As the Donald Trump presidency settles in (if that’s the right phrase), a definite schism is forming in the country he governs. Republicans are solidly behind him (giving him an 85% approval rating in one poll), and Democrats are just as solidly against him (disapproving of him by a similar percentage in the same poll). I fall decidedly into the camp that disapproves of him and of the administration he is putting together. My opposition is based on four concerns about the man who is our 45th president. Any one of them would be disqualifiers in the America I am proud to be a citizen of. Whether they are disqualifiers in today’s America remains to be seen. In any event, here’s my list:
Temperament is the first worry, and it’s one that has been evident to most objective observers since he first began his campaign back in 2015. Actually the question existed long before then, but it wasn’t so much of a concern when he was just a bloviating self-possessed business tycoon who delighted in putting his name on anything he owned. Simply stated, Trump exhibits extreme narcissistic characteristics and may even be a megalomaniac.
The evidence is rampant if you are just willing to look at it. He cannot tolerate criticism from anyone. In that regard, he makes Richard Nixon (the creator of the original “enemies list”) look reasonable. Trump responds with bitter attacks to anyone who criticizes him, and he does it, often, by lying about the other person. His destruction of Ted Cruz in the primaries was a good example. Cruz had been restrained in comments about Trump in the early going, but when the field narrowed, he began to question some of Trump’s positions. Trump responded viciously, shouting in one debate that Cruz was “such a liar!” In that same debate Trump had heaped lie upon lie, as he regularly does, often by seemingly making up facts.
And that trait is another aspect of his character that is highly problematic. All politicians lie, but they usually don’t do so in the face of easily obtained contradictory facts. Trump’s lying reached its zenith after the election when he claimed he had been cheated out of a popular vote win by three to five million illegal votes (all for Clinton). He had no evidence to support that claim and yet has continued to state it as if he does.
Of his Electoral College victory, he claimed it was the largest ever; then, when he was told it wasn’t, he claimed it was the largest by a Republican; then, when he was told that also wasn’t true—in other words, after he had been caught in two straight falsehoods, he said, “well, that’s what I was told,” making it a third lie in the space of two minutes, since no one could ever have told him anything of the sort. (Trump’s EC victory was by a narrow margin in historical terms.)
Trump’s temperament is just plain scary when he is viewed as the single most powerful person in the world. As has been pointed out far too frequently, he possesses the ability to start a nuclear war and end civilization as we know it in the process. And with his limited willingness to educate himself (another worrisome temperament trait), he might order the use of nuclear weapons without even knowing of the devastating impact on the world that would result.
Incompetency is the second concern about the Trump presidency. He came into office with essentially no understanding of how the government runs. The seemingly harmless, sort-of-funny story from his first meeting with Obama after the election was that he asked the then-president how many of the staff he was responsible for appointing, to which Obama replied, “All of them.”
To this point, Trump still has not appointed many of them, with large numbers of deputy, assistant and under-secretaries of many federal cabinet departments still not named, or if they are, not confirmed. Until they are, the country will be essentially rudderless and impotent. Yes, policies can be stated, but the details of those policies, as represented by regulations (either new ones enacted or old ones revised) will be left unattended without the presidential appointees in place to see them consummated.
But Trump’s incompetency goes deeper than the faltering start to his administration. Yes, the Yemen mission was botched, and the roll out of the travel ban was a disaster, and the quick resignation of Michael Flynn was an embarrassment, but the bigger issue is whether Trump himself cares enough about the details of governing to run a tight ship. All the evidence indicates that he doesn’t. He doesn’t like to attend briefings, doesn’t like to read briefing reports, would rather get his news updates from Fox News broadcasts than from his own policy staff, and would rather Tweet than engage in serious policy discussions. He’s a photo op kind of guy; just don’t ask him anything specific about the substance behind the photo because he’ll only respond that “it will be great; I promise you.”
Trump’s incompetency extends to many of his cabinet picks. To name just a few, Rick Perry, the secretary of Energy, had no idea that his department was responsible for the nation’s nuclear weaponry; Ben Carson, secretary of Housing and Urban Development, declared himself incompetent for government service before he accepted the nomination to a position he has no background in (Carson is a retired neurosurgeon); Betsy Devos, the secretary of Education, had never been in a public school and knew nothing about significant legislation affecting her department in her Senate confirmation hearings. Can those cabinet officers become competent? Absolutely. But if credentials are an indicator, the odds aren’t great.
But it all comes down to Trump himself. Competent presidents do their homework. They strive to understand the intricacies of the issues that confront their administration. Trump shows no such energy for such work. He is the antithesis of a policy wonk and doesn’t care that he is. He thinks he can get by on tweeting and Fox News.
