Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Donald Trump and the stress testing of the American system of government 15

Posted in social networking and business by Timothy Platt on April 17, 2017

This is my 20th 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 15th 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 88 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 said at the end of Part 19 that I would focus upon three topics in continuation of this series:

• Donald Trump’s public support base and how a still emerging Trump presidency is impacting upon that, and
• The prospect of Donald Trump facing his first real crisis as president, where essentially every modern US president has faced at least one of these disruptive events.
• And I also raised the prospects again, of my sharing my thoughts as to how a Trump presidency might be brought to a greater level of stable effectiveness, if in fact that could be done at all.

My plan for this installment is to at the very least begin to lay a more complete foundation for that line of discussion.

I begin all of this here by addressing the first of the above bullet pointed issues, and by updating a news story that I first touched upon in this series in its Part 18: the loss of stature and of power in the Trump administration and in his inner circle that Steve Bannon has recently come to publically face.

Bannon brought himself into direct conflict with Donald Trump’s son in law and senior advisor, Jared Kushner, and at a time when Trump has been placing more and more responsibilities on Kushner’s shoulders as a sign of how he has come to trust and rely upon him. And to drive home Bannon’s message of disagreement and even contempt of Kushner, and of all that he stands for, he has also actively spoken out against and challenged Kushner’s circle of supporters and allies in the Trump camp too.

Bannon has in effect demanded that Trump take sides, and with the president either choosing to support him and the alt-right that he claims to represent as the once leading voice of Breitbart News, or with the president supporting and siding with the at least once officially Trump-despised “moderates” who he campaigned against, and Kushner. Bannon in effect called Kushner and his ilk, betrayers of Trump’s base and of his populist vision and agenda.

Bannon insisted that president Trump take sides and he did, and against Bannon and in favor of the husband of his daughter Ivanka who has always stood by him and supported him: Jared Kushner.

I speculated in Part 18 that Bannon might be facing some time in the wilderness after this misstep, but added that I thought that he would likely survive in holding onto a position in the Trump administration. And I suggested that Bannon would most likely be able to regain at least a measure of trust and position there again and certainly if he were to behave more circumspectly for at least a while. But I may have underestimated his ego and overestimated his judgment there. And I probably underestimated Donald Trump’s capacity for vindictiveness against anyone who challenges him too, and his reach in applying that approach to those who would challenge members of his family too. It is still possible that Bannon will spring back and regain a measure of power and authority in Trump’s administration again, but I now doubt that he will ever regain the type of position that he once held in the Trump inner circle, or anything at all like it. And the moderates in the White House and in the presidential staff and inner circle are gaining in influence even as the alt-right leaning, anti-administrative government extremists among them are losing ground. And with that in mind I offer these recent new story links:

Trump Undercuts Bannon, Whose Job May Be in Danger,
Trump Reversals Hint at Wall Street Wing’s Sway in White House and
For Trump, a Steep Learning Curve Leads to Policy Reversals.

The fact that Donald Trump would slight a supporter who took action on his behalf, taking credit for what they did for him is a long-standing part of his standard operating procedure. Trump takes credit for anything that he sees as good and positive and stands aside to assign blame if he sees bad consequences arising and even from his own direct decisions and actions. So the fact that he has been downplaying Bannon’s role in how he now describes and explains his presidential administration and even his political campaign leading up to it, does not necessarily mean he is about to completely abandon Bannon. This is simply a matter of Trump claiming credit for all that has been done in his name that in this case, members of his base might approve of and support him for. But his distancing himself from Bannon when doing this, and I add from Bannon’s supporters in that, is not necessarily a good thing for any of them either.

Donald Trump does not want to and does not like to listen to others. But he does not want to fail either and he does not want to go down in history as one of the weakest, worst presidents in US history either. So on at least some issues he is pivoting – and in precisely the way that a Steve Bannon would find most objectionable. Given that and the way president Trump is adapting to his new circumstances in office, what happens if Bannon is in fact on his way out and if he is going to face essentially the same type of ostracism from president Trump that New Jersey governor Chris Christie faced when he was no longer needed, as discussed in Part 18?

According to Gallup and their ongoing polling of presidential approval ratings, president Trump is currently facing 40% approval ratings as of this writing. And his favorable numbers have been as low, and just recently so, as 35% for that metric.

Overall, US presidents have scored a 53% overall approval rating on average in these polls since Gallup as a company, first began gathering this type of data in 1935 under the leadership of its founder, George Gallup. So president Trump is definitely scoring way below average by presidential standards for public approval. And he even polls as one of the least favorably viewed presidents in the past 80 years, at least. These survey results include findings that cut across as wide a swath of demographic groups as possible in the country as a whole, with the inclusion of particular such groups counted in the overall results, weighted for level of impact according to their proportional numerical representation in the country as a whole.

President Trump still has active supporters in the special case demographics of his base, and in large numbers there, even as his decisions on issues such as healthcare reform (as discussed in Part 19), among other actions attempted have begun to erode that support and certainly along its edges. See, for example:

Focused on Trump’s Successes, Many Supporters Are Unfazed by His Reversals.

