America has a pre-existing condition, and it’s name is Donald John Trump.
As this column goes to press, there are 1353 days left. Now that all the efforts to review the Trump administration’s first 100 days are behind us, today we look deeply at how we can use what we have learned over the first 108 days to make educated predictions at what lies in store for the American people over the remainder of Trump’s term.
While it is perhaps folly to try to foresee the specific actions of a particular individual, especially one whose actions often seem to emulate the utter randomness of Brownian motion, there does indeed seem to be a method to this administration that allows us to foresee the general flow of future events in a probabilistic fashion. History has also taught us that we can sometimes look at large groups of people to predict ways in which our society is likely to evolve. Social trends such as economic bubbles, mass hysteria, collective obsessional behaviors and “rational selfish behavior” can be driving societal forces whose repercussions can be recognized and anticipated. One just has to look deeply at how the dominoes have been set up and which direction they are falling.
Below The Domino Principle examines at the future of the Trump Presidency in 11 key areas:
- Why things are not even worse than they already are
- How Trump will use the executive branch to change America
- How Trump will use the legislative branch to change America
- How Trump will use the judicial branch to change America
- Trump’s assault on reality, the media, and the spread of disinformation
- How Trump will change the economic health of America
- How Trump’s immigration policies will affect America
- Trump’s ability to affect foreign policy and involve America in wars
- The likelihood Trump will try to seize power through a “Reichstag fire” moment
- Trump’s chances of not completing his term of office
- The vital role each of us play in helping determine the outcome of this presidency
Why Things Are Not Even Worse
Let’s look at the bright side of things first… While the first 100 days in so many ways seemed an endless exercise in disturbing, embarrassing and dreadful chaos, there are three primary reasons that things today are not any worse:
1) POTUS has made it clear that he believes that our two party system is obstructionist, that the rules of Congress are archaic, and that our judicial system should not be able to restrict his authority. Yet despite attempts by POTUS and the Justice Department to bypass the checks and balances of our system of government, in many instances our constitutional protections against abuse by the executive branch have, so far, held firm. (Yet, keep in mind that it has only been 108 days, and the administration is clearly committed to continue efforts to erode such checks and balances.) The courts are still ruling unconstitutional actions as unconstitutional, Senate Republicans have spoken out strongly against Trump’s call to end the filibuster with regards to legislation, and the FBI and Congress are still investigating, albeit slowly and amidst numerous acts of diversion, Russian tampering into the Presidential election along with the possibility of treason or misprision of treason by members of the Trump administration. POTUS’s use of the White House to personally enrich himself and his family has been most disturbing however, and so far there doesn’t seem to be any checks and balances in place that are actually working to stop it.
2) POTUS has proven himself to be an incompetent manager at a scale few had imagined was possible. This has been exemplified by his lack of focus and short attention span; his failure to understand how specific actions lead to specific consequences in the real world; his bewilderment at the reality that he does not actually have dictatorial powers; his inability to grasp deal-making in a congressional political perspective; his failure to attract quality staff and his abuse of the staff he has attracted; his inability to fulfill utterly incoherent promises because they were… well, incoherent; his constant changes in position on nearly every issue; his frequent actions and tweets demonstrating that he is often completely disassociated with reality; his lack of ability to tie his actions to any type of coherent policy or doctrine that would allow his actions to make rational sense; and his seeming preoccupation with finding ways to use the office of the presidency to enrich himself and his family.
3) The American people are starting to find their voice, and they are starting to make it clear to our elected representatives that the hatred towards ethnic minorities, religions, and women that helped propel Trump into office does not represent the voices of the majority of Americans of either party. As America has come to realize that the Republic, along with being governed in a manner consistent with a fact-based worldview, truly are in jeopardy, people of both political parties are starting to wake up, they are starting to care, and they are starting to make their voices heard.
