Monday, January 30, 2017

Worst President Ever?

It's a bit early after just 10 days (just 1451 to go!), but Donald J. Trump is on a path which could make him easily the worst President of the United States in our history.

The ones who are ranked worst historically (see this 2015 ranking of the US Political Scientists) are typically ones who were relative non-entities, ones who died early or served a single, ineffective term.  The names sinking to the bottom of that list are Buchanan, Harding, Andrew Johnson, Pierce, William H. Harrison (who served less than two months); I would add Chester A. Arthur, Millard Fillmore, and the unelected usurper Rutherford B. Hayes to their list.

Trump's pattern--the manner of his election (of elected Presidents, only Hayes lost more decisively in the popular vote than Trump, and of course his campaign set new lows for the nature and ugliness of his rhetoric), the characteristics of his Cabinet nominees (nearly all are unqualified, disqualified, elistist, or actively opposed to performing their assignments, or all of the above), and his early posturing around executive decisions--all suggest he could end up in a category of his own:  inept, disengaged, but enormously damaging. (OK, those are exactly the characteristics historians use to describe Buchanan, rated the worst until now.)

Here are some damaging things Trump has already done--mind you, these are the easy actions, not requiring any negotiation with legislators, merely his interpretations of fulfilling the campaign promises he chooses to recognize:
  • His bizarre insistence that voter fraud robbed him of a popular vote victory.  It doesn't matter, the investigation is certain not to support his claim (the "registered in two states" canard is both irrelevant and has already backfired, with many of his cronies "guilty" of this non-crime), and may lead to a report that describes in ugly detail the suppression of voters that occurred.  
  • His order to restore black sites to detain suspected terrorists--a return to extrajudicial persecution and probably torture. 
  • Suppression of agencies' normal processes of communication, awarding grants, and, secretly, all mention of "climate change" from the White House website. 
  • The emerging disaster--coming particularly from Health and Human Services Department nominee Price in his confirmation hearings--in the administration's direction on a replacement for the Affordable Care Act and the associated Medicaid grants. 
  • Attorney General nominee Sessions' statements that he will not recuse himself from investigating Trump's conflicts of interest, Russian hacking and its effects on the election, or voter fraud. 
  • The announcement of the commencement of his long-promised, stupid border wall, to be paid for with taxes on imports, instead of the Mexican government's support, which clearly will not be forthcoming.  (At least it may create some jobs, and then they could continue their work to take it down when it's proven to be ineffective or unnecessary.)
  • Preparation for massive deportations, threatening local jurisdictions that won't cooperate with them. 
  • The continued suck-up to Russia, and the formal re-affirmation of FBI Director Comey, one of the chief enablers of Trump's electoral victory. 
  • Last--for now--but not least, his announcement regarding the promised "extreme vetting" of refugees and prospective immigrants from certain countries (all predominantly Muslim, none of them ones where Trump has his investments, though religious minorities--such as Christians--may be exempted).  It has already created massive confusion, a judge's injunction, and widespread protests, partly because it was so poorly written, partly because it is so blatantly bigoted and xenophobic, and partly because (as Pope Francis has stated) it violates the principles of those who call themselves Christians.  
What to Expect Next from the Drumpfenreich
I expect him to throw a three-year-old-type temper tantrum when Senate Democrats use normal cloture procedures to extend the approvals for selected Cabinet nominees (those with huge conflicts of interest, lack of qualifications, or incomplete vetting).   He has consistently shown no understanding of the levers of government.

When his approval ratings continue to drop, he will look to make a deal to get income tax cuts ("for all", but especially for the wealthiest and corporations), infrastructure spending (look to see who--which companies, which states--will benefit), discretionary budget cuts, and entitlement spending adjustments.  Congressional Republicans will go along, but Democrats will not; without the entitlement spending adjustments (i.e., cuts to benefits), his program will lead to massive increases in deficits, as graded by the Congressional Budget Office.  He will whine about their methods.

