This President of the United States likes breaking things. He particularly likes breaking things that have former president Barack Obama’s name on them. Last week may have been the most destructive ever. Up to now. But, of course, you’ve heard that before.
Ever since Donald Trump took office, we have struggled to understand what motivates him. Observers have offered a variety of psychological labels, a range of metaphors, a cacophony of adjectives. After his most recent burst of executive orders, tweets and public declarations, the image that seems most apt is of a bull in a china shop. Debris is flying in every direction and a lot of Americans are being hit by the broken shards.
Trump’s most recent act of destruction was to cut off health care subsidies under the Affordable Care Act. Given that assistance to less wealthy Americans is a core part of the legislation, it’s really not clear that he has the authority to take such action. Yet, he and his Congressional Republican supporters seem indifferent to either that issue or to the great harm that will be done to millions of citizens. Fortunately, a number of State Attorneys-General have already filed suit challenging his legal ability to so sabotage the law. Whether a court will intervene quickly enough to prevent the literal bleeding will be known soon.
In that same week, the President began undermining the nuclear deal with Iran, cut back on environmental regulations concerning coal-fired power plants, withdrew from UNESCO, threatened to abrogate the NAFTA agreement and undercut protections for LBGQT Americans. In none of these areas does Trump have an alternative policy. He just hates the ones that currently exist although he would be hard pressed to explain why other than in the most vague terms.
Trump is basically a destroyer. He’s certainly not a builder even if you factor in his efforts to have a wall erected along the Mexican border. The Administration still doesn’t have a national infrastructure program although it was one of his major campaign promises. He has never had a replacement for Obamacare other than empty promises about how much better things would be without it. He has “decertified” the Iran agreement — and left it to Congress to fix his mess.
Of all the dangers arising from his presidency, the most serious is the threat to the rules and norms of our democracy. While there are multiple strong, clear voices warning us of the risks that his actions pose–the new book, “One Nation after Trump” by E.J. Dionne, Norm Ornstein and Thomas Mann is an important example; a recent Vox report on the concerns of 25 prominent political scientists is another–Republican office holders have almost universally turned a blind eye and pretended that everything is pretty much normal.
Normal is absolutely the last word you should use to describe Trump and his presidency. If our democracy survives–and it’s hardly a sure thing at this point–history will have damning things to say about those Trump enablers who could have put the brakes on but chose instead to advance their own agendas in the wake of his turbulence.
Similarly, Trump voters who continue to support him are failing the most basic test of citizenship. Much has been written about the importance of listening to and trying to understand the plight of white working class people who have suffered under the shifting global economy. You have to wonder, however, whether they’ll ever notice that coal and manufacturing jobs are not coming back despite Trump’s blustering.
His support also comes from better educated, affluent Americans. My own experience with trying to listen or to have a serious conversation with them is analogous to talking to a brick wall. They ignore or make excuses for his ethical lapses, his constant lies, his crude behavior, his racism and misogyny. We are told that using facts is not a good way to appeal to people with different opinions. That does narrow the options.
Ta Nehisi Coates expressed it well in a recent publication. Most of Trump’s supporters are not racists, but they are willing to tolerate and support a man, Trump, who is a racist. His outrageous and irresponsible posture toward the suffering in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria is hard to understand through any lens other than racial bias. To say that first responders are not going to stay there “forever” shows a callousness that is totally at odds with the basic values of this country. It’s pretty clear that he does not view Puerto Ricans as Americans.
What’s to be done? First of all, don’t expect help from Republicans. Some agree with what he is doing, some view him as a “useful idiot”, and some are so focused on squeezing every dollar they can out of the system that they really don’t care what he does.
What are the chances that Trump supporters, of all income levels, will come to the realization that he is a con man who won’t fulfill any of the promises that he has made? While polls show a slight eroding of his base, a large portion of Trump backers remain unfazed by his reckless and irresponsible presidency even when they stand to be harmed by it.
Can we look to Robert Mueller for a remedy? There are a lot of signs that he may be getting closer to some recommendations–which might explain Trump’s current unraveling. A report to Congress urging impeachment of the President would probably be met with delays and more likely outright opposition. The chances of a 25th Amendment remedy by the Cabinet seems even less likely.
A grand jury indictment is not implausible, but would raise legal issues about whether a sitting president can in fact be indicted. The bright, albeit somewhat perverse, side of that approach, might be to bring all of government to a screeching halt. In this case, less would definitely be more.
The more promising scenario, one which will take longer and allow continued damage in the meantime, is for the current upsurge in political activism to result in dramatic changes in the 2018 congressional election, including Democrats regaining control of at least one house of Congress. That’s far from a sure thing, but it’s definitely a worthy goal.
As the American patriot Thomas Paine put it during the founding of our nation, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” Once again, we face an existential test of whether this nation will endure.