Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Donald Trump and the stress testing of the American system of government 10

Posted in social networking and business by Timothy Platt on March 28, 2017

This is my 15th installment to a now-ongoing 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.) And this is also my 10th installment here since the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States, and with many already deeply concerned as to his competency for holding office – and at just 68 days since his swearing into office, counting January 20, 2016: his inauguration day as his day one as president. Many, in fact have held deep reservations as to Donald Trump’s capabilities from even before he was elected too.

I have been pursuing a wide-ranging goal in the process of assembling this series, starting with its initial Part 1 installment that I first offered as a short essay that I based on a talk that I had just given. My goal in all of this has been to at least briefly map out the political climate that we live in and face in our tumultuous here-and-now, beginning from when the American public first found itself confronting the prospects of the 2016 Republican and Democratic Party nominations races for their selection of presidential candidates.

I focused in Part 1 of this narrative, on the challenges that we face from what has become an essentially complete fracturing of the overall American dialog, where competing voices and forces in differing socioeconomically distinguishable political communities speak past each other rather than together and with each other – at best, at most. And Red State and self-identified conservative and ultra-conservative, and Blue State and self-identified liberal and progressive communities still remain toxically divided and isolated from each other, and even where there are significant potential bridges that could bring them together in addressing commonly faced needs and challenges, of which there are many.

The nominations processes that are carried out in the Republican and Democratic Party camps, and particularly in the Republican side of this great divide, have pushed any and all possible party candidate hopefuls to pander to the most extreme fringes of their registered party members’ ideological extremes, and for a long time now. These exercises in extremism have brought us to a situation where all of the more serious contending candidates in those nominations races, and certainly for the Republicans, compete to see which of them can take the most divisively, dysfunctionally extreme positions in order to satisfy the most extreme fringes of their political parties, and as an essential requirement to even enter the race.

Still focusing here on the Republicans and particularly given Trump’s political alliance with them, we saw this in 2008 and again in 2012 as that political party repeatedly settled upon a nominated presidential candidate who was so toxically damaged by all of the divisive baggage that they carried from their run for the nomination, that they had effectively killed off any chance of their winning election when the entire country would vote – and with Democrats and Independents and Undecideds and more moderate members of all of those groups voting too. Both times, as the post-election smoke cleared, party leaders proclaimed how important it was that they widen the Republican Party base, bringing in minorities and immigrants and women – in fact all of the key demographics that had by and large just voted against them because of the divisive messages that their winning nominees had espoused and for months on end.

Then the 2016 election cycle happened, and with a demagogic Donald Trump plowing his way through the opposition in the nominations race for the Republican Party, and with the most divisively exclusionary platform and campaign that any serious Republican Party candidate for the presidency has ever run. He entered this election cycle and ran for office in it at a time of unrest and anger from the Republican base, and at a time when even xenophobic and discriminatory populism would sound appealing to many of that base, who have found themselves left out and losing from any benefits arising from the change taking place around them.

At least as importantly, Trump entered this general election campaign with the active if entirely illegal support of cyber-attack and election compromising disinformation attacks against the Democratic Party and their presidential candidate, by an actively involved hostile foreign power: Russia and its national security apparatus as led by Vladimir Putin. And while Trump lost the popular vote balloting in 2016 by close to three million votes nationally, he did win the Electoral College vote by capturing large numbers of lower population states that had taken to his populist message. Donald Trump was elected as the 45th president of the United States – and on what can only be considered a platform of divisive chaos. And he has attempted to lead from that platform ever since.

I have been writing about the Trump presidency and about Donald Trump’s chaotic behavior since the election, starting one month after his initial swearing into office (see Part 6.) And since then, I have addressed issues and concerns raised as to Trump’s mental stability and health, and his likely incapacity to actually fulfill his duties of office as president. And I have addressed his increasingly apparent and troubling entanglements with what would charitably still be called at least likely criminal malfeasance – including but not limited to his likely involvement in Russian attacks on our 2016 elections. And I have discussed both the constitutional mechanisms in place for ordered succession of office if a president is found to be incapacitated, or guilty of committing treason, bribery, or high crimes and misdemeanors, to cite the terms of at least temporary removal from office or impeachment as offered in the US Constitution in its 25th Amendment and in its Article 2, Section 4 respectively, where those possibilities are addressed. And I have discussed the sociopolitical climate that this is all playing out in and something of the political dynamics that members of the United States Congress would face if they were to actively address any of these challenges.

I have sought to provide an organizing framework for thinking through and understanding all of this, with the often jolting flood of next and newest news story revelations that seem to be emerging daily as this all unfolds. Taken separately, or even just in semi-organized succession, this flood of disruptively disturbing news has been arriving so quickly that it can be difficult to look past the immediate here-and-now of it all, to see how all of this fits into more understandable, comprehensive patterns. We are all facing too much chaos from that and from the Oval Office already, to need any more of it in how we would come to terms with and understand this progression of events as a whole. So my goal here has been to at least attempt to offer an organizing perspective that would help to position all of this into a larger, historically grounded pattern, and in hope that this might offer value. That is what I have been attempting here in this series.