How Trump Will Use the Executive Branch to Change America
How many times have we said POTUS is winning and that he is consolidating power behind him? Here's 400 examples. The urgency is real. https://t.co/zp5PLhTrCg
— Rogue POTUS Staff (@RoguePOTUSStaff) April 3, 2017
The President is slowly but steadily consolidating power throughout the executive branch. While many jobs remain unfilled, more than 400 positions have been filled. The list includes “obscure campaign staffers, contributors to Breitbart and others who have embraced conspiracy theories, as well as dozens of Washington insiders who could be reasonably characterized as part of the ‘swamp’ Trump pledged to drain.” Each day many of these people use their authority to erode important facets of our democracy, and it will only get worse and worse as more positions are filled and as these people gain experience in how to use their authority to further an agenda that reduces the rights of individuals while consolidating the power of the presidency.
A woman laughs at Sessions and gets jailed.
A comedian laughs at Trump and gets investigated.
— Shareblue (@Shareblue) May 5, 2017
As POTUS is able to staff the Justice Department, there is little question that he and Sessions will try to harness it to pursue political prosecutions against enemies, place a focus on litigation that targets specific religious and ethnic groups, and otherwise trample civil rights. Disregard for the judicial process and its outcomes has been a hallmark of Trump’s career, and he has quite openly used litigation as a tool of harassment. He now has the largest prosecutorial organization in the world at his disposal, and the prospects are chilling.
You can deny reality, but you cannot deny the effects of denying reality. Increases in death, suffering, and loss of productivity of the American people are the inevitable long term repercussions of the executive branch actions that gut the Environmental Protection Agency while shunning science and suppressing scientific research. Disregarding climate warming issues, not taking steps to reverse the widespread failure of parents to vaccinate their children, and failing to enact effective gun safety legislation based on our statistical analysis of gun use and misuse are all consequences of anti-science ignorance in the current administration, both at the presidential and congressional levels. It leads to a world in which homes and cities are flooded at an ever increasing rate, droughts reach epic proportions, epidemics kill children with sicknesses that should have been long eradicated, where more gun deaths are committed by toddlers than by terrorists, and where a gun is 22 times more likely to be used in a criminal assault, an accidental death or injury, a suicide attempt or a homicide than it is for self-defense. It also adds further doubt and confusion to a generation of America unable to differentiate between science and anti-science, and between facts and alternative-facts. (See my earlier article: Let’s Make America Smart Again.)
In a world where we are much more likely to be killed in a pandemic than in a terrorist attack, the Administration’s desire to cut more than $6 billion from the budgets of the National Institute of Health and the Center for Disease Control would fundamentally cripple America’s ability to fight and cure disease and to stop the spread of new epidemics of infectious diseases.
The potential long term effects of changes being pursued by the Department of Education include fostering educational environments that mix religious dogma and alternative facts in the classroom, while also creating an increasingly ignorant populace by shifting resources further away from those least able to afford educational opportunities. The net result is the further decline in the American educational system and subsequent loss in economic productivity as individuals exiting that system attempt to enter the workforce.
How Trump Will Use the Legislative Branch to Change America
It’s Thursday. How many people have lost their healthcare today?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 9, 2014
Well, Mr. President, thanks to you and the GOP Majority, the answer to the question you asked three years ago is now — 24 million. https://t.co/4kZRTe00kF
— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) May 4, 2017
Activity in Congress over the past couple of weeks has contrasted two starkly different models for how Trump might get legislation related to his agenda passed by the House and Senate.
The announced interim budget compromise that came out of Congress gave little support of funding to any of POTUS’s key initiatives. It was worked out by bipartisan committees in Congress, and represented a compromise that appealed to the majority of Republicans and Democrats to give it needed votes in both the House and Senate. The entire process was largely drama-free.
The health-care reform bill that passed the House was driven by extensive drama along with two priorities that defy rational logic: 1) That Obamacare must be repealed quickly, even if it is replaced by something which is far worse for America by virtually any reasonable metric; and 2) That POTUS needed to have a “win” to celebrate and validate his self-described “incredible deal-making skills.” The whole process seemed more of a show designed to bolster Trump’s self-image and to put anti-Obamacare votes on the record than to pass meaningful legislation.
