Wednesday, February 6, 2019

The incredible shrinking man

Shrinking man
Poster from 1957 movie

John Cassidy’s column on The Shrunken State of Donald Trump’s Presidency prompted Scriber to look at other ways in which Trump and his presidency resemble “The incredible shrinking man.” Cassidy sets the stage.

The Harvard political scientist Richard Neustadt famously remarked that the Oval Office “is no place for amateurs.” This is because, as Neustadt pointed out in his book “Presidential Power and the Modern Presidents,” which was originally published in 1960, the Presidency is, structurally, a weak office. Its occupant has to deal with Congress and the courts as coequal branches of government. Even inside the sprawling executive branch, it isn’t easy to direct Cabinet secretaries, agency heads, and career public officials, many of whom have their own expertise and agendas. Given this challenging environment, Neustadt concluded, “Presidential power is the power to persuade.” If a President loses the ability to bring other players along with him, he is lost.

More than a year ago, in a piece published at Vox, Matthew Glassman, a senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Government Affairs Institute, argued that Donald Trump was “a weak president” in the Neustadt sense of the term. Glassman pointed to Trump’s low approval ratings, early setbacks that the Administration had suffered, such as court rulings against his travel ban, and the failure to repeal Obamacare. …

The basic problem, Glassman told me, is that Trump, despite the talents he displayed in whipping up his supporters during the 2016 campaign, lacks the skill set to be a successful President. “He’s an amateur in the White House,” Glassman said. “He doesn’t have a lot of experience in governing, and I don’t see a lot of learning going on. He looks hideously weak.”

Back then, the argument could be made that the Trump Administration, for all its early pratfalls, had time to recover. With substantial tax cuts and spending increases about to go into effect—a Keynesian stimulus in all but name—the economy was likely to perk up, giving the White House the opportunity to build support in other areas. And, as the latest jobs report demonstrated, the economy did pick up. But Trump’s Presidency, rather than expanding in scope and power in the course of the past year, has continued to shrink and shrivel. As he prepares to deliver his second State of the Union address, Trump looks increasingly like a lame duck.

Every President “makes his personal impact by the things he says and does,” Neustadt wrote. “Accordingly his choices of what he should say and do, and how and when, are his means to conserve and tap the sources of his power. Alternatively, choices are the means by which he dissipates his power.” Having arrived in office in a relatively weak position because of his low poll numbers and the fact that he lost the popular vote, Trump has made a lot of awful choices, and whatever power he had to begin with has been slipping away. Can he resurrect his Presidency? Glassman, for one, is doubtful. “I don’t think there is a way for him to turn it around,” he said. “Because I think the problem is Trump himself.”

Chipping away at Trump’s degrees of freedom

The 2016 inaugural hoopla brought in more money than ever before – and spent more than ever before. Now federal prosecutors are demanding financial records.

Trump Inaugural Committee Ordered to Hand Over Documents to Federal Investigators.

Escalating one of the investigations into President Trump’s inaugural committee, federal prosecutors ordered on Monday that its officials turn over documents about donors, finances and activities, according to two people familiar with the inquiry.

The subpoena seeks documents related to all of the committee’s donors and guests; any benefits handed out, including tickets and photo opportunities with the president; federal disclosure filings; vendors; contracts; and more, one of the people said.

The new requests expand an investigation prosecutors opened late last year amid a flurry of scrutiny of the inaugural committee. And they showed that the investigations surrounding Mr. Trump, once centered on potential ties to Russia during the 2016 presidential election, have spread far beyond the special counsel’s office to include virtually all aspects of his adult life: his business, his campaign, his inauguration and his presidency.

Here is another example of how Trump is shrinking - the dissolution of his Foundation. Last Summer Scriber posted on a NY Times report, Citing ‘vast lawbreaking’ New York sues Donald J. Trump Foundation.

Today (June 14) we learned from The Washington Post and the New York Times that the State of “New York is suing the Trump foundation, accusing it of vast lawbreaking. It wants to bar the president and his children from serving on charities.” (NY Times email, Thursday, June 14, 2018 10:57 AM EST).

Trump’s singular obsession with “the wall” has eventuated in more troubles for him. The shutdown did not work out so well, costing him lower approval ratings and political capital. He’s started talking about declaring a national emergency in order to redirect appropriated funds without congressional approval. But even key Republican Senators cannot support that move.

Trump’s Options for Wall Shrink as Republicans Balk at National Emergency Declaration

… some Republicans [are] openly fretting that such a declaration would embolden a Democratic president to declare a national emergency on climate change or gun violence.

“It would be a bad precedent, I think, for the president to decide to invoke national security as a way to bypass a congressional logjam,” said Senator Patrick J. Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania. “And I can imagine future presidents using that for purposes I would find very objectionable.”

That sentiment has been expressed by about a dozen Republican senators, publicly and privately, including Roy Blunt of Missouri, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Marco Rubio of Florida, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and John Cornyn of Texas, who is considered to be among the most influential members of his party on immigration.

“The whole idea that a president — whether it’s President Trump or President Warren or President Sanders — can declare an emergency and then somehow usurp the separation of powers and get into the business of appropriating money for specific projects without Congress getting involved is a serious constitutional question,” Mr. Cornyn said on Monday.

But the most important critic of the declaration is Mr. McConnell. “I don’t think much of that idea,” Mr. McConnell said last month when asked about the declaration. “I hope he doesn’t go down that path.”

Add to all that Trump’s legislative failures - like “court rulings against his travel ban, and the failure to repeal Obamacare” - and more. In anticipation of the 2019 State of the Union, Greg Sargent reminds us what came from the previous to SOTU addresses: Trump will call for ‘unity’ tonight. It’s a scam, and here’s the proof.. Sargent has a laundry list of why Trump’s calls for unity and comity are a scam.

Here’s the list: travel ban against Muslims, blaming “many sides” for the violence and murder in Charlottesville, pardoning Joe Arpaio, referring to immigrants from “sh!thole countries”, family separations policy, corruption in his cabinet, trashing our intelligence services, painting the press as the “enemy of the people.”

As each of these things unfolds, Trump’s presidency is lessened. So for me, Trump is “the incredible shrinking man”.

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