More specifically, I have discussed all of this in terms of a set of three basic understandings as to the how and why of the chaos that engulfs Donald Trump and seemingly all that he is doing now, and how it has arisen:

• Donald Trump might be mentally ill and in ways and in degrees that would render him incapacitated from effectively carrying out his constitutionally mandated duties of office as a serving president of the United States, or
• He might be so toxically entangled in impeachable offenses as specified in the Constitution as to justify and even demand his removal from office because of that, or
• He is so incompetent and so incapable of in any way growing into the job that he can never effectively function as president and even if he were to be proven mentally healthy per se and even if he were not involved in acts of impeachable malfeasance.
• Or he might be operating under some combination of these three dysfunctional causes.

Most of what I have been offering in this series has been developed and presented in more general terms, and in terms of basic principles and options and how they could or could not be applied in addressing our current challenges. And I ended that progression of postings up to here, with a more detailed discussion of the 25th Amendment and its Section 3 in particular, in Part 14 of this series as a whole. But I stated at the end of Part 14 that I would continue from there, by more fully considering Donald Trump himself and my assessment of his situation, and with consideration of his limitations and his capabilities. And I will at least begin to do so here, building this assessment from the more general framework that I have been developing up to here. And I begin this with the question of his mental health.

I explicitly discussed in Part 9, the issues of mental health diagnosis and the minefield of potential misunderstandings and reasoned disagreement that this can and will bring forth when turned to in any deliberative, decision making process. And I began that with a disclaimer as to how my behavioral science training was in research and not in clinical practice. With that noted, I wrote of how any meaningful diagnostic assessment that would offer value in making any mental health-based succession in office determinations, should be based on assessment of specific behavioral actions taken, and at a highest organizational level on specific behavioral traits that collectively represent them – specific patterns of recurrence of such actions where diagnostic summaries would be considered. I have in fact made note of a progression of more specific problematical actions and incidents that would bring a prudent observer to raise questions of concern of Donald Trump, and from early in this series. My goal here is to offer what I expect to come as no real surprise for its details: a more traits-level assessment that I as a non-clinician would arrive at as I consider trait level patterns of behavioral recurrence. And I offer this as a starting point for further, independent assessment on the part of any interested reader. I do not offer or seek to offer more global diagnostic assessments here, leaving that to the clinician experts.

I begin all of this by noting a basic and undeniable fact that even Trump’s most ardent supporters should find difficult to either overlook or deny: Donald Trump is quite capable of making statements and taking actions without thought or consideration of any long-term consequence and even without consideration of immediate and short term consequence. And once he does make a statement or take a specific action, he is incapable of either backing out of any of that, or of admitting that he might have been in error in any way. He simply keeps saying and doing the same self-damaging things and he keeps making them worse for himself and for his being able to effectively function in office, by repeating and embellishing upon them.

As a case in point example of that, I briefly wrote (in Part 13), of Trump’s allegations that now former president Obama had the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) wiretap his phones during his election campaign, just to see his reported sources in Fox News deny the validity of his claims, and with the FBI, the US Justice Department and other United States federal agencies also repudiating them. So he doubled down on that, to use a gambler’s term for increasing a (here losing) bet, by flatly accusing the British government of having their Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ): their counterpart to the US National Security Agency (NSA), carry out this wiretapping for Obama and his administration – and at a time when Trump has already created a tremendous amount of entirely avoidable strain in relations between the United States and their European allies, the British included. And he has simply continued pursuing that increasingly self-harming attack since then.

Donald Trump is grandiose. He is narcissistic and he actively fears both any challenge to himself and his beliefs and actions, and anyone or anything that he sees as foreign to or different from himself. These observations reflect clearly emerging behavioral trends based upon clearly repeated patterns of behavior on Donald Trump’s part. He surrounds himself with others who will actively help him sustain his self-reflecting personal epistemic bubble: his own personal understanding of the world around him. And he attacks all who might seek to violate the walls of his bubble from the outside, with intrusion from anything that he would not want included within.