A sexual assault offender can become President, but a sexual assault victim cannot get healthcare. #AHCA
— A. Paxton (@APaxton_Demoin) May 4, 2017
The bill has been characterized as virtually “dead on arrival” in the Senate. (See: The Next Step for the Republican Health Care Bill: A Skeptical Senate). The Senate now has three basic choices… 1) to try to pass something that is substantially similar to what the House passed, appealing primarily to the far right of the Republican party, benefiting the wealthy while leaving millions without affordable health care; 2) to basically start over, and create new legislation designed to actually improve health-care in America and address the problems incurred by Obamacare, appealing to the center and foregoing support from both the far right and far left; or 3) to let it die. The Senate has stated that they plan to pursue the 2nd option — I’d give it a 25% chance of it resulting in meaningful health-care reform. If the administration and Congress fail to pass meaningful reform that actually improves health-care in America, it will increase the likelihood that Democrats will regain control of both the Presidency and Congress in the 2020 election and at that point will be able to find the momentum to move America towards a single-payer system.
Donald Trump’s persona projects two competing traits that both attract and repel support from other members of Congress. In most regards, members of both political parties consider him to be unstable and a political liability, and they are starting to realize that association with him, and with some of his ideas, will prove a liability to them upon reelection. This will likely only worsen for POTUS as his term progresses. After the 2018 mid-term elections, the odds are it will become significantly more difficult for him to further his agenda.
On the other hand, POTUS is truly an extraordinary narcissist who projects a “reality distortion field” that delivers to him a cult following (Steve Jobs did so as well — how the two of them are similar yet also very different is material for a future Domino Principle article). Despite his ignorance on just about any topic, and despite his incompetence and ethical corruption as a leader, Trump is still able to convince some people that he is a “winner,” and to do so in such a way that they find it attractive to support and be a part of his “winning circle.” A great con-artist convinces their mark that they are actually doing them a favor, and Trump is extraordinarily talented at doing that, at least with many people who want to believe his message. Trump will surely, and deservedly, go down as the greatest con artist in American history… if he doesn’t manage to get us all killed in the process.
Trump’s ability to attract a cult-like following has led some GOP congressional leaders to seemingly abdicate their responsibilities to their constituents. The apparent sidelining of Devin Nunes and Jason Chaffetz, who have both shown far more loyalty to Trump than to their Congressional duties and the American public, have been encouraging developments. Yet other Trump surrogates and anti-science advocates remain in Congress. That Lamar Smith, a fervent science denier, remains chairing the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology is most disturbing indeed.
POTUS could pass meaningful legislation aimed at rebuilding America’s infrastructure, as promised in his campaign. Such legislation could be crafted to garner bipartisan support and should, compared to other efforts, constitute an easy win for the administration. So far, POTUS has shown little interest in actually pursuing such legislation, but as other efforts get bogged down it is likely he will turn to this. Odds: 75%.
So far POTUS’s efforts towards significant budget and tax reform have only led to utter incoherency. The general outlines of a proposed budget and tax plan made public so far would vastly accelerate the financial insolvency of America (bankruptcy is something POTUS is good at) and should garner little support from either side of the aisle. Without him releasing his tax returns, many in Congress will rightly refuse to even consider supporting his tax proposals until they have a clear understanding of how POTUS intends to personally enrich his own financial interests from his legislation. Odds: 10% that anything like Trump’s tax plan will pass. 30% that the House GOP will start over and be able to craft something in the way of conservative tax reform that will pass both houses.
POTUS continues to assert that he will indeed build his wall between the US and Mexico. Yet there is no support for such an initiative from the Democrats, and little support from Republicans who represent states on the border. And there is no indication that POTUS has even the slightest concept for how he is going to fulfill his promise to have Mexico pay for the wall. Odds: 5%.
How Trump Will Use the Judicial Branch to Change America
Aside from his ability to focus the resources of the Department of Justice as discussed earlier, Trump’s primary means of influencing our judicial system stems from his ability to nominate federal judges for confirmation by the Senate, most especially justices for the United States Supreme Court. Indeed, he has already filled one such position.
At least until the 2018 mid-term elections, Trump should have a fairly easy time of filling judicial openings with highly conservative nominees. Whether the number of openings that come available and his cumulative ability to fill such openings is able to substantially change the directions of our courts is a major open question. Trump’s agenda will be to use his nominating ability to attempt to put in place justices who will move the courts away from socially progressive rulings, and who will allow him to expand the authority of the presidency and the executive branch.
