Some thoughts on Trump, nine months out:
At the time Trump was inaugurated, many were convinced (without saying it out loud) that he was psychologically ill, as well as lacking the competence, intellect, and temperament to serve as our president. Indeed, if he were a child, a responsible parent or school counselor might commit him to therapy. This is extraordinary to say but not unwarranted.
His conduct since – about crowd size at the Inauguration, denial of Russian influence in our elections, resistance to get to the truth about that matter, unfounded accusations about Obama wiretapping and voter fraud, hyperbolic accusations about “fake news,” firing of Comey as a means of obstructing justice, comments about what happened in Charlottesville, vindictiveness against his attorney general, bullying of NFL players, among other episodes – merely confirms this illness, incompetence, and unfitness. For the first time in our history, our president is also presumptively untrustworthy, even as that fact is so hard to accept.
Trump’s infirmities are recognized by well over half of the American electorate and even a larger percentage of people overseas. It is a hollow excuse to say that his pattern of behavior is “unconventional” or “inexperienced” as if, in our daily affairs, we would simply forgive, excuse, and absolve those who repeatedly insult and bully us or others close to us. Trump’s’ entire career has been quintessentially “political.” The “doofus” defense for his lack of experience is disingenuous.
When Trump took office, although his unfitness was known, the unknown was whether his behavior could undermine and irreparably harm the fundamental institutions that serve as guardians of the stability of our nation: Congress, the judiciary, enforcement of the rule of law, a free and fact-based press, and the overriding decency and common sense of most Americans as an electorate.
The latter was least concerning because Trump lost the popular vote by 3 million and was essentially elected on the fluke of the electoral college by garnering merely 75,000 votes out of many millions in four swing states. Polls showing that a solid majority of Americans are disaffected with him demonstrate that most people have not lost their common decency and sense. In addition, it seems that of the 40 percent of Americans that are inclined to support Trump, 10-15 percent of them would much prefer that someone else be president. Thus, “real” support for Trump is closer to 25 percent – a significant minority of Americans.
As for Congress, the judiciary, enforcement of the rule of law, and the free (and fact-based) press, these institutions have remained essentially steadfast and unaffected by Trump. Although Republicans enjoy the majority in Congress, they have not hesitated to ignore Trump about Russian sanctions and the need to find out what happened in Russian meddling in our elections. The evidence is that Congress, at least for now, is willing to “do its own thing” (for better or worse), regardless of Trump’s wishes or dictates. Certainly, the judiciary has not cowered to Trump, as evidenced by court rulings about his so-called Muslim Ban. Law enforcement (the FBI, CIA, and more than a dozen national security agencies) have not wavered in their analyses about Russian meddling into our political process despite Trump’s efforts to undermine the investigations and conclusions of those entities. And, the free press has grown unrelenting in its mission to uncover “the truth” through aggressive investigative journalism, the likes of which we have not seen since the Watergate era. Thus, quite contrary to fears that Trump could be successful in undermining major pillars and institutions of our democracy, it appears that the exact opposite has largely occurred.
If this analysis is correct, there is good cause for solace. The essential roles of our democratic institutions will not only prevail over, but will resist, a petulant presidency, and isolate and contain it within the confines of the oval office. We are learning that, as a nation, we can endure even an unfit president and that our presidency can, for so long as Trump holds office, be survived without any lasting damage to our nation’s fabric until he is relieved from office by our better electoral sense or otherwise.
We should also be mindful that there is a significant anger in our nation, consisting of voters who believe that neither Republicans nor Democrats have “heard” them, and these voters tipped our nation to the Trump presidency. Both Republicans and Democrats, as responsible parties with real philosophies, need to nominate candidates who can speak to these disaffected voters who, largely out of default, elected a man that many of them would quietly admit they would not invite into their homes, let alone expose to their children. If, come next election time, our political parties can nominate two good candidates, who are intellectually and temperamentally fit for the job, we will, regardless of our disagreement about them, ultimately elect a president that is truly “worthy” of the office. In this way we can then, again, consider the presidency of the United States as an integral component of our democratic system and leadership throughout the world.
Nick Herman is an adjunct professor at Campbell Law School, NCCU Law School and Elon University.