Fearing Trump: For what he might do
Along with Tom Friedman (NY Times) I fear for America. But unlike Tom I do not feel Homeless in America. At least not yet. What I fear for is the durability of our democratic institutions and the ability of our governmental checks and balances to control the instincts and automatic reflexes of a powerful president. The snippets below are from Friedman’s column.
I began election night writing a column that started with words from an immigrant, my friend Lesley Goldwasser, who came to America from Zimbabwe in the 1980s. Surveying our political scene a few years ago, Lesley remarked to me: “You Americans kick around your country like it’s a football. But it’s not a football. It’s a Fabergé egg. You can break it.”
Conversations on the Diane Rehm show this morning (Nov 10) remind us that our nation has elected presidents of low morals and bad character before and survived them. But Trump is another phenomenon. He has shown little regard for democratic norms and exhibited a willingness to lash out when challenged. One question is whether a Republican Congress and/or a conservative Supreme Court will provide the needed restraints to stop Trump from breaking our egg.
Friedman notes Trump’s motivation to win and then lists the changes Trump must make in order to win at being president.
But Donald Trump cannot be a winner unless he undergoes a radical change in personality and politics and becomes everything he was not in this campaign. He has to become a healer instead of a divider; a compulsive truth-teller rather than a compulsive liar; someone ready to study problems and make decisions based on evidence, not someone who just shoots from the hip; someone who tells people what they need to hear, not what they want to hear; and someone who appreciates that an interdependent world can thrive only on win-win relationships, not zero-sum ones.
I assume that Trump will not want to go down as the worst president in history, let alone the one who presided over the deepest fracturing of our country since the Civil War. It would shake the whole world. Therefore, I can only hope that he will, as president, seek to surround himself with the best people he can, which surely doesn’t include the likes of Rudy Giuliani or Newt Gingrich, let alone the alt-right extremists who energized his campaign.
That, I think, is an imminent test of Trump as President. If he surrounds himself with people who tell him what he wants to hear - or who think they know what he wants to hear - then we have reason to fear because a shop of horrors will be opening soon. Remember how JFK handled the Cuban missile crisis - by leaning hard on his inner circle to critically examine both possible actions and preconceived assumptions. Trump is no JFK but he would do well to take the same approach to governing and set aside his need for adulation.
Here’s another thing that Trump (and the Republican Congress) most certainly will try to do - repeal Obamacare. Sarah Kliff (Vox.com) lists The 4 ways Republicans can dismantle Obamacare.
Republicans in Congress have a straightforward path to eliminating key pieces of the Affordable Care Act: They can block the planned insurance expansion in 2017, dismantle Medicaid expansion, and eliminate new insurance marketplaces. That could add up to an incredible blow — possibly causing 22 million people to lose their insurance coverage.
But getting rid of the rest of the law wholesale is a lot more tricky.
And that’s where Trump could play a big role.
Most of the big parts of the Affordable Care Act need Congressional approval to dismantle. But what President Trump could do unilaterally is re-write some key Obamacare regulations that would alter how the law works.
… the administration issued regulations in 2011 announcing that it would include birth control as a preventive benefit for women. A Trump administration could write its own regulation to says birth control isn’t preventive health care for women.
There are other parts of the Affordable Care Act like this. Right now the Affordable Care Act requires insurance plans to cover a set of “essential health benefits.” The law itself contains broad categories, like preventive services and trips to the hospital, but it’s only in regulation where the actual types of care get hammered out. So the Trump administration could write new regulations that significantly reduce what health plans need to cover, and cross a lot of items off the Obama administration’s list.
Fearing Trump: For what he is unable to do
“The scariest thing about his coming presidency is how unqualified he is to handle the most mundane aspects of the job.” - Brian Beutler (New Republic) on Donald Trump and the Evil of Banality.
The depth of potential horrors in Donald Trump’s presidency is nearly bottomless.
He thinks he knows more than experts when he knows next to nothing of relevance to policymaking and governance. He thinks it’s none of the public’s business whom he’s indebted to, or whether his policies (or merely his status as a U.S. president with a huge interest in a privately held company) are sources of personal enrichment for him. And then there’s his temperament, which, as many rightly said over the course of the campaign, makes him unfit for office. But that unfitness isn’t limited to the obvious, headline-making antics that should’ve been disqualifying. It extends down to the most mundane aspects of the job.
Such as: attending to daily briefings, hourly meetings, a steady stream of decision making, all of which require reading a lot (which Trump does not do).
If you want to feel very bad about how Trump will manage these tasks, go back and read reporting from September and October about how un-coachable Trump was ahead of presidential debates. Trump has no focus. Trump likes to watch cable news and tweet. But the job he is about to enter will confront him with daily nuisances and provocations. It will make even routine governing dysfunctional. It will also provide a steady stream of new people to scapegoat or single out for retribution on a rolling basis.
Trump is going to enter office with a huge mismatch between power (complete control of government) and public consent to his vision of governance. Trump lost the popular vote, but stands poised to upend the policy status quo with huge changes to foreign and immigration policy, to say nothing of the radical tax and spending bills the Republican-controlled Congress might send him. People are already protesting his as-yet-unconstituted administration. The routine of his presidency will center disproportionately on this kind of conflict—the backlash to his victory, his intolerance, and eventually his policies. Rather than learn, understand, adapt, and change, he will attack, dissemble, scapegoat, use government power to exact revenge.
Terrible things can snowball, just from routine responsibilities. Nearly every day will create the possibility of a new cascade. And then he could also start a war.