from those who are shaping its economics, politics, science, and culture, Project Syndicate has created an unrivalled venue for informed public debate. Please see: www.project-syndicate.org.

Should you want to support Project Syndicate you can do it by using the PayPal icon below. Your donation is paid to Project Syndicate in full after PayPal has deducted its transaction fee. Facts & Arts neither receives information about your donation nor a commission.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Aug 15th 2019
EXTRACT: "Gaslighting typically refers to intimate relationships. It’s a way of controlling someone by creating false narratives – for example, that they are irrational or crazy. If such lies are repeated constantly, victims may get confused and start believing there really is something wrong with them. Confusion, diversion, distraction and disinformation can similarly be used to gaslight an entire society. So how can you tell if you are being gaslighted, and how do you avoid it in the first place?"
Aug 14th 2019
EXTRACT: "Trump has once again painted himself into a corner. Since the latest massacres, he’s been at pains to present himself as a reasonable fellow who can get behind gun reform (and perhaps mollify suburban women, his most dangerous foes on this issue). But he’s also noticeably (and typically) anxious to maintain the loyalty of the rural voters who form an important part of his base. Trump has also taken the gamble of using racial politics and white supremacy as instruments for winning in 2020. When faced with the dilemma of trying to assuage suburban voters or keeping the base close, time after time his instinct has been to shore up the base. (That didn’t work very well in 2018.)"
Aug 5th 2019
Extracts: "it is impossible to model many of the most important risks. Global warming will produce major changes in hydrological cycles, with both more extreme rainfall and longer more severe droughts. This will have severe adverse effects on agriculture and livelihoods in specific locations, but climate models cannot tell us in advance precisely where regional effects will be most severe. Adverse initial effects in turn could produce self-reinforcing political instability and large-scale attempted migration........Achieving a zero-carbon economy will require a massive increase in global electricity use, from today’s 23,000 TW hours to as much as 90,000 TW hours by mid-century. Delivering this in a zero-carbon fashion will require enormous investments, but as the Energy Transitions Commission has shown, it is technically, physically, and economically feasible......Added up across all economic sectors, however, it’s clear that the total cost of decarbonizing the global economy cannot possibly exceed 1-2% of world GDP. In fact, the actual costs will almost certainly be far lower, because most such estimates cautiously ignore the possibility of fundamental technological breakthroughs, and maintain conservative estimates of how long and how fast cost reductions in key technologies will occur. In 2010, the International Energy Agency projected a 70% fall in solar photovoltaic equipment costs by 2030. It happened by 2017."
Jul 31st 2019
Extract: "I admire the US for its culture, entrepreneurialism, and universities, and I have many American friends. Furthermore, I know how grateful the rest of the world has to be for US leadership after World War II. Never before had a victorious power behaved so generously toward others, including the defeated. We owe so much to US policy in the second half of the twentieth century. But although I am no declinist regarding American economic, intellectual, and military power, the country’s soft power has certainly decreased, and its positive influence around the world has declined. The reason for this is simple: US President Donald Trump is a bad man surrounded by a bad team of incompetent and dangerous ideologues."
Jul 30th 2019
Extract: "This pattern holds true in every extremist movement I have studied, whether from the past or the present, or the West or the East. This abuse of religion that provides security and certainty to those who are experiencing a loss of control is a universal phenomenon. If merely left there, it would not be a danger. But when it masks a political agenda or when it justifies violence either by groups or state actors, it becomes a danger."
Jul 30th 2019
Extract: "......the day before Mueller testified, the current FBI director, Christopher Wray, told the Senate Judiciary Committee, “The Russians are absolutely intent on trying to interfere with our elections.” And the day after Mueller testified, the Senate Intelligence Committee issued a report stating that Russia would be involved in the next presidential election, and that countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran, and China have the capacity to interfere in US elections as well. Despite these warnings, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked Senate consideration of two bills aimed at strengthening US election security,....."
Jul 15th 2019
".....one of the most accurate recession indicators, known as the yield curve, has recently been flashing warning signs. Every postwar recession in the US was preceded by an inversion of the yield curve, meaning that long-term interest rates had fallen below short-term interest rates, some 12 to 18 months before the outset of the economic downturn."
Jul 6th 2019
Extract: ".........growing poverty even when working, the collapse of stable and safe social identities linked to work, the increasing instability of employment security, and the rapid change of local communities due to emigration, migration, collapsing housing affordability, and redevelopment initiatives that displace communities. These provide precise and urgent electoral rallying points. They are particularly effective given that so many mainstream politicians ignore these basic grievances. In recent years, the lineup of politicians opposing the New Right – Hillary Clinton, the Remain campaign, Emmanuel Macron and Matteo Renzi – have been unwilling to even recognise these structural problems. This provided the New Right the opportunity to appear credible, simply by acknowledging them."
Jul 6th 2019
".........an openly Russophilic administration in the US may be one reason why Putin’s domestic support has been declining so sharply."