Should the Democrats achieve a Senate majority in 2018, Trump’s ability to have highly conservative justices confirmed as nominees should effectively end. Odds: 20%.
The Assault on Reality, the Media and the Spread of Disinformation
How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
CNN's decision to hire a small army of Trump loyalists to misinform people was…not a good decision: pic.twitter.com/aahl3YKVfv
— Ezra Klein (@ezraklein) April 17, 2017
The media have been complicit from day one, milking POTUS for every shed of ratings they can get out if him. Crazy sells better journalism.
— Rogue POTUS Staff (@RoguePOTUSStaff) April 13, 2017
Coming right on the heels of Russia’s attempts to manipulate the election through the spreading of falsehoods, Trump’s first hundred days were characterized by an unrelenting assault on truth and the spreading of disinformation. This was coupled with the POTUS’s vocal disdain for a free press that challenges the daily stream of falsehoods that he speaks and tweets, and calls by POTUS to change libel laws to allow the government to tie those who would disagree with him up in lawsuits.
While the freedom of the press has not been stifled, nor is it likely to be in the near future, the media is often failing in its duty to the public. Areas where the mainstream media needs to do much better include:
1) A lie is a lie and should be reported as such. When major news outlets like CNN constantly give air time to Trump surrogates to debate a lie on air, it gives credibility to the lie as having a degree of substance and being worthy of debate. If the media starts putting a focus on reporting the truth and quits turning every single issue into an opportunity for a Trump surrogate to spew disinformation, the American public will be far better served. Being fair means being truthful and accurate. It does not mean giving a loud and constant podium to those who are not.
Now that Obama’s poll numbers are in tailspin – watch for him to launch a strike in Libya or Iran. He is desperate.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 9, 2012
AGAIN, TO OUR VERY FOOLISH LEADER, DO NOT ATTACK SYRIA – IF YOU DO MANY VERY BAD THINGS WILL HAPPEN & FROM THAT FIGHT THE U.S. GETS NOTHING!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 5, 2013
2) The media has been overly gullible to manipulation by the administration. Much of the media initially heaped praise on Trump for the bombing of the Syrian airbase, failing to realize that the action made little sense without the context of a coherent policy to surround it; and that it failed to close the airbase for more than a few hours or provide any real measure of support or relief to the Syrian people. The net result was that Trump now feels that starting military conflicts is a sound strategy that results in him being praised for being presidential, and that such a strategy is also extremely helpful in diverting attention from his domestic troubles, such as the Russia investigation and his low approval ratings. He has learned these lessons very well and it vastly increases the likelihood that the United States will be inappropriately drawn into much larger military conflicts in the future, resulting in a substantial loss of life.
3) The US media, even the liberal media, refuses to ask Trump difficult questions and demand answers. They normalize Trump’s actions and often report on the daily insanity surrounding the presidency like it is just another amusing day at the office. Their effort to be balanced avoids the obvious fact that, on a daily basis, the Commander-in-Chief is clearly unbalanced, and commits acts of an unbalanced nature, along with acts of corruption, that jeopardize the health and well-being of America.
How Trump Will Affect the Economic Health of America
Despite Trump’s frequent anti-factual proclamations that he inherited a terrible, terrible economy from Obama, the reality is that Obama inherited a collapsing economy from Bush, and he left to Trump an economy that was by most measures doing quite well. Unemployment was extremely low at 4.7% (the economy created nearly five and a half times more jobs under Obama than it did under Bush), inflation was virtually nonexistent at 1.7% at the end of the term, and the stock market soared under Obama’s tenure, rising 140% over 8 years (the DJIA would have to hit 50,000 over 8 years to achieve similar performance under Trump). In terms of annual G.D.P. growth, the rate of expansion was relatively modest, rising by an average of about 2.1 per cent a year since 2010. Other economic indicators, such as the size of the budget deficit, the level of consumer confidence, and the leverage ratios in the financial system, all were much healthier at the end of Obama’s term than they were when Obama took office.
