Trump May Make America Great Again but not in the Way He Had in Mind
There are precedents for the return to prominence of formerly great countries and a thoughtful look at their cases could illuminate the future of Donald Trump’s United States. The country may be recoverable and he might be the man to lead the way. He might require re-election to achieve it, but everything is possible. Before we consider the historical precedents, let’s take a summary look at President Trump’s record since he launched his presidential campaign.
The best–and most amenable–source I have found for pre-campaign Trump is the prologue to Michael Lewis’s 2018 book, The Fifth Risk, which is riveting from the first page. Lewis had access to Chris Cristie, the former New Jersey governor and short-lived candidate in the 2016 presidential pre-campaign, who alerted Donald Trump to the fact that he was legally obliged to appoint a staff to search and select candidates for the 500 federal posts that would have to be filled by presidential appointment, in the case that he were to be elected. Christie, who was at the first orientation meeting with the Obama transition team, found Trump’s delegate “comically underqualified” and he immediately phoned the Trump campaign manager, Cory Lewandowski, and asked him why such a critical job had been left in the hands of an incompetent. Lewandowski replied, “Because whe don’t have anyone.” So Christie got the job himself.
When Trump won the Republican candidacy he received from the federal government a suite of fully equipped offices in downtown Washington, DC, for his transition selection team. This group, in turn, reported weekly to Trump’s “executive committee,” made up of his real-estate-operator son-in-law, Jared Kushner; his daughter, Ivanka, his sons Donald Trump, Jr. and Eric Trump; as well as Paul Manafort, Steve Mnuchin and Jeff Sessions. All candidate Trump had to do was to pay the employees, either from his own pocket or his campaign funds. This detail gave rise to a brouhaha when Christie informed Trump that he was legally obliged to pay the staff. According to Christie, Trump’s reply was characteristically brief and clear: “Fuck the law. I don’t give a fuck about the law. I want my fucking money. Shut it down. Shut down the transition.” In the end Christie’s transition team efforts were all in vain. He was fired the day after Trump won the election at the insistence of Jared Kushner, who had not forgiven Christie for prosecuting his father, Charles Kushner in a 2005 corruption case. Today Jared Kushner is a White House magnate and atypical diplomat.
The transition team’s problem is that they were working at cross purposes with the candidate. They were looking for clean, trustworthy, and above all qualified people to run the federal government. That was a gross mistake. Cleanliness, trustworthiness and competence were irrelevant as long as they could pass a confirmation hearing in a Republican-controlled Senate.
The candidate, soon to be the new President, didn’t want his appointees to run the government. He wanted them to wreck it. That’s how he got that colorful Cabinet and White House staff and how all-important federal agencies came to be run by know-nothings. His choices were based not on logic nor even common sense, rather on pure ideology. If you’re hard-core anti government, you’re in.
The rest of Lewis’s book discusses the most glaring examples, from nuclear security and waste disposal to the massively important Department of Energy. The new President, with no knowledge of the critical role the federal government played in myriad questions in the country, set about gaily to destroy it.
A Brief Summary of the Worst of Donald Trump
President Trump’s tenure has been characterized by an unprecedented mix of incompetence and arrogance. The less he knows on any given subject the more he thinks he knows (a classic case of the Dunning-Kruger effect) and the more he trumpets his supreme knowledge. The essence of the Trump presidency is this imaginary “supreme knowledge” of everything and his utter lack of concern for the country and its people. His first priority is always Donald Trump. Let’s take a look at some of the high points of his low points. Brian Klaas, a Washington Post contributor, listed his top five in a July 16, 2019 opinion article entitled The five lowest points of Trump’s presidency (so far):
5. “Go back” to where you came from
Trump told minority congresswomen to go back to where they came from. Where they came from, with one exception, was America: Cincinnati, the Bronx and Detroit. But Trump revived one of the most well-worn racist statements in American history. It was indefensible racism.
4. Trump “fell in love” with Kim Jong Un
Trump’s absurd, over-the-top praise for dictators lurched into self-parody when he claimed that he “fell in love” with North Korea’s totalitarian dictator, Kim Jong Un, in September 2018. Kim’s regime runs a vast network of concentration camps, conducts campaigns of mass rape and reportedly executes people with antiaircraft guns for sport. The juxtaposition with Trump’s consistent ally-bashing behavior left no room for misinterpretation about Trump’s values, and how at odds they are with America’s founding principles.
3. Implying that Puerto Ricans were lazy as an estimated 2,975 Americans died
In the week after Hurricane Maria battered Puerto Rico, leaving millions without electricity or tap water, Trump tweeted 95 times. Fifteen tweets attacked black National Football League players. Just one was about Puerto Rico, in which Trump chastised the island for its “massive debt.” Then, on Sept. 30, while Puerto Ricans were dying and pleading for additional federal help, Trump responded by implying that they were lazy and wanted “everything to be done for them.” A later study showed that a significant number of the deaths were avoidable and came not from the storm but from an inadequate government response.
2. The “very fine people” in Charlottesville
On Aug. 12, 2017, a man murdered Heather Heyer with his car. He was a neo-Nazi. She was protesting neo-Nazis. Three days later, Trump drew a false equivalence between the groups, insisting that there were “very fine people on both sides.” One of those sides was marching alongside Ku Klux Klan members, neo-Nazis and white supremacists. The other was protesting those hate groups. Trump tried to conflate the two, and in so doing, stained his presidency forever.