Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Donald Trump and the stress testing of the American system of government 5

Posted in social networking and business by Timothy Platt on March 8, 2017

This is my 10th installment to a now-ongoing if still occasional series of postings in which I seek to address politics in the United States as it has become, starting with the nominations process leading up to the 2016 presidential elections (see Social Networking and Business 2, posting 244 and loosely following.)

I began developing this section of this series, addressing the Trump presidency itself, in Part 6, with a briefly sketched accounting of how his new administration and his presidency itself function, or fail to do so. And I addressed those challenges in light of a growing list of concerns that have arisen and for many people, as to the mental capacity of Trump for serving as president, given the arguably erratic and disjointed manner of his behavior in office. And I also at least touched upon the possibilities of impropriety and even illegality on Donald Trump’s part and of a type and at a level that might justify impeachment and removal from office as a necessary course of action. I specifically examined the 25th Amendment to the United States Constitution for what it has to offer as to possible legal processes there, if a point of decision where made where action would have to be taken against president Trump. And I have at least briefly discussed some of the fundamental issues and challenges that would enter into any determination of possible mental incapacity on his part. I offered that line of discussion, in Part 9, in terms of how an individual would be diagnosed and in terms of what diagnostic standards would be used there. And I have at least briefly touched upon three possible basic responses that might be taken, and particularly by the United States Congress, if and when a point were to be reached where a decision to take action would be deemed necessary on their part:

• With Trump either at-least temporarily relieved of presidential authority due to time-limited incapacitation and even against his will if need be, in accordance with the terms and procedures laid out by the 25th Amendment to the United States Constitution, Section 4,
• With Trump voluntarily stepping aside from actively serving as president, for a period of time in accordance with 25th Amendment, Section 3.
• Or with him more permanently removed from office through a process of impeachment by the US House and trial and conviction by the US Senate.

The first two of these possibilities involve acknowledgment of and response to incapacity on the part of the president to fulfill his constitutionally mandated duties and obligations, and the third addresses situations in which a sitting president is found to have taken actions that might arguably rise to the level of his having committed high crimes and misdemeanors, as specified by the constitution. I have up to here focused on the issues of incapacitation per se, and essentially entirely in mental health terms as that is the arena in which these issues have come to public attention and concern regarding our 45th president. No one is saying he is unable to serve because he is suffering from an at-least temporarily debilitating physical malady or because he will have to undergo surgery where he would be fully anesthetized and unable to serve while under that. And after addressing the question of mental health, and the issues of what would and would not constitute functional threshold crossing impairment in a more individual context (in Part 9), I stated that I would step back from a focused in mental health diagnosis of individuals with all of the consequences that this would create, and certainly where this involves a sitting president, to consider the issues raised from this type of controversy as they are understood in a larger societal perspective. My goal for this posting is to at least lay a foundation for addressing that.

I am going to very specifically address that complex of issues here: how our overall society and its socio-politically distinct communities and demographics view these issues and in the context of this particular case, and what that portends as far as any possibility of action is concerned in resolving matters. What should and can be done to address the disruptive inconsistencies, apparent conflicts of interest, bias and other challenges coming out of the White House now during the era of the Trump administration? And one more organizing point:

• I made note in Part 9 of a significant of challenge that members of the United States Congress, and I add other government leaders will face, and not just if but when they find themselves facing inconsistencies and even direct conflicts in the advice and guidance that mental health professionals would offer in their diagnostic assessments of Donald trump as president – that would in principle help to shape their conclusions and decisions there.
• I will argue a point here that ultimately, it is going to have to be feedback – and politically motivated and driven pressure from the public and from the voting strength of those public demographics and communities that I will write of here, that will ultimately serve as the defining sources of impetus as many make their voting decisions – and either according to a 25th Amendment, Section 4 determination, or in a House impeachment and Senate trial proceeding.

Having offered the conclusion there to that challenge, let’s consider how I arrived at it. And I begin that overall line of discussion and consideration of the issues that arise in it, by posing some specific basic orienting questions:

• How do differing sociopolitical communities in this country conceptually organize and understand what is happening and what should and should not be done, in support of or repudiation of the Trump presidency, given his behavior and actions in office?
• How do they and their members collectively and individually arrive at the world views and understandings that create and sustain their opinions and judgments there?
• What is the predictable consequence of their having reached these conclusions, and particularly as they act upon them in protest and in voicing support and as they seek to influence their elected officials to support their views through their actions: their votes as elected officials and any moves that they would make to block votes in Congress included?

