Our naked emperor has little to show after 1 year in office
WASHINGTON — The President at the start of his second year in the Oval Office heads a Republican Party that controls all three branches of the federal government, including majorities in both houses of Congress. How can it be, then, that he was unable to prevent a shutdown of the whole machinery, especially when he prides himself in being a master deal-maker?
That is the embarrassing reality facing Donald Trump today, and one that millions of American voters are likely to be pondering next November as they go to the polls in states and congressional districts across the land.
Trump’s first year in office revealed him to be seriously uninformed, ill prepared and unskilled in the arts of politics, especially in the essential talent and temperament for compromise required to govern successfully at all levels of public life, from City Hall and the State House to the White House.
Unlike the challenges of the world of finance from whence he came, where money can overcome many if not most contrary arguments, Trump’s first year in the presidency saw him standing naked and bereft of many other tangible assets of political survival, including deep knowledge, openness to others’ views and wisdom, and above all a compassionate heart.
Many political leaders, of course, have managed to succeed or at least muddle through without most of these qualities. But at the level of the presidency, few have achieved an excellence rewarded in the nation’s history books and true rather than trumped-up public admiration.
Those who have done so have managed to accomplish their political objectives by using the tools and strengths of the executive branch in cooperative and harmonious labors with the legislative and judicial wings that together can achieve desirable self-governance for the benefit of most, if seldom for all.
In Trump’s first year, however, the three branches too often have been in conflict with one or both of the others, as the president’s autocratic and authoritarian concepts and personal ways drive him along a path of my way or the highway, assuring repeated clashes, regardless of party allegiance or affinity.
On one occasion or another, Trump has clashed with legislators of both parties on Capitol Hill over immigration reform, health care, tax reform and foreign policy. He has bucked the judiciary at local, state and federal levels that have declined to rubber-stamp his initiatives to stymy free speech and bar certain religious practitioners from entry. He even openly has taken on officials in his own administrative departments and agencies on various policies.
In other words, in one way or another, Donald Trump has been at war with many of his supposed partners in running the federal establishment. In a continuing exercise of weeding out the wheat from the chaff, in a determined effort to get all on his team, and many others, to play according to the playbook written by himself and a few sycophants.
Not surprisingly, many heads have rolled in full view of a fascinated, shocked or appalled audience of some of the most avid TV news junkies in our history. The most afflicted of them all, the president himself, orchestrates the whole astonishing show from the Oval Office or his bedroom at all hours.
A host of instant new White House celebrities from Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon to Sean Spicer and Michael Kelly have tumbled from favor before our very eyes as our emperor without clothes cuts a wide swath through what used to be a fairly stable cast of characters helping fairly stable presidents of both parties conduct America’s business with decorum and professionalism.
Sadly, much more of the same seems to be the fate for the nation’s voters and other transfixed and incredulous viewers around world in the next year. All of us are left wondering how long our bizarre political soap opera will go on, before much-missed normalcy in our politics somehow manages to return.
Editor’s note: Jules Witcover’s latest book is “The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power,” published by Smithsonian Books. You can respond to this column at firstname.lastname@example.org.