Some country will want to test his bluster--I'm thinking Iran, or North Korea, possibly the Taliban, hopefully not Russia right away.  He will threaten, they will call his bluff.  I'm really hoping this does not lead to us entering a stupid war right off the bat, but I'm almost certain this will happen in the first 18 months.  I remember commenting in early 2001 that so far, Dubya hadn't gotten us into a war, so I graded him a passing "D".  Then came 9/11.

What Should We Be Doing? 
1)  Moderate Expectations - Democratic opposition is not going to prevent the confirmation of any of Trump's Cabinet nominees.  No amount of calls, letters, political contributions is going to change this.  Slowing them down, providing a spotlight on the worst cases, will have the desired effect of highlighting the inadequacy of Trump's choices, and will increase their vulnerability later.   The same argument applies to Trump's Supreme Court nominee--he will be approved, in the end, unless there are severe deficiencies (I don't see that happening with the three named finalists).  The yardstick to use is whether the nominee is worse than Scalia--for me, a very low bar.  Stopping one nominee could lead to the risk of a worse one being named:  I believe that happened with Bush and Harriet Miers, which led to Alito, which I would say was a bad outcome.

2) Dig In When Necessary - One place will be on cuts to Medicare and Medicare  (Social Security should be a non-starter, as there is no case for change at present); another will be on the replacement package for the Affordable Care Act.  There is no reason for any Democrat to support any of the likely proposals, and without that, there will be no cuts/replacement.  

A third case would be on the next replacement for the Supreme Court, depending especially on who is being replaced.  Use the same principle of change in level of harm: Justice Thomas--fine, whatever;  Justice Kennedy, or any of the four "Democratic" justices (one was nominated by a Republican)--extreme sensitivity.  For at least the next two years, we should not expect the "nuclear option" which some Republican mouthpieces will run on about:  the opportunity to set the rules (relating to filibusters) for this Congress has passed, and it won't happen.  2019-2020 could be a different story, depending on circumstances.

3) Do not get sucked into the Bushite-style jingoism - This was the fatal mistake of the Democrats in the early post-9/11 days.  They voted for Bush's program out of fear of getting hammered in the 2002 elections for lack of patriotism, and they still got whipped.  And, the Iraq War/Patriot Act collar ended up on a bunch of them for the rest of their careers. This time, it will need to be clear that the war fever is due to the Drumpfite bungling of diplomacy.  And it will be.

4) Work on unifying, and expanding upon, the 54%.  Trump's victory was a fluke, the result of a combination of circumstances and lack of a successful, unified opposition to him.  The majority of Trump voters will never get that they have been duped--the big payday, the expert management, the great inflow of jobs, they will never "get it".   Some, especially those who voted for Trump as the lesser of two evils, are already starting to get it.   We are willing to "forgive"; there is no shame in shedding Trump and admitting one's error, only the shame we all must bear as Americans.

The opposition candidate we should work for will successfully counter Trump without dividing. Right now, I'm thinking Sherrod Brown of Ohio is a good candidate (Gillebrand maybe a running mate)--which makes Brown's 2018 re-election campaign a personal priority.

5) Keep the base mobilized - There is plenty of excitement which needs to be maintained.  It's not a question of money; don't let them play you.  The main points are to pick the right spots (so far, so good), avoid violent encounters and provocateurs (can only lose), weed out Drumpfian spies and conciliators (there is no compromise with Trump himself, and little with Paul Ryan or Mitch McConnell), and own the weekends.

6) Minimize harm when possible - First target is Steve "Race" Bannon; this racist megalomaniac is totally out of control.  It was Nixon's cronies, Haldeman and Ehrlichman, who compounded and reinforced his paranoia. Somebody needs to ban Bannon.  If Trump needs him for political advice, fine--that will only hurt Trump in the end (same with the likes of Kellyanne Conway, Sean Spicer)--but he should not be allowed within earshot of any national security or foreign policy discussion.  We want Trump to fail--sorry, we do, he can not be rescued and allowed to succeed in spite of himself--but it should be because of the myopia of his own program. 

No comments: