Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Donald Trump and the stress testing of the American system of government 17

Posted in social networking and business by Timothy Platt on April 29, 2017

This is my 22nd installment to what has become an 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 17th 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 the 100 day mark 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 writing this series, and certainly since its Part 6 installment, with a goal of outlining and analyzing the issues that we face from Trump’s election and from his presidency. And this has meant delving into legal issues and historical parallels and precedents as they would shed light on a US presidency that is more than just shadowed by questions of mental health and incapacitation in that, and by illegalities that might arguably rise to impeachable levels of significance, and by simple incompetence where that might in principle be judged according either of those two approaches if sufficiently extreme. Donald Trump has repeatedly and consistently displayed all of these challenging behaviors and as consistent patterns and traits, and so have many in his inner circle, and in his key Cabinet appointments and in his most senior staff. And he has wrapped all of this in a cloud of obfuscation and opacity, blocking any and all effort at real transparency into the doings of his administration. And he has immersed his administration in a cloud of cronyism and nepotism, and of special favors offered and granted too.

• In the course of writing this series’ discussion, I have also delved into issues of political demographics and the divisions that divide us as a society in the United States.
• And I have at least briefly explored the questions of what, for example a determination of mental health-based incapacitation would even mean, and certainly where a legally binding but politically shaped and driven decision might be reached concerning that set of issues, and with that carried out in accordance with the 25th Amendment to the United States Constitution.
• And I have delved into the issues of what have historically qualified as impeachable offenses, as they would be determined and ruled upon in accordance with the United States Constitution and its Article 2, Section 4.

Any decisions that would have to be made according to these constitutional processes would specifically serve to determine whether a sitting, serving president of the United States, and/or key members of his administration would be allowed to stay in office or whether they would be removed from it. Obviously if impeachable offenses were considered in this, that could mean permanent removal from office. But in the case of mental health incapacitation, even ostensibly temporary removal from office would probably mean permanent too. See Part 12 of this series for background information on Article 2, Section 4 processes and their history in the United States. And see Part 7, Part 8, and Part 9 for a discussion of mental health diagnoses and the challenge that this complex of issues would raise in any 25th Amendment, Section 4 determination of presidential incapacitation.

I turn here to at least briefly explore one more area of consideration in this series, and it is one that many Americans would find distasteful to consider and for a variety of admittedly conflicting reasons. Those who view the Trump presidency with a measure of what can perhaps best be called anger and despair, would object. That is at least in part because I start out this posting by assuming that regardless of justifying evidence, Donald Trump will simply remain in office and continue on there, and even if as a historically tragically flawed president, considering the level and type of responsibility that he carries there. Those who still support Trump and his presidency, and from the alt-right, and from those who he has convinced he supports from among the left-behind in society, would object to this too. And they would do so for the same basic reasons that they would object to essentially everything that I have been offering here in this series. I start out in it acknowledging that the Trump administration and that president Trump himself are burdened with a great many very serious problems and challenges that all ultimately stem from Trump himself, and from his failings and limitations. His true believer followers would consider that starting point as