Given that, Donald Trump presents himself as being tremendously insecure – else he would be able to withstand the possibility of at least some challenge or disagreement and certainly from authoritative and nonpartisan sources. He displays what many if not most would see as attention deficit disorder and a complete inability to focus and follow through on anything in any systematic way – except perhaps when it comes to his holding and following through on personal grudges. And perhaps most importantly and certainly as a longer-term consideration, Donald Trump actively and repeatedly falls into patterns of action and decision – and in that order, that are intensely self-destructive. This basic behavioral pattern can be seen in his six large scale business failures that led to those ventures going into bankruptcy – even if he did find ways to walk away from them with personal profits, or at least with massive future tax write-offs. And we are now witnessing all of this and more playing out on a national and even globally significant scale as now-president Trump flounders and fails as a president and with all of his energy and attention seemingly focused on precisely the self-delusional and self-damaging actions that have brought his capabilities into question, and for so many – and with his not expending even a fraction of that energy or effort into actually carrying out the more positive campaign promises that he made to his base, that would in principle create the vast number of new jobs and new opportunities that so many voted for him to achieve. His trillion dollar infrastructure rebuilding pledge comes to mind there. And he persists in all of this with an at least seemingly complete lack of self-awareness, abrogating any possibility of any real learning on his part from his experience and regardless of the flood of negative consequences faced.

Does Donald Trump also actively hallucinate? That possibility might be suggested by some of the statements and assertions that he has made, a few of which I have touched upon in this series. Or is president Trump more aware of what is and is not real, but also more cynically self-serving in how he fabricates and spins his own alternative fact-based universe around himself as a tool for serving his own needs? I simply leave these and a great many other increasingly pressing questions as questions for now, focusing in the above paragraphs on specific behaviors and actions that Trump has publically, repeatedly taken: behaviors and actions that would suggest specific individual recurring traits exhibited. Hallucination per se is a mechanism: we can only actually see the consequential actions taken as a result of whatever thought process or perception mechanisms might be involved in him, and I for one cannot see those processes or mechanisms themselves.

But consider the consequences of all of this. And I begin addressing that with two major initiatives that then still candidate Trump ran for office on, as core elements of his platform:

• Massive immigration reform with a building of a wall to separate the United States from Mexico, the banning of all Muslims from entering the United States, or from remaining here as foreign nationals, and more.
• And massive healthcare reform – but with a focus on repealing the Affordable Care Act: Obama-Care, and without being able to and without even attempting to offer an acceptable alternative that would prevent some 24 million Americans from losing their health insurance coverage as a result.

Both of these “goals” are grandiose. Both are ill-conceived unconsidered for their consequences and even for members of Trump’s political base, and both are devoid of content for how they would be put into effect. And both have failed and catastrophically, at least as of this writing. And both were conceived by and have been promoted and advanced by Donald Trump and in ways that can only increase their chances of facing ongoing failure – and in accordance with all of the behavioral level challenges that I have just noted above, as displayed by him and repeatedly.

To add a news story narrative background to those assertions, I offer the following thoughts, starting with Trump’s immigration reform vision and objectives, and two recent in the news, story links:

Campaign Pledges Haunt Trump in Court.
Donald Trump Gambles on Immigration but Sends Conflicting Signals.

President Trump has loudly proclaimed from his early pre-nomination campaigning on that he wants to push through an essentially complete ban on immigration by Muslims into the United States and even just for those seeking a short stay in the country on travel visas and even for those holding permanent residence green cards. Immediately after taking office, he pushed out an executive order that would block anyone arriving from an array of seven primarily Muslim nations from entering the country, and in a way that could only be construed to be an attempt to fulfill that ban on allowing Muslims into the country per se. This first executive order attempt, hastily assembled and submitted without any apparent editing or review and without apparent aid from legal counsel, was quickly blocked by appellate court rulings as violating constitutionally validated law. So Trump had his legal experts redraft this first initiative to try to remove the specific court-perceived defects in it that had blocked it, and that a subsequent judge might rule against too. And he reissued his attempted immigration ban as a new and more limited second attempt executive order, reducing the number of countries blocked from seven to six in its rewrite. But this second attempt failed in the courts too, and both because of the text of the second executive order itself, and because of what Donald Trump was publically saying about immigration and about Muslims. Crucially importantly, two appellate judges separately and independently ruled that Trump’s own words shed a defining light on his intent and in both attempted executive orders.

Then when this second immigration ban initiative was blocked by the courts, Trump ignored what might have been the wiser counsel of trying to argue that he was not trying to discriminate against Muslims, and that he had made sure that his second executive order on immigration addressed any concerns in that direction. Instead, he loudly and very publically proclaimed that this second more limited attempt was just a watered down version of the first and that he should have kept pushing to have that version enacted, overtly discriminatory and garbled language and all – confirming in his own voice, the accusations of his detractors on this.

And I follow that brief narrative, with a corresponding list of in the news links related to his healthcare reform efforts too and with an accompanying commentary note on that as well:

On Health Law, G.O.P. Faces a Formidable Policy Foe: House Republicans.
Lacking the Votes for Passage, House Calls Off Obamacare Repeal Vote. (First attempt to bring this to a vote in the House.)
Trump Warns House Republicans: Repeal Health Law or Lose Your Seats.
Trump Tells G.O.P. It’s Now or Never, Demanding House Vote on Health Bill.
In Major Defeat for Trump, Push to Repeal Health Law Fails. (Second, next day attempt to bring this to a vote in the House.)