At the end of Part 9, I stated that I would turn here to consider the role of framing as a consensus development and organizing principle as that term is used in the social sciences, in these and related issues. And I begin doing so here by briefly noting something as to what th term framing means, and by offering a set of what should be currently very familiar frames: group accepted norms of understanding and expectation, that have been arrived at through the framing process.

Framing in a social sciences sense is a process in which a shared consensus understanding of reality is arrived at. It is, in this sense a product of information selection and filtering, as to what would be considered important, relevant and true and with explicit exclusion of input information that would violate expected developing understandings. And it is a coordinately carried out process of synthesis in which all accepted data and information that would be included through this filtering is brought into a single overarching understanding: a single shared world view, at least for the area of consideration that a specific frame would be developed around.
• When alternative interpretations or understandings arise in such a system: when the possibility of alternative variations on a single frame arise and either of two versions could be made compatible with the overall consensus understanding in place for the basic structure and content of a frame as a whole, they are called equivalence frames as more overall alternative possibilities, or emphasis frames where they focus in on some specific and perhaps more peripheral points of possible disagreement and only on them – but where once again, consensus can be reached within the already accepted system of beliefs already in place. I raise this distinction here to note that while frames can and generally do hold to relatively set overall patterns of understanding and certainly globally, across their entirety, they can and do also exhibit at least measures of difference and capacity to change among their adherents too – at least within their own basic defining boundaries.

And with those abstractly stated definitional points in place, I take this discussion out of the abstract by listing five specific frames that relate to how members of the overall public view Donald Trump and his presidency, and the reception that Trump and his administration have received and in the news and in the streets, and as coming from members of Congress and other elected officials as they share word of their opinions as to all of this.

Frame 1: Donald Trump is significantly dysfunctionally mentally ill and is unable to fulfill his term of office, and at least for now and for some yet to be determined period of time – that might in fact be open-ended and extend beyond any possible four year term of office.
Frame 2: Donald Trump might in fact becapable of functioning in office at least to the level of his mental health, but he is incompetent to the task of doing so at the level of skills, ability and knowledge held, and from an inability to learn or grow into the job and remediate those limitations. So he might be mentally stable enough but he is still not competent to the tasks and responsibilities that the presidency entails.
Frame 3: Donald Trump might in fact be capable of functioning in office at least to the level of his mental health and he could in principle function effectively in office for the skills, experience and knowledge that he holds and that he can acquire, but he acts as a matter of intent in ways that violate the law in place in the United States; he behaves and would in all likelihood continue to do so along a path that at least should lead to impeachment and removal from office. And if he stays in office, he will continue to commit such arguably impeachable offenses, and through acts of willful intent.
Frame 4: Donald Trump is a maverick who is shaking up the establishment. And while he may be disruptive in a great many ways – and certainly in the eyes of those too settled in how things have always been done in Washington to be able to accept change, he is basically doing and trying to do the right things.
• And Frame 5: Donald Trump is probably best considered an inept and even incompetent president and he is unlikely to ever grow into the job. He is and will go down in history as having been ineffectual in office. But he does not represent anything like an existential threat to the country as a whole or to the Republican Party that he at least nominally leads. The United States survived a Warren Gamaliel Harding and a James Buchanan, Jr. presidency, and it will a Trump presidency too, and even if he finds himself making those less than illustrious predecessors of his in office look good by comparison – to pose this is in perhaps more cynical terms. So the best approach that should be taken is to simply hold on and try to protect the future of “his” political party – and of the nation, much as was done when Nixon was failing in his presidency and when he was forced to resign from office. Better times will come.

I would argue that these five frames: these five politically centered world view scenarios, each represent an understanding of reality that is held by at least one significant demographic in the overall American public, and that each arises through community-shared and aligned processes of framing, as sketched out above. So let’s consider those five in light of this. And I begin doing that by returning in this posting’s discussion, to reconsider a basic set of issues and challenges that I first raised in Part 1 of this series: epistemic bubbles and how we have become divided as a nation into sociopolitical communities that exist inside their own group-wide information and thought echo chambers. In practice, the walls of these bubbles have become essentially entirely impervious and for most who reside in them, with their never hearing or seeing anything of what takes place or exists in any of the competing bubbles around them. Think of these epistemic bubbles as the cradles that the above five frames and others like them develop and live within – with a few notable exceptions as to the details of that as I will explain.