But how deep and how firmly held is that positive support and opinion now? And what happens if people like Steve Bannon, smarting and angry from being dropped by a Trump administration and by Donald Trump, returns to Breitbart or to similar alt-right forums to begin attacking him as having betrayed the cause?

It can be argued that many of Trump’s more active and vocal supporters do not in fact connect into online social media channels, and certainly not directly. They gain their news from sources such as televised Fox News and I add from more right wing newspapers. See, for example:

Social Media Is Not Contributing Significantly to Political Polarization, Paper Says.

But these people know and speak with and share ideas with younger and more online connected relatives and others who do follow social media, and even if they themselves never go online. So the above cited news story is probably only partly accurate, and certainly for the range of impact that the alt-right social media channel conversation has; everyone on the more-Trump side of the political spectrum knows of Trump’s Twitter monologs even if they never actually directly read his tweets, and at least most of the alt-right know of that side to the social media conversation too and even if they are not directly reading or contributing to it. And the people who write for and speak for Fox and those newspapers do follow the online social media conversation for this ongoing story. And that influences what they say on air and what they write for publication too, as they seek to keep their audience happy with them and what they offer.

How deep and strong is Trump’s “angry at the status quo” base? How long will that last if members of that base that elected him, really begin to fall away from supporting him because he is ending and trying to end specific programs that they see as good and even necessary for themselves and their families? And at the same time, how long will this support last if a now safely elected president Trump comes to be seen as abandoning his seemingly alt-right principles to accommodate “liberal moderate” goals and their supporters (and even just by maintaining these programs to cite the conundrum that Trump faces here)? I am just speculating in this portion of this narrative, of course. But the way that president Trump is realigning himself with regard to who he favors and listens to, does hold potential for having impact upon his support base, and in ways that he might not be fully considering.

I focused in Part 17 in large part on what key members of the Trump team have done and have sought to do, and I finish this posting with a recent case in point example that has potential for creating as much discord in the Trump base as his healthcare reform debacle: his secretary of education, Betsy DeVos’s decision to scuttle a major reform of the student loan program that was first proposed under the Obama administration. See:

DeVos Halts Obama-Era Plan to Revamp Student Loan Management.

Collectively, the American public is struggling under the combined weight of over 1.3 trillion dollars in student debt due. And the way that the student loan program was set up it is impossible to negotiate better terms of payment or to secure at least partial debt relief from them, as for example is allowed and even encouraged for home loans with their refinance package options. And that has held true even when interest rates have fallen nationally and considerably so, and other types of loans have been routinely refinanced for better terms of payment. And while students still actively in school and full time do not need to pay off on their loans due while still an actively enrolled student, their overall debt and cumulative interest due on them have continued to rise and rise and rise. Students who graduate or who drop out of school and for whatever reason have to start paying and according to the full payment schedule laid out in their loan agreement, and even if they are underemployed and cannot afford that and even if they are unemployed and unable to secure work.

• Americans are being crushed under student debt that many cannot afford to pay off and certainly under the terms that they currently face, and that includes many individuals and families that found themselves voting for Donald Trump in 2016.
• The reforms that DeVos has chosen to abandon would have corrected many of the problems that these people face through their all too often crushing student loan debt, and would have made student loans at least as manageable for them and just as renegotiable in that as home mortgages are now. And as of now, it is essentially completely unclear to the public as to what DeVos would replace this with, and in a manner that is reminiscent of the uncertainties that arose with Trump’s proposals to replace the Affordable Care Act in his healthcare insurance reform plans.
• DeVos might be the one who has chosen to take this step, but it is president Trump who will garner the credit and blame that comes out of it.
• Donald Trump’s public support base is currently facing a combination of Trump administration decisions and actions that might please them in principle, but that all too often are likely to explicitly harm them and personally in detail. It is still debatable as to the overall impact of all of this on his support and particularly from his core believer base – but recent Gallup poll findings do not bode well and for how he is viewed in the country as whole – and even by a seemingly growing percentage of his base as well.

I end this posting and my discussion of this bullet pointed topic by making note of one more detail that might conceivably have potential for bringing up DeVos on impeachment charges, depending on whether and how she has actually unraveled possible conflicts of interest entanglements here. She at least until recently, and quite possibly still is a major shareholder of a business called the Performant Financial Corporation: a major collector of student debt owed. See, for example:

Betsy DeVos Ethics Report Reveals Ties to Student Debt Collection Firm and
Dems Raise Concern About Possible Links Between DeVos and Student Debt Collection Agency.

As secretary of education, DeVos holds review and regulatory authority over this company and similar businesses that offer student loans and that collect on them when they are not being paid off on schedule. If, in fact she is still receiving income in any way from this enterprise, while controlling how they are evaluated and reviewed by the Department of Education, that would create a serious breach of trust and quite probably of federal law as well on her part. The deeper you look into this story and into the issues raised in this posting as a whole, the more cloudy and problematical all of this seems to become.

That brings me to the second and third major to-address topic points that I listed at the top of this posting. I will at least begin discussing them, and certainly Point 2 in my next series installment:

• The prospect of president Trump facing a first for him real crisis in office.

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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