We live in a time where seemingly each day breaking news begins with the following lede: “The President is unhinged.”
Let’s face it, this is a reality that we must contend with as long as Trump occupies the office. The President is simply not equipped to handle the stains and stresses of being president in a representative democracy. He is conditioned to be in charge with little or no regard for dissent. He simply does not understand nor does he accept the fact that the foundation and structure of our government rests upon deliberation, checks and balances, co-equal governmental responsibilities, and a free press.
His inability to grasp the essential nature of our system of government is forcing him to create unforced errors, instability, and uncertainty that is manifesting itself in both international and domestic affairs and lately in that all important barometer of economic growth: the stock market.
Let me confess my bias here: I am an institutionalist. I believe in the principles that govern our system. It may be inefficient at times but it is at its heart dedicated to stability and compromise. I reject the premise that seems to be pervasive in Trumpism, namely, that there is a deep state conspiracy that prevents the nation from achieving greatness or a leading role in the advancement of humankind.
It is naive and simplistic to adhere to the proposition that efficiency is the sine qua non of progress, either in an economic or governmental paradigm. Surely, the most efficient model in each would be monopoly or dictatorship. While less messy, neither is preferable from the sense of equity, equality, and justice. Hence, our system is designed, purposely, to foster debate, deliberation, compromise, and is positioned to entertain differences that may be agonizingly tedious but in the long run move the nation forward.
Acknowledging this basic premise requires a degree of intellectual dexterity that allows for political, policy, strategic and tactical complexity and a responsibility for comprehending a long-term horizon that affords recalibration to deal with inevitable unintended consequences. Simply put, governing is hard work. It is bigger than one person. It requires knowledge, historical perspective, factual data, and instinct that incorporates vision and wisdom. But it also requires the ability to shift course when and if in fact it turns out that decisions become either outdated or just flat out wrong.
Trump is impulsive and makes decisions based largely on instinct. His normal impulse is to reduce dissension and reward allegiance, which he conflates with loyalty. Thus anything that conflicts with his instinct is immediately identified as a threat. From the beginning of his ascension to the Office of the Presidency he became suspicious and resentful of both the intelligence community and the judiciary. He is guided not by bedrock conservative values, but rather by what he views as threats to Trumpian dominance. Anything that even remotely resembles a challenge to either his decisions or decision-making process is viewed as either fake news, a hoax, a witch hunt, or a Democratic plot, all governed by sheer political calculation.
Trump lives and operates in a zero-sum world. You are either with him or against him. In a world where win-win situations are optimal he views them as weakness.
Trump lives and operates in a zero-sum world. You are either with him or against him. In a world where win-win situations are optimal he views them as weakness. He revels in his appreciation for perceived strength, thus his infatuation with leaders like Putin, Erdogan, Duterte, and Xi. He views everything through both a personal and a political lens.
In this twisted perspective, he can view a legally executed search warrant upon his personal lawyer as an act of political/personal retribution. He views editorial criticism as a declaration of war. He views objective facts and truth as casualties of his alternative reality, sophistication and complexity as trivial, process as an annoyance, and opts for short-term gain over long-term pain.
In short, he is neither temperamentally nor intellectually equipped to handle the duties of the office he occupies. He may have leadership qualities, but he exhibits no sense of statesmanship whatsoever, and that is what is truly needed in these difficult times.
We are currently perched upon the precipice of a constitutional crisis domestically while we are confronting international tensions that involve nuclear powers like North Korea and Iran, chemical weapons attacks in Syria, and the threat of a full blown trade war with China. Meanwhile, Russian interference in our elections past, present and future exacerbate an already divided electorate and threaten to sow further divisions.
The President is drowning in an administration paralyzed by incompetence, depleted morale, unprecedented vacancies, corruption, and leakage. The Republican-controlled Congress is hopelessly adrift in political calculations over the impact of this environment on the mid-term elections and devoid of a legislative agenda for moving the country forward.
At this point the country is mired in the quicksand of dysfunction. The stakes are increasing exponentially as each day that passes brings with it a feeling of profound confusion. It is long past time for our elected leaders to cast aside partisan posturing and place the interests of the nation above all other considerations. During the Watergate crisis Republicans like Howard Baker, Lowell Weicker, and Barry Goldwater stepped up to the plate and put country first. Who in the GOP is willing to do the same today?