The U.S. economy grew at its weakest pace in three years in the first quarter of 2017. Gross domestic product increased at a 0.7 percent annual rate, compared to 2.1 percent the fourth quarter of 2016. Unemployment fell slightly from 4.7% to 4.5%. The stock market rose nearly 5%.
Trump and his supporters delighted in taking huge credit for the rises in the stock market early in Trump’s term, along with taking credit for job creation that was mostly either fictional or not related to Trump’s actions. The reality is that, whether positive or negative, Trump’s influence on such economic indicators over the first 100 days is extremely minimal. Performance was primarily the result of factors in place before he took office. It won’t be until much later in the year that we can start saying with any confidence that changes in the economy are in any substantial part due to the Trump administration’s actions or inactions.
But we can make some educated guesses of how things might trend based on the actions we have seen by the administration over the first 100 days.
Trump has positioned himself strongly against free trade and free markets, and as a strong proponent of protectionism. Trump has chosen to focus job growth efforts on essentially dying industries like steel manufacturing and coal mining, rather than on growth sectors like technology; he has sought to substantially reduce our ability to import the technical talent we need to maintain technical preeminence; and he seeks policies that will substantially further cripple and weaken our ability to educate in America. He has proposed a budget outline and a tax plan outline that would require either dramatic increases in an already obscene national debt; or the printing of massive amounts of money leading to massive inflation.
Again and again, Trump’s actions in every area of economic growth demonstrate a profound inability either to comprehend, or to care about, the long term repercussions of his actions, or both. His protectionist policies save a small number of jobs today while tomorrow costing America far more jobs by making the country less competitive in international commerce. His desire to gut regulations by the EPA similarly may create a few new jobs today while costing America so very dearly in the years to come. His anti-climate stance of course exemplifies this in the extreme, where the repercussions to America in future years will be extraordinarily devastating. His lack of concern about increasing the national debt would take an already intractable situation and compound its repercussions for future generations.
Trump’s damage to date has been limited because Congress has shown little support for most of his ideas over the short period of time he has been in office. I am guardedly optimistic that as Republicans in Congress come to understand how there is no rational coherence to his economic agenda (or most any other aspect of his presidency), the majority of them will give his desires little heed. The budget compromise reached this past week to fund the government through September was extremely encouraging.
But if my guarded optimism should prove wrong, and Trump should be more successful in implementing his agenda than I expect, then the likely consequences over his term would be a steady decline in productivity, an increase in unemployment, an increase in inflation, and at best muted growth for the stock market, if we can manage to avoid a full-on recession with far more negative consequences.
How Trump’s Immigration Policies Will Affect America
Research has shown that Immigration leads to more innovation, a better educated workforce, greater occupational specialization, better matching of skills with jobs, and higher overall economic productivity. All of these factors will be negatively impacted by Trump’s plans. Immigration also has little long run effect on Americans’ wages, but a net positive effect on combined federal, state, and local budgets. Not all taxpayers benefit equally. In regions with large populations of less educated, low-income immigrants, native-born residents bear significant net costs due to immigrants’ use of public services, especially education.
The Department of Homeland Security reported that illegal crossings of the southern border of the US dropped 40 percent in the first month of the Trump presidency, the steepest decline in illegal migration since the recession of 2009. Illegal immigration by family groups with children dropped by more than 90 percent. While we don’t know the cause of such a dramatic drop with certainty, or whether such changes will prove long lasting, it is not unreasonable to suspect that this drop is in some fashion causally related to Trump’s stated hostility towards illegal immigration.
POTUS has taken many steps to remove undocumented immigrants from America, and to reduce the entry of both legal and illegal immigrants, particular those of Latino heritage or Muslim belief. While his major executive orders have been ruled unconstitutional by the Federal Courts, many of his other actions continue, most notably a vastly expanded effort to deport undocumented immigrants. The administration has made it clear that all of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States are subject to deportation at any time.
Between 1975 and 2015, the chance was 252.9 times greater of being murdered by somebody other than a foreign-born terrorist than the chance of dying in a terrorist attack committed by a foreign-born terrorist. We know that immigrants, whether legal or illegal, have had little effect on domestic terrorism over the past 15 years. Immigrants have been found to overall be no more or less likely to commit violent crimes. They have been found to be slightly less likely to commit drug crimes, and slightly more likely to commit property crimes. On the whole, there is no grounds to believe that decreased legal or illegal immigration will have any substantive effect on crime rates in America.