Many who would find Frame 1 as reasonable and valid would also find Frame 3 or even possibly Frame 2 as an at least acceptable approach to understanding Donald Trump and for understanding how the nation should respond to him and his presidency – if they can find comfort in Frame 2 in the prospect of waiting four years to vote him out of office. Here, Frame 2 actually represents more of an emphasis frame in this context, and as I will discuss later, one centered on issues of differences in levels of timeframe resignation than anything else. Frames 1-3 are all variations on what could be considered a larger and more inclusive frame for many.

The shared underlying element running through all three of these understandings: a faster-to-action frame 1 or 3 and a (possibly and even probably) slower-to-action Frame 2, is that Donald trump is incompetent and incapable of effectively or even safely serving in office, and that his decisions and actions, and the processes by which he arrives at them are fundamentally wrong, and even dangerous – and that he should be forced in some way out of office as soon as possible. This does not mean complete agreement by any means between adherents of the three, where for example many people in the United States have very specifically come to see Trump as mentally ill and see that as a crucially defining part of their narrative of understanding of him. But if differing points of emphasis on precise underlying cause of his incapacity can all lead to the same outcome of his in some way being taken out of the Oval Office, that would suffice.

Frame 1 as of this writing, is a trending and increasingly popular frame that is accepted by people who view themselves politically as being more liberal or progressive, or as independents who take a more progressive approach on issues such as immigration, that president Trump has been more overtly divisive over. They see his overall chaos and the decisions and actions that come from it and proclaim he must be mentally ill. Others, and probably in equal numbers focus on his conflict of interest and related issues and on his most likely having committed impeachable offenses. And the second has its adherents too, though probably less so as the country becomes more and more polarized over all of this and as Donald Trump himself continues to raise competency questions about himself, as he seeks approval from his own epistemic bubble-defined base. But these three frames, while separately identifiable in precise detail, can also in many respects all still be viewed as essentially compatible equivalent frames, or at least as reconcilable ones, arising from a same basic world view understanding: a same overarching frame that they are all predicated on: a tacit understanding that Donald Trump cannot safely effectively carry out his duties as president and should not remain in office. They all stem from and are assembled as syntheses from an acceptance and even an active searching for negative observations and findings regarding Donald Trump and his administration and they all tend to actively favor if not always adamantly demand the same ultimate outcome from that. The basic empirical input filtering for these frames, allow for and even actively supports the type of data and preprocessed knowledge and opinion that would support and sustain this shared goals-oriented view and understanding. And they tend to rely on news and information sources such as the New York Times and similar major newspapers, MSNBC, CNN, and similar broadcast channels and other sources that they see as being reality based – and not “alternative fact” based to use a term that came straight from the Trump administration itself.

Frame 4 represents the epistemic bubble of the alt-right and of Donald Trump’s supporters, and it is the essential, official perspective taken by the Trump administration itself. It seeks to deny and delegitimize any and all of what they see as fake news and lies, as is identified as accepted content by those who they see as liberals and progressives – just as they deny the possibility of legitimacy of any other data, photographic included that would contradict their narrative. They seek out confirming and supportive data that they would allow in through their filters, from alt-right news sources (e.g. Breitbart) and from Donald Trump’s own Twitter feed, which he uses to re-post content from sources such as Breitbart and alt-right social media sources.

And this brings me to Frame 5. This has come to seem to be the prevailing frame in place for many Republican members of Congress and I add many other Republican politicians who simply want to survive in office and remain elected and wait Trump out, accommodating and even supporting him as required, but most likely while feeling at least some duress from having to do so – and especially when confronted by angry constituents from their own districts.

My immediate goal here has been to develop a conceptual framework that I can build from, and in both discussing the broad sweep of the two major frame-based political movements: left and right, that have arisen in the United States as Americans as a whole address the Trump challenge, and as members of Congress face the dilemma that I wrote of towards the top of this posting. I am going to more fully discuss the complexities – and the disruptive and potentially disruptive, emphasis frame aspect of the left/progressive side to this national division in my next series installment. I will also break open the here-presented seeming monolith of this posting’s Frame 4 and the alt-right and their supporters and discuss one of its emerging internal areas of difference. In anticipation of that, this will mean looking into how many in that bubble and that overall frame within it have found that they actually like and even need the Affordable Care Act, even as they hate Obama Care – which both are and are not the same thing. Then, as promised in earlier installments, I will address in more detail, the issues of impeachment and the possibility of removal from office by act of Congress too, under United States constitutional law. And I will discuss all of this in terms of historical examples, to keep this overall narrative in historical and real-world focus.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at Social Networking and Business 2, and also see that directory’s Page 1.

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