And so we get him declaring that Sweden had a terrorist attack, because someone on Fox ran a story that suggested something bad had happened in that immigrant-friendly country. Nothing had, but Trump stated it as fact repeatedly. He heard it on Fox, so it must be true. It’s a scary mix for a president: an incompetent liar.
If Trump’s temperament and his seeming disinterest in competency aren’t disqualifiers, then the policies he intends to enact certainly should be. And the insistence on building the wall must be at the top of that list. Two things about the idea of the wall (across the entire U.S. border with Mexico) are troubling. The first is that it is absolutely unnecessary. Illegal immigration from Mexico is no longer a problem. The influx of Mexicans illegally crossing the border largely stopped with the Great Recession and it hasn’t picked up significantly since the recovery has taken hold.
But the bigger reason to hate the construction of the wall goes to Trump’s overall attitude towards immigration, which is xenophobic, racist, and cruel. Trump is pushing to keep out of the country the very diversity that has made the country great. He uses fear (fear of terrorism) to refuse refugee recognition for the thousands seeking escape from the horrendous conditions in war-torn Syria and other parts of the world. He sows division by questioning the motives of people of color and Muslims who seek to enter the country. He wants to separate parents from their children in harsh deportation orders. He wants to make America “great again” by taking it back to an era of bigotry and isolationism.
And it gets worse when he rails against the trade deals like Nafta that have done so much to enhance the economies of our trading partners. Trump mistakenly blames those trade agreements for the loss of a manufacturing job base. But many jobs in manufacturing are being replaced by machines, not by workers in foreign lands. And much of the manufacturing that is taking place in other countries is resulting in lower priced commodities for American consumers, a point Trump seems either unaware of or unconcerned with (or both).
He also seems unaware of and unconcerned with the plight of the poor. His budget “blueprint,” just released this week, makes drastic cuts to many programs aimed at the safety net that exists for the impoverished in the U.S. His insistence that Obamacare be repealed and replaced is a case in point. Repealing the Affordable Care Act will cause millions of Americans to lose their health insurance. Any replacement will leave the poorest of those bereft of medical care, save for the emergency rooms of overtaxed community hospitals.
Trump also has shown a desire to reduce taxes for the wealthy at the expense of the poor, and, even more troubling, he is seeking the “destruction of the administrative state,” as his policy guru, Steve Bannon, described the plan last week. What that gobbledygook means is that environmental and consumer protection regulations are targets for the Trump administration. Without those protections the health and safety of current and future generations will be severely threatened.
If those policies, and the president’s temperament and lack of competence aren’t enough to scare most Americans, then the very real possibility that Trump has autocratic designs certainly should. And lest anyone not comprehend what I’m suggesting here, let me be clear: Trump is the greatest threat to our democratic form of government the country has ever seen.
Just think for a moment about the institutions Trump has fiercely attacked in his first six weeks in office. First it was the intelligence community, which he has labelled as incompetent for claiming Russia sought to disrupt our electoral process. That charge has now been expanded to claims of illegality in the leaks of intelligence reports, reports which Trump refuses to acknowledge (or maybe even read).
He has attacked the judiciary ,referring to one judge as a “so-called judge” and denigrating the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision that kept a temporary injunction on his travel ban in place. Even his Supreme Court nominee rightfully expressed anguish over hearing those attacks. And well he should have. If a president can successfully destroy the public’s confidence in the nation’s judiciary, he can very possibly refuse to recognize and abide by a subsequent court decision when it is adverse to his interests. Again, even Richard Nixon didn’t go that far. (He turned over the tapes when ordered to do so—and resigned a week later.)
And then there is Trump’s attack on the press and the media, which he is now calling “an enemy of the people.” While Kellyanne Conway refers to Trump’s lies as “alternative facts” and Trump refers to reports from legitimate news organizations like the New York Times and CNN as “fake news,” the public is bombarded with tweets and alt-right blogs that bolster Trump’s claims that the media can’t be trusted.
Think about it. If you were seeking to become an autocratic ruler (dictator sounds too harsh, but that’s what we’re talking about), you’d want to de-legitimize the bearers of bad news, to wit: the intelligence agencies that discover the truth; the press that reports it; and the courts that uphold it. Trump (and Bannon) may not have a dictatorship in mind, but they are acting as if they do.
And so there is the case against Trump: his temperament, his lack of competence, his policies, and his autocratic designs. If that list doesn’t scare you, you must not be paying attention.