There is, however, sound grounds to believe that the administration’s efforts to deport undocumented immigrants will result in both a decrease in reported crime along with an actual increase in crimes committed upon immigrants, as criminals come to understand that undocumented immigrants are unlikely to report and prosecute crimes committed upon them. The Los Angeles Police Department recently reported that in Los Angeles domestic violence reports are down 10% and rape reports are down 25% in the Hispanic community in 2017, likely because victims of violence are afraid that their family will be torn apart because of immigration enforcement if they call the police. Expect Trump to boast of this phantom drop in crime rates as a positive consequence of his policies.
Trump’s Ability to Affect Foreign Policy and Involve America in Wars
Be prepared, there is a small chance that our horrendous leadership could unknowingly lead us into World War III.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 31, 2013
The global warming we should be worried about is the global warming caused by NUCLEAR WEAPONS in the hands of crazy or incompetent leaders!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 8, 2014
Trump’s foreign policy over the first 100 days was characterized by an unrelenting effort to alienate US allies while praising and courting favor with those who seek harm towards democracy and US interests. Trump’s apparent admiration for despotic dictators is extraordinarily chilling.
Despite his campaign promises, US efforts to defeat ISIS in Iraq seem to be proceeding in a manner not substantially different than they had been proceeding prior to Trump’s taking office. Trump does seem more willing than Obama to authorize military actions that have the possibility of incurring collateral civilian casualties.
In bringing Generals McMasters and Mattis into his inner circle, POTUS has at least brought himself a level of competence in executing military matters that is virtually non-existent in other areas of the executive administration. Trump’s statements about the decision making latitude that he has given his generals to initiate military action without direct direction from the White House is deeply concerning, if true.
Although his role has been diminished, Steve Bannon remains in his position as White House Chief Strategist. In case you’ve forgotten, in a 2013 interview with the Daily Beast, Bannon reportedly noted: “I’m a Leninist… Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.” He is also the one who made a series of movies illustrating how the way to bring everything crashing down was through global conflict.
The Trump/Bannon philosophy for dealing with foreign crises has become clearer over the first 100 days of the administration. Trump praises his adversary while talking tough about how his adversary needs to change his ways. He simultaneously rattles his military sabres to attempt to intimidate his adversary, or to alternatively goad his adversary into making a first move, which will leave him “no choice” but to reply and escalate. Whether doing so consciously or not, Trump appears to be following Bannon’s playbook that the best way to usher in a new world order is with a “massive reckoning” that results in conflict — and therefore he actively eggs on such a result.
The chemical weapon bombing in Syria was an opportunity Trump simply could not pass up, as much as he wanted to stay out of the Syrian situation and not court disfavor with Russia. It gave him a clear grounds for his first experience engaging in a military conflict at scale. He was able to fire a bunch of missiles and then completely turn away from the situation, while still appearing as being Presidential and humanitarian to many. It didn’t matter that the air base was only out of commission for a few hours, it didn’t matter that no real relief was brought to the Syrian people, and it didn’t matter that his action was not part of any coherent policy for dealing with Syria. It was a rehearsal for bigger things to come, and in his mind it yielded him very positive feedback.
The situation in North Korea remains the touchiest situation on Trump’s plate. I view there being about a 65% chance it will escalate into a substantive military conflict, and a 35% chance it will result in significant loss of human life. Whether it is resolved peacefully or through military means, Trump/Bannon will find a way to spin either outcome into a victory for their agenda.
The Likelihood Trump Will Try to Seize Power Through a “Reichstag Fire” Moment?
— McSpocky™ ?? (@mcspocky) May 2, 2017
The first 100 days of the Trump Administration were, on the world stage, a period of relative calm, outside of the Syrian chemical bombing and the Trump Administration’s own self-inflicted chaos. What will happen if and when Trump actually has to face a true world crisis?