I began explicitly addressing the very real challenge that Trump would face from Congressional and other elected members of his own Republican Party as he pursues goals such as his healthcare reform initiative, in Part 11 of this series. And I offered there, a crude breakdown of the American politick on a socioeconomic demographic level – with politicians caught in what I saw as becoming an ideological middle, designated as a separate group in that demographics analysis. The largely swing-state but also increasingly Red (conservative, Republican) State constituencies living in the districts of those elected officials, who vote and keep them in office and who could just as easily vote them out again, voted for Trump because they were convinced to hate Obama-Care and certainly when identified as such. But they have come to find that they need and love key provisions of the Affordable Care Act – which in fact is Obama-Care when it is identified by its more formal name. So they are increasingly coming to fear and even hate Trump’s ill-considered “replacement” alternative to it, hastily drafted and essentially unseen by all and certainly for its details, and particularly when its overall down side for them has been made so apparent.

I have predicted in this series that Trump’s attempt to repeal Obama-Care and without any real alternative to immediately replace it with, would become the breaking point where his seeming Republican Party control of Congress, and certainly as a unified force that might support him, would collapse. That did not require anything like prescience on my part and it looks like that is now happening.

Donald Trump has self-destructive impulses, and of a type that do not bode well for the United States or for the world with him occupying the Oval Office as the president of the United States. And he has self-destructive impulses, and of a type that can only limit and hinder his being able to accomplish anything in office – and with his ongoing flood of chaos only increasing resistance to him and to his presidency. And Donald Trump repeatedly displays proof of the types of behavioral trends that I have just written of above, and on a day to day basis – and particularly when he is most actively involved in attempting to direct change and according to his overall vision and agenda, and with an essentially complete lack of self-awareness, or of an awareness of the consequences shining through in all of this.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment where I will, among other things, look into the changes that Trump has been able to advance, including but not limited to his attempted reversal of decisions to stop the Keystone pipeline from being built, and his effort to repeal net neutrality and online personal information protection and personal privacy regulatory controls, as put in place under president Obama and his administration.

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

A brief addendum note: I wrote this posting on March 25 and then did my final edit and uploaded it to the server on the 26th. And I found myself thinking through this narrative again, and in terms of the flow of ongoing news that has emerged since the collapse of president Trump’s first failed attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, with what I expect will be called his Trump Care proposal, or something similar. Trump did fail to secure the support and votes of the conflicted in Congress, who I have been writing about here as holding decisive swing vote power: members of the House of Representatives in this case who were caught between party loyalty where that would mean following Trump’s lead, and loyalty to their home district constituents (and their own personal interests.) But he also lost the prospect of votes and in significant numbers from the more conservative and alt-right of his Party as represented in the House as well, who decided to join hands with their politically more moderate enemies in the Republican Party on this, and who made it clear they would vote no too. Yes, Trump also lost support from the self-named Liberty Caucus conservatives too. And this leaves him with a Hobson’s choice, but one in which his only real choice might be in being able to decide how he loses, moving forward. If Trump decides to reach out to and please the Liberty Caucus on his next big reform effort: probably tax reform, he will even further erode his support from the more moderate and running scared in the House, who see supporting Trump as overtly harming the people of their districts, and as overtly harming their own chances of reelection too. If on the other hand, he supports those voting and vocal members of the House and of his own party, he will further erode his support from those who hew to a more ultra-conservative Liberty Caucus vision. Or he can simply let Trump be Trump and lose on both fronts again. Hobson only had two meaningless and here losing choices; Donald Trump has at least three.

Having noted this, I turn to the thought that more pressingly prompted me to add in this addendum note in the first place. Trump’s loss over healthcare, in his first real fight in the legislative arena was more than just a loss on one issue. And it did more than just set him up for facing increased resistance on his next legislative foray too, and the next after that and from both his Democratic Party rivals and from within his own Republican Party as well. This loss and how it arose probably changed the dynamics of any attempt to remove him from office as well, and through either a 25th Amendment, incapacitation argument or through an Article 2, Section 4 malfeasance and impeachment one. This event and how it came about showed how weak Trump actually is, and even with his roaring home town crowds of supporters, so carefully filtered and selected to remove any possible voices of doubt. Everyone in the House: everyone in a position to vote there and on anything, must be running the numbers in their heads right now as they calculate where they should take a stand moving forward. And the same goes for members of the US Senate too. So the failure of Trump’s attempted healthcare repeal and replace might turn out to have been a watershed moment for him and his administration as a whole. (This addendum note added March 27, 2017.)

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