Saturday, May 4, 2019

Can Trump Be The Solution To Trump?

As faithful readers know, I have been ambivalent on the Trump presidency. From the beginning I thought there were reasons to be optimistic and pessimistic on it. Those are proving fairly prescient in some cases, gratefully off in others:
Optimistic - Shows why we should lose (and should have lost a long time ago) our reverent awe for the U.S. Presidency; prevents major government action/intervention/meddling on any number of issues by being a circus act writ large (his administration's priorities will be prestige and showmanship rather than policy accomplishment); forces a meaningful debate and action on limiting executive power (a little bit in tension with the previous prediction as this one mitigates a Trump administration that is actually trying to do something).
Pessimistic - Engages in major international war actions (beyond the high amount the each of his opponents would do anyway); sets back trade freedom and immigration substantially; creates strong racial, ethnic, nationalistic, and gender divides.
I have expanded on this upon Trump taking office and one-year in. Part of my analysis has been optimism that Trump will bring sanity to how we look upon the U.S. presidency.
  • Lost Respect for the Sanctity of the Office - yes this is a feature--let the scales fall from your eyes, the emperors have never been well dressed. But . . .
A recent episode of the always rewarding Something's Off with Andrew Heaton featured Rob Montz discussing his excellent Trump as Destiny: Why the Reality Show Presidency Was Inevitable. This is a great piece that I hope gets as much traction as possible. It resonates with me. I hope it does so for others.

We've gone from George Washington supposedly declining the offer to be king (even if this is apocryphal, the fact that it is part of the legend strongly implies we at least once held this to be a virtue) through John Kennedy embracing the image of being our king to genuine concern that Trump would take us up on the offer.

The course of history has been decidedly against my vision for the U.S. presidency. What makes me think I should be optimistic about Trump changing that? Indeed that is a question that troubles me. I'm not sure I have a good answer. The source of my optimism has been based largely on Trump as such an extreme example of the problem that those in Congress would find it their own interest to change course and the American people would see the office (not just the man who happens to be occupying it) as run amok. Unfortunately, our growing tribalism thwarts this on both sides--many or most Democrats don't allow themselves to see a connection between the office and this president and many or most Republicans don't allow themselves to admit there is a problem at all. Somehow we need to make fear of Trump lead to limitations on the presidency going forward.

I think Trump certainly could legitimately be impeached, and I would prefer this if it was at least neutral to the bigger hope that Trump will significantly erode presidential power and image. I fear it would not be constructive to that larger goal. Once he is out, the problem is "solved", and we are back to business as usual. Of course, we have that same problem in an election of a new president in 2020 or (more likely not until) 2024, but at least then there would not be the cleansing event that allows continued blindness to the bigger problem.

Here is my curve-ball solution: Get Trump to bring the limits we want. He can't make us think less of the office. We have to do that on our own if we are willing to take the red pill. But he can put into place strong limits on what his successors may do. Why would he do such a thing? Because he is vain and doesn't believe anyone else can be trusted with power. The best prospect of this might be as a 2024 election approaches and a Democratic victory looks imminent. Perhaps then a Republican-lead Congress brings strong legislation to Trump's desk and the lame duck sings a wonderful swan song.

Unlikely? Probably about as likely as Kim Kardashian and Kanye West getting Trump to enact criminal justice reform.

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