Jul 3rd 2019
"Extract: .........in a world of rapidly expanding automation potential, demographic shrinkage is largely a boon, not a threat. Our expanding ability to automate human work across all sectors – agriculture, industry, and services – makes an ever-growing workforce increasingly irrelevant to improvements in human welfare. Conversely, automation makes it impossible to achieve full employment in countries still facing rapid population growth........The greatest demographic challenges therefore lie not in countries facing population stabilization and then gradual decline, but in Africa, which still faces rapid population growth."
Jul 1st 2019
Trump’s personal style – vocal, expertise-averse, scandal-prone and driven by a focus on his partisan base – may be unusual, but aspiring Democratic presidential contenders may be making a serious error in allowing Trump’s “Wizard of Oz” act of big claims and small achievements to pass unchallenged. There is a massive gap between the pledges he made to voters and the reality of an outsider presidency thoroughly co-opted by its party. So far, the “Trump revolution” turns out to be an ordinary Republican presidency.
Jun 25th 2019
"Trump’s vindictive bluster has steamrolled economic-policy deliberations – ignoring the lessons of history, rejecting the analytics of modern economics, and undermining the institutional integrity of the policymaking process. Policy blunders of epic proportion have become the rule, not the exception. It won’t be nearly as easy to spin the looming consequences."
Jun 19th 2019
Solar energy is one of the fastest-growing energy sectors in the world, and has the great advantage of producing no carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that is raising the average surface temperature of the earth. India is now for the first time in history investing more in solar energy than in coal. There is a simple reason for this. Coal costs roughly 5 cents a kilowatt hour to generate electricity. India just let a bid for 1.2 gigawatts of solar energy and four companies scooped it up at 3.6 cents a kilowatt hour.
Jun 19th 2019
Extract: "Abe has reportedly nominated Trump for a Nobel Peace Prize – at the request of the US – for opening talks with North Korea. And he has offered to mediate in America’s dispute with Iran. (His recent visit to Tehran – where he reportedly asked Iran’s leaders, at Trump’s request, to release detained Americans – made clear that, even squeezed by sanctions, Iran has no interest in negotiating with a serial violator of signed agreements.) What Trump calls an “incredible partnership” is, in reality, a largely one-sided relationship. But, for Abe, appeasing Trump is not so much a choice as a necessity: he must prove to Japan’s people and their neighbors, particularly the Chinese, that he knows how to keep Trump on his side."
Jun 17th 2019
Extarct: "We know well the damage that corrupt leaders do to their people. We should therefore have much more to say about the quintessential corruption entailed by tolerating lies. Such tolerance allows the poison to spread through the body and soul of democracy, undermining democracy’s institutions by attacking the invisible norms and tacit understandings that support them."
Jun 11th 2019
Extract: "I noticed this dynamic firsthand a few years ago in Blagoveshchensk, on the Siberian border, just a half-mile from the Chinese town of Heihe. A century and a half ago, Blagoveshchensk was part of China. Then the Cossacks took control of it, along with many other territories in Chinese Outer Manchuria, on behalf of the Russian czar. Blagoveshchensk’s local history museum presents the development of the town after the Cossack takeover as a civilizing mission. The Russians, it seems, still view themselves as superior Westerners. As for Heihe, it got rich a quarter-century ago, after capitalizing on Russia’s post-Soviet disarray to sell cheap goods to then-starving Russians. Its own history museum presents the Cossacks as “hairy barbarians” (Lao Maozi) and lists the towns of Russia’s far east by their historical Chinese names: Blagoveshchensk is Hailanpao, Vladivostok is Haishenwai, and Sakhalin is Kuye. Local behavior reflects these perspectives. At the ferry port, the Russians sneer at the Chinese traders who bring Russian vodka and chocolate to Heihe, while the Chinese move past the Russians as if they do not exist."
Jun 5th 2019
Extract: "....the Constitution, which established the impeachment process as a check on the president’s behavior between elections, says nothing about using it only when politically convenient. Moreover, given the results in 2018, Democratic Party leaders might well discourage making the disposition of the president the key issue in the next election. Most important, a decision not to initiate an impeachment process against Trump could set a terrible precedent. If Trump isn’t impeached for his numerous criminal acts and abuses of power, would impeachment remain a viable check on the presidency? "
Jun 3rd 2019
Extracts: "Sooner or later, all smaller powers dependent on global markets would have to choose a side, unless they are somehow strong enough to withstand both American and Chinese pressure. With China and the US both demanding clarity, even economic giants like the European Union, India, and Japan would be faced with an intractable economic dilemma."
May 24th 2019
Waging a war against Iran, or even thinking of doing so, is sheer madness. Trump has thus far wisely rejected the warmonger National Security Advisor John Bolton’s outrageous advice. Waging another war in the Mideast, this time against Iran, would have not only disastrous consequences for the US but will also engulf our allies from which they would suffer incalculable human losses and destruction. Bolton was the architect behind the devastating war in Iraq in 2003, which inflicted more than 5,000 US casualties and a cost exceeding two trillion dollars, allowed Iran to entrench itself in Iraq, and gave way to the rise of ISIS.
May 24th 2019
The private Tasnim news agency reports from Iran that in a speech to thousands of university students, Iran’s clerical leader Ali Khamenei made an unusual and extraordinary criticism of president Hassan Rouhani and foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif over their handling of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or deal on limiting Iran’s nuclear enrichment program.