Last time, we went over a few theories on how Donald Trump was able to overcome all the negative energy which swirled around his campaign to become the 45th President of the United States. It still seems surreal to write that, two weeks later. Regardless of my shock and horror, however (not to mention a spike in suicide hotline calls), Trump will take office in a couple of months, displacing the style and grace of the White House’s previous occupants with arrogance and vulgarity. Sorry about that—the goal here isn’t to heap insults on his personality or take cheap shots at his personal life, but to understand what’s going on now as he prepares to take over the most powerful country in the world.
He really hasn’t been all that specific; “great” covers a pretty wide range of possibilities, especially when your definition includes things like deporting eleven-million people, waterboarding prisoners, erecting thirty-to-forty-foot walls around our borders, and targeting the families of our enemies for death. In other words, all the analysis about his psychology and ego don’t matter in comparison to even the fiftieth most important issue for America which should be on his agenda, or just as importantly, not on it. The wild tweets and paranoid ramblings about everything being “rigged” were great fun for many, apparently, but now our boy has quite a bit of work to do. Is he up for it?
Obviously the answer is no, and that’s where the first and most ominous characteristic of the Trump Presidency will come into play. Trump has little interest in the minutiae of governing, and his personality is even more at odds with taking on its challenges. Turns out, he had no idea how big a task the transition from one administration to another would be, so now poor Obama will have to spend extra time with him to bring him up to speed. When others tried to brief him on the monumental challenge of appointing/hiring some 4,000 staff members in the months prior to his election, he refused to discuss it for fear that doing so would jinx his chances of winning. Nobody, apparently, tells Donald what to do; but besides getting attention and living a life of luxury, Donald doesn’t really care too much about the details which get him those things. His stiffing employees, his inability to admit mistakes, his constant lying, his sensitivity to perceived slights all point to somebody not all that concerned with anything that doesn’t directly impact himself. So this is the man to stay up all night in a heated discussion on the best ways to use U.S. foreign aid in Afghanistan to stop the Taliban from barring girls from schools? Not bloody likely, I’d say.
So all the crucial, day-to-day operations will fall to others. That’s not especially unusual since our government has become way too complex and large for any one individual to be involved in everything. The question, of course, will be the degree to which Donald stays detached from what’s really going on. The first clue as to Trump’s disinterest in the nuts-and-bolts of running America’s Executive branch came right after he secured the Republican nomination and was screening Vice Presidential candidates.
His pitch to potential running mates, according to his first choice, Ohio governor John Kasich, was that the Vice President would largely be in charge of domestic and foreign policy. Since that sums up the job description of the President neatly, Kasich naturally asked then what would Trump be doing. “Making America great again,” is what Donald Trump, Jr., is reported to have told a Kasich’s aide. Unfortunately Kasich, who I see as a pretty reasonable, decent man, chose not to take that offer. Instead, we got Mike Pence, an extremist even by conservative standards. (You can check out a plethora of his positions at Vote Smart, On the Issues.org, and The Patch, for starters—there are hundreds of other websites on which you could find similar lists.) From abortion to guns, but especially on the LBGT community, Pence advocates positions at odds with the majority of Americans. His most infamous proposal was when he was trying to legislate counseling designed to “help” homosexuals learn to be straight, belying all current psychological proof that sexual orientation is an innate trait humans have at birth. (The exact quote, which to be fair has been exaggerated by many, is as follows, according to Snopes: “Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.”) More recently, Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, an Indiana law which allowed discrimination against gays, but the backlash was so swift and severe that subsequent legislation muted some of the worst parts of the law.
Next you have Steve Bannon, of the Alt-Right website, Breitbart, who will be Trump’s chief policy advisor. Controversial would be an understatement in describing both the stories that appear on this site as well as many Bannon quotes. The less said about this person, the better as far as I’m concerned, but the reality is that Donald will delegate all the vital day-to-day duties of his office—since he will be much too busy basking in the glory of being King of America to be bothered with work—to the people he brings in. And Pence and Bannon will be his two most influential advisors, outside of those other highly qualified experts, his kids and his son-in-law.