Adolf Hitler used the burning of the Reichstag (parliament) building in Berlin in 1933 as a pretext to seize authoritarian power. Will Trump attempt to do something similar? The Trump Administration has already contended in court that the President has the power to do anything he desires when national security is at stake, without the need for, and regardless of, judicial or Congressional concurrence. Trump’s blatant statements this past week indicated that he thinks our constitution is obsolete. Trump truly believes his mantra “I alone can fix it.”
After the events of September 11, 2001, many terrified Americans were very willing to give up freedoms for the promise of security. I wrote back in March of the potential for Trump to attempt to leverage war with North Korea to substantially expand his powers. I am not the only one who has speculated on such possibilities. Millsaps College history professor Robert S. McElvaine, “On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century,” author Timothy Snyder, and Neuroscientist Sam Harris have all recently spoken out to speculate whether Trump will use a true domestic or world crisis to attempt to suspend liberties in a “Reichstag fire” manner. Harris and Snyder both see it as inevitable.
What could trigger such a circumstance? A large scale terrorist attack immediately comes to mind, of course, quite possibly one goaded on by the actions of the President. A significant war, as is possible with North Korea, could also be a motivating factor, as would a large scale natural disaster (exacerbated by Trump’s funding cuts to FEMA) or biological outbreak (exacerbated by Trump’s budget cuts to the Center for Disease Control). Over the course of this presidency it is likely that America will see a level of civil protest unmatched in nearly half a century. If protests from either the far-right or the far-left should become non-peaceful, they could become catalysts as well.
As Trump’s approval ratings continue to plummet, and he is continually frustrated in his ability to move his agenda forward, his use of a crisis to attempt to consolidate power is likely. But he can be stopped if the American people chose to stop him.
The Chances that Trump Will Not Complete His Term
There are four ways that Trump might fail to complete his term: he might resign; he might be removed from office for being unfit; he might die; or he might be impeached in the House and then removed from office in a Senate trial. Overall odds of one of these four things happening seem quite high compared to other presidencies: I’d estimate it at 35%.
His resignation isn’t out of the question. He has sometimes shown in the past that he would rather quit playing the game than lose. If he comes to realize that his approach leads to constant losses, that the Russia investigation or other scandals create legal risks, and that his persistence creates long term liabilities for himself and the Trump brand, he might resign. He’d likely spin his resignation as a means of punishing America for not having had the resolve to give him dictatorial powers.
POTUS might die (from natural or unnatural causes) or be removed from office under the 25th Amendment for being physically or mentally unfit to carry out the responsibilities of the office. It is already clear that POTUS’s general disassociation from reality and Narcissistic Personality Disorder issues make him mentally unfit and provide adequate grounds for removal, but the pathways to removing him from office on that basis are onerous, as they should be. It would require that an assessment be made either by the Vice-President and a majority of the Cabinet secretaries or by a congressionally appointed body, such as a panel of medical experts. The President is allowed to object, leading to a “contested removal” process in which Congress has three weeks to debate and decide the issue. A two-thirds majority in each chamber is required to remove the President. (Clarification added May 18, 2017: technically, under the 25th Amendment, the President is not removed from office. Rather, all the powers and authority of the President are transferred to the Vice President, who then becomes acting President, if Section 4 of the 25th Amendment is enacted.)
POTUS might be impeached in the House and then convicted in the Senate and removed from office. Impeachment is possible even without a specific criminal violation. The Constitution allows impeachment for the commission of “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” “High crimes” refer to violation of “public trust,” by abusing power, breaching ethics, or undermining the Constitution. In 1970, then-House Minority Leader Gerald R. Ford defined the criterion as he saw it: “An impeachable offense is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history.”
We may not know to whom POTUS has debts and for how much, and we may not know whether his love of so many things Russia and Putin stems from blackmail, financial ties, ideology, or his genuine spirit of admiration for malevolent dictators… but we do already know that Trump’s modus operandi centers on corruption and abuse of power; that he is beholden to the Russians in ways that he should not be; that he has surrounded himself by people who have no business being part of our government; and that he is using the office of the presidency to enrich himself and his family in a way unlike anyone has done previously.
Impeachment by the House requires a simple majority vote. It is extremely unlikely that such a process might commence unless the 2018 elections deliver a Democratic majority to the House. Despite the clear Republican majority in the House at present and the extreme difficulties for Democratic candidates posed by Republican gerrymandering efforts, a Democratic majority after 2018 isn’t impossible given the unrelenting damage that POTUS is currently delivering to the Republican party in a wide variety of different ways. If a Democratic House majority should become a reality, the odds for impeachment would be extremely high. Removal from office, however, would then require conviction by a 2/3 majority of the Senate. That is a difficult but not impossible barrier. Many Republicans in the Senate do indeed see POTUS as being dangerous to America and they would much prefer working with a Mike Pence presidency.
The Role we Each Play in Determining the Outcome
— Rogue POTUS Staff (@RoguePOTUSStaff) May 1, 2017
— #MarchForTruth (@MarchForTruth17) April 30, 2017
America’s pre-existing condition is an unhealthy one that is spreading like a cancer eating away at the very fabric of the Republic. The question is… will it destroy us or can we cure ourselves of it?
There are many ways we each can make a difference. (See: How to Stand Up to Trump and Win.) Using our voices and our peaceful actions to resist the kakistocracy in an ongoing and persistent manner can affect the outcome of this administration in a meaningful way. The administration’s push towards illiberalism will unrelentlessly continue to try to wear the public down. They will make assaults on reality and the core values of our democracy so frequent that it will be easy to get numb and fatigued in dealing with them, and to let the smaller injustices fall through the cracks.
But it is possible to make a difference. It was poetically beautiful, for example, when Trump’s recent xenophobic effort in setting up the VOICE hotline to encourage people to call in to report “aliens” was met with a steady deluge of phone calls of people reporting, well, space alien sightings.
Supporting the media that publishes in-depth, reality-based and fact-checked journalism, and sharing good articles from such sources on social media, helps combat the disinformation published by extremists on both ends of the political spectrum.
There are two specific efforts that offer the greatest potential to truly limit the damage that this administration is able to cause.
The first major way citizens can make a meaningful difference is to keep up the pressure on our elected representatives in Congress to conduct meaningful bipartisan investigation into Russia’s election tampering. The American people deserve to know why it is that the Trump administration is doing everything it can to resist such a meaningful investigation, and why it is that for most of his first 100 days in office POTUS has acted far more in support of furthering Russia’s agenda than in doing positive things for America.
Ask yourself the question… “If Trump were in fact an agent of the Russian government, how would you have expected him to act differently to further Putin’s interests than he actually did act during his first 100 days?” I can’t think of anything except perhaps him not firing the 59 Tomahawk missiles into Syria, with advance warning to the Russians, that disabled the Syrian airbase for a few hours.
The second major way citizens can make a meaningful difference is to pressure current representatives to not support Trump’s agenda, though both direct contact and peaceful protest, and to focus on putting politicians into office in the November of 2018 election who will truly resist Trump’s efforts. The best chance of that happening is if the Democratic party is able to unite behind qualified centrist candidates who will appeal to voters in the middle, particularly in states and districts currently held by Republicans; and if efforts to support such candidates and get people out to vote are characterized by a sense of true grassroots urgency.
A Democratic majority in either the House or the Senate will likely render POTUS a lame duck in terms of furthering substantial legislation, and it will further increase the possibility of bipartisan investigation into Russia issues. But POTUS will still retain his ability to set foreign policy and effectively take actions that involve America in wars. A Democratic majority in the House will set the stage for impeachment. A Democratic majority in the Senate will end POTUS’s ability to fill many vacancies in the executive and judicial branches with alternative-reality-based extremist candidates. However, even though only three additional Democratic seats are needed in the Senate to end the Republican majority there, it will be extremely difficult to make that gain because only 8 of the 33 Senate seats up for reelection are currently held by Republicans, and seven of them are in states that will be extremely difficult to flip.
While changing the majority in both houses is a long shot, it isn’t as big a long shot as it was for Trump to win the presidency.
If Americans cannot be bothered to resist tyranny, then they don’t deserve to be saved from it.
A citizenry determined to make it happen can bring sanity, reality and coherency back to America again.
Latest posts by Cliff Kurtzman (see all)
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