“If Trump falls, the political turmoil will not be over.
Published in partnership with the Wolverhampton Express and Star:
Unprecedented is an overused adjective in discussion of politics, but sometimes it is appropriate.
The first year of the Donald Trump Presidency is one of those times, both regarding the man and — more importantly — regarding a badly-damaged America.
From Day 1, this term of the 45th President was bound to be unsettled because the established rules of political behavior no longer applied. As Trump demonstrated as a candidate, he would not follow the script of a Commander-in-Chief. His first and foremost priority would be Donald Trump, making his celebrity and exaggerated success — he is not the “bigly” businessman, in terms of wealth and achievement, that he has long played on TV — the centerpiece of the White House. He would not be held to the polite and reserved of a leader, or even to the notion of “decent” behavior: as he boasted on the way to his November victory, ” “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue [in New York City] and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” He would not restricted by the semblance of truth-telling, instead reworking reality to claim his often-suspect statements as the vanguard against “fake news”.
However, if the unprecedented could be rewarded in a surprise victory over Hillary Clinton, it has not translated into Presidential accomplishment. Governing depends on at least a modicum of consensus, rather than “Trump’s way or the highway”. Almost 10 months into his term, he does not have a single major legislative achievement. After four failures on the floor of Congress, the effort to repeal and replace ObamaCare has expired. There is no sign of a first budget, forcing the Federal Government to rely on supplemental funding. Even the salvation of sweeping tax cuts, which largely benefit the wealthiest Americans and add $1.5 trillion to government debt, faces a difficult course on Capitol Hill.
Instead the Trump Administration has pursued its wishes through executive orders, sweeping action by agency heads and even Twitter. Trump and his advisors persist with the “Muslim Ban”, blocking entry to the US from citizens of several mainly-Muslim countries, despite courts blocking the measure. They have threatened mass deportation of immigrants, stepping up detentions. Environmental protection regulations have been shredded both by Trump’s pen and by operatives — including the climate change-denying head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Via a tweet, Trump tried to end the service of transgender personnel in the US armed forces, although he was eventually blocked by the Pentagon. Frustrated in his ambition to supplant ObamaCare, Trump is now trying to sabotage the US health care system with funding cuts, restrictions on information, and removal of subsidies.
Then there is the damage of the language that took Trump to the White House. He effectively accepted, if not endorsed, white supremacist movements with his response to the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia this summer. In contrast, he has been quick to vilify those who are not white, particularly if they are Muslim, with his rapid responses to “terrorism” — including some attacks that he made up. He has vilified judges, legislators who have opposed him, and, of course, Hillary Clinton. He has lied about past Presidents and been callous in his approach to Gold Star families, those who have lost relatives in combat. He has excused the carnage of mass killings again and again by dismissing any thought of gun control in favor of flimsy excuses. He has shaken alliances and US foreign policy, from talk of an obsolete NATO to promises of trade battles to the “fire and fury” of a nuclear war with North Korea.
Looming beyond all this is the Trump-Russia investigation. “Unprecedented” is called for here: from the interference of a foreign power to shape a US Presidential election and to steal information from the highest levels of US politics to Trump’s endorsement of that effort to the extensive contacts between his campaign officials and those of Russian interests, including the Kremlin.
The first indictments and guilty plea, announced last week, are only the beginning. There will be more, including some of Trump’s top advisors and Cabinets. His son-in-law Jared Kushner and son Donald Trump Jr. may be swept up. And it is likely that the inquiry will end with the resignation or impeachment of Trump by the second anniversary of his election.
But if Trump falls, the political turmoil will not be over. His rise is in part to exploitation of a damaged US system, much of which long ago replaced dialogue with shouting and understanding with invective, and the mal-governance of him and his officials has added to the rubble. At all levels, from political parties to institutions to communities, there will need to be reassessment and respectful communication if “Make America Great Again” is to be more than an abused slogan.