This scenario sounds familiar: A leader inexperienced with how our government works takes the Presidency in a very close election where his opponent actually wins the popular vote. To help him with all the Washington workings which he doesn’t understand, he brings in a seasoned pol and an advisor skilled at manipulating public opinion, at least among his “believers.” Yeah, 2016 reminds me a lot of how Dick Cheney and Karl Rove essentially steered George W. Bush’s ship of state back in 2000. But this time, two of the three players are significantly more extreme—Trump (who has no government experience unlike W who had been governor of Texas and came from a pretty well-connected political family) and Bannon (Rove was part of the Republican hierarchy before he became W’s architect and did play well with other Republicans). Cheney as compared to Pence is a closer match, but that’s only because of how extreme Cheney was, not that Pence is more reasonable. Cheney and Rove did have the advantage of playing for the same team, while Pence and Bannon do not. Pence is definitely an “establishment” Republican, which means he’ll be leaning on familiar faces. Reince Priebus, who has been appointed Trump’s chief of staff, shows the Pence influence since Priebus has been chairman of the Republican National Committee. Bannon favors elimination of what we would consider the mainstream of the party (although I’m not really sure with whom he would replace them): He has no love for key party members like House Speaker Paul Ryan, and has openly rooted for the destruction of the party in favor of his Alt-Right, whatever that may be. He really scares most politicians, which given the favorability ratings of most politicians, doesn’t bother a lot of people, especially those who support Trump. So Trump’s key decision will be which side he listens to most or with whom he has been in agreement this whole time.
My belief is that Donald has been pretty much making it up as he goes along; just as Mr. Garrison of South Park has. (Yes, I love South Park , and this season has had a major strand in its plot where a disgruntled ex-school teacher has morphed into a foul-mouthed populist running for President—with Caitlyn Jenner as his running mate—who is swept into office despite his being, by his own admission, unqualified for the job. And I realize I’m destroying what little credibility I might have in stating this, but SP has been phenomenal its last two seasons!) We’ll see based on key appointments which side is holding the most sway.
However, neither side is progressive in the slightest—Bannon and Brietbart are famously popular with white nationalists and the Klan. If you’ve read any of their articles (or even just headlines), you will see an anti-woman, Jew, black, and Muslim slant in many articles. And Pence and his allies see Planned Parenthood as evil; the human impact on climate change as unproven; Roe v. Wade as something to be overturned; stricter voter identification laws as positives; minimum wage as something that must not be raised, gay marriage as an abomination, and deportation as the best path for immigration reform.
The wild card in all this, of course, is Donald himself. His petulance when he attacks people at his rallies or via Twitter show no signs of abating—he just slammed the cast of Hamilton—but he has seemed more conciliatory and gracious when he has appeared in public since being elected. He said the Clintons and President Obama are “good” people, in two different situations. When he traveled to Mexico during the campaign, his meeting with Mexico’s President was hardly confrontational. I have read stories where his foes testify to his likeability in one-on-one situations (just men, of course). His female employees have on occasion praised him for how well they all worked together. So which Donald will we get as President? Has his “evil” side just been a scam to attract angry voters into believing he could be an agent for change? Has our political system devolved so totally that our leaders now have to voice propaganda nonsense (e.g., “Create a Muslim registry!” or “Lock her up!” as Middle Eastern politicians have been required to adhere to a “Death to America” stance in public even while they are seeking U.S. aid through back channels) to fire up and/or placate the masses while pursuing much more reasonable policies in practice? Will we ever be able to trust Donald with the nuclear codes?
Even if Trump turns out to be more moderate and reasonable than we could have hoped, he has surrounded himself with people who have a history of intolerance, far-right policies, and disproved economic theories (How can anyone still believe that “trickle down” is anything other than a description of water seeping into a house?). And we have scant evidence to support the “moderate” Trump theory at this point. Which leaves us with the final question in this new order analysis: What should we who are horrified at the prospect of all the damage Donald might do to the environment, human rights, economic equality, and freedom of expression do? Stay tuned for some ideas on that next time.