Trump: Changing the Presidency?
I read Sixty-eight minutes in Biarritz: A glimpse into Trump’s unorthodox mind on Monday. It offers a recounting of one strange, meandering press conference … but, so what? Another Trump moment. Hardly worthy of notice.
Okay, what caught my attention was the last phrase in the third paragraph: “… the myriad ways he has changed the presidency in 31 months.” Changed the presidency? Not so much.
Respectfully, I believe historians will see January 20, 2017 through January 20, 2021 as a sojourn into the surreal—or perhaps, the executive branch on an acid trip—from which it will recover quickly, starting soon after the Trumps leave town. Don’t misunderstand me, please: Mr. Trump has gravely damaged our nation and the world order, in ways from which they will not likely fully recover. But, the presidency as an institution? Not even a little bit, will his antics have changed anything.
Every serious person running to replace Mr. Trump will, if elected, turn the ship on a dime. Nary a one of them will fail to nominate individuals to populate leadership positions in the government. All of them will offer dignity and respect for those with whom they interface, whether in person or through social media. They will support our national institutions, show our best side to the rest of the world (and honor our agreements and treaties), and remind us that the job description include moral leadership. Etc. And etc., etc., etc. for this man has not honored any aspect of the job he holds.
Mr. Trump deserves our thanks, perversely. Too small for the office in January 2017, he never grew into the job, and nothing suggests a change now. Still, had he been less offensive, he might have had a greater impact on the presidency. His outrageous behavior has the gong stuck at 10, permanently, which should cause us to send him packing in favor of Anybody But … Trump.
Sadly, while the presidency lives on, we should not expect a recovery in Congress. First, the Rs have a built-in advantage in the Senate. Coastal states—where most Americans live—get two senators per state, just like sparsely populated Alaska, South Dakota, West Virginia, and Wyoming. And the Rs control the small states. If the Ds take over, somehow, expect a barely 50 majority, comprised of at least a few senators who will frustrate many Ds. Think Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), and Jon Tester (D-Mont.).
Second, Congress functions not at all. Campaign finance rules, structural impediments, and a ton of orneriness leaves us at a standstill. The next president will fill the gap with executive orders and agency regulations, which have been increasingly de rigueur.
Finally, while the situation with Congress leaves it increasingly powerless, groups of 100 and 435 strong-willed, egotistical people suffer from the social dilemma conundrum. Collective action benefits everyone but an individual actor, choosing a “go it alone” approach, does better until too many people choose individual action. With no one in charge, only social controls work, and they work not at all in Congress.
So … what? David Remnick wrote Trump Clarification Syndrome a few days ago. Mr. Remnick, as fine writer as I’ve ever read (and The New Yorker’s editor-in-chief), reminds us to not lose hope. After comparing Trump Derangement Syndrome to Bush Derangement Syndrome—W, we need you!!!—he writes:
But, as perilous and unnerving as things are, any form of political despair at such a moment remains unforgiveable. Despair is a form of self-indulgence, a dodge. Trump’s derangements in policy and character should instead instill a kind of Trump Clarification Syndrome, a reckoning with what confronts us.
In two words? Buck Up! We need to send this man packing, revel in the fact that his behavior did not destroy the presidency, and know two more things:
- We got Mr. Trump because, in ways large and small, our nation suffers.
- Digging out of our hole will take patience, imagination, and empathy.
The slog will be long and hard. It starts now. And it’s only about our very existence!