The most dangerous thing about Donald J. Trump’s presidency is the sheer weakness of the man and his position.
Trump is the weakest President that America has experienced since the 19th Century. No chief executive in living memory has been as weak or pliable to outside influence as the Donald has been.
This weakness is doubly dangerous; because most observers cannot see it, or comprehend the true situation. Most of Trump’s critics fear him as a potential tyrant who has vast potential power. Many of Trump’s supporters view him as a strong leader capable of exercising power and taking drastic actions to solve the nation’s problems.
Both beliefs are dangerous fantasies that fall apart on collision with reality. Trump lacks both the power and the influence to become neither a tyrant nor a second coming of FDR.
Ten Reasons why Trump is a Weak President
There are several reasons why the Donald is a very weak president including:
- A large percentage of America’s population views Trump’s presidency as illegitimate. There are several reasons for this including Hillary’s victory in the popular vote, she received around 65.854 million votes to Donald’s 62.985 million. Giving her 2.89 million popular votes. Another rationale is provided by the investigations of Russian hacking which raises just enough doubt to allow many people to withdraw or withhold support support. Yet another suspicion; particularly on the Left, that damages Trump is the belief that some sort of moneyed elite, somehow bought the media for him. Also damning are the reports that African American votes were suppressed in some states.
- Trump is widely disliked and hated as a person. Some view him as a racist, others as a sexist, a fool, a bully, a charlatan or a crook. Many view Donald as un-American. No President since Richard Nixon has been so widely disliked by such a wide segment of the population. Not since Abraham Lincoln has there been such popular hatred of a sitting President. Can anybody else remember popular demonstrations demanding immediate impeachment?
- Lack of popular support, respect or sympathy. Trump has an approval rating of around 35% which is unprecedented in polling history. This is new, and it hinders his ability to govern. This goes beyond partisan criticism and borders on pathological hatred in some quarters. One major problem; is that a wide segment of the American people feel free to say almost anything they want about the president and direct any insult at him. An interesting difference between attacks on Trump and the criticism of past leaders; like Reagan and Obama, is that there is no respect for the man.
- The man’s personality flaws. For example there is Trump’s propensity to attack even friends and supporters. He shows nothing but disrespect and contempt for persons that risked everything for him such as Jeff Sessions and Reince Priebus. There are also the Tweets and his flying off the handle. Like Jimmy Carter; Trump, might simply be incapable of real leadership.
- There is the media fishbowl around Trump. No President has ever had to operate under such scrutiny. Many deeply flawed individuals have served in the Oval Office; but none of them had all their faults and blunders publicized so quickly or completely. Part of this Trump’s own doing with the Tweets, but is also caused by the media and the personality cult built up around the Donald. Disturbingly no President might be able to function under such scrutiny. How long would FDR have lasted if the American people had known of his racism or health problems? Would LBJ have been able to achieve anything if the people had learned of his foul mouth, corrupt business practices and mistreatment of subordinates?
- The shocking lack of professionalism in Trump’s administration. Many aspects of Donald’s presidency; including media relations and the choosing of subordinates have been sheer amateur hour. Part of the reason for this is Trump’s outsider status. An even greater problem is the lack of a professional federal civil service in the United States. Countries as diverse as India, France, China and the United Kingdom have well-established national civil services. New leaders in those countries have well educated professional staffs they can rely upon.
- Overreliance upon the military. Like a number of his predecessors; especially Bush and Obama, the lack of a civil service makes Trump heavily reliant upon the military. Donald appointed two generals; James Mattis and John Kelly, to his cabinet. When he needed a national security advisor Trump turned to a serving general, H. R. McMaster (the second general to hold the job). He has done the same for a chief of staff by promoting Kelly to that role and giving him vast powers. One of Kelly’s first actions was to fire the controversial communications chief Anthony Scaramucci, possibly against Trump’s orders. Some news reports indicate that Kelly is restricting the actions and access of controversial Trump associates such as Chief Strategist Steve Bannon and son-in law Jared Kushner. Part of the reason for the dependence on the military is that in the United States the officer corps; which is well-trained, well-educated, highly-experienced in government service, and recruited from elite schools such as West Point takes the place of a civil service.
- Lack of a political base. Trump has some support among rank and file Republicans, but no base in the party or Congress. Unlike Obama or Bush he has no real allies or support in Congress. Instead he has to make alliances with people who often have a very different agenda and goals from his. The lack of an organized base gives Trump no leverage over Congress.
- It also puts him at the mercy of from powerful special interests; such as big business and the National Rifle Association (NRA), which take the place of an organized base. A related problem is that these special interests often have a very limited agenda focused upon narrowly specific goals. All the NRA cares about is that the President does not implement gun control and appoints the judges they want. Anything else is irrelevant in its view.
- Lack of a coherent ideology or philosophy. It is impossible to build an effective political program without a coherent ideology. Even though they were weak, and flawed, Bush II, Clinton and Obama were all effective because they had coherent political programs. Trump has no ideology he expresses divergent views on a wide variety of issues. Promoting both single-payer health insurance and the free market, and Second Amendment rights and civil forfeiture sometimes in the same speech. This makes it impossible to formulate policy and to form real political alliances.
Trump’s weakness is dangerous because it can weaken democratic institutions. An example of this is allowing the Pentagon, rather than the White House to set foreign and national security policy.
Another is increasing gridlock in Washington D.C. Governing is replaced by constant ideological and political warfare between the White House and leaders in Congress. One result of this is that as our friends at the American Conservative have noted, Trump turns decision making in a wide variety of areas over to powerful members of Congress. Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) is apparently setting Russia policy, while Marco Rubio (R-Florida) is in charge of Latin American relations.
The situation is unprecedented and it points to a new status quo in Washington; in which powerful bureaucratic and legislative interests make decisions – and set policy rather than the White House. Meanwhile the President serves as a figurehead; a sort of constitutional monarch signing papers and making public appearances rather than a chief executive.
The interesting question to ask is; will the American people accept this new status quo? If they do not it might set the stage for vicious new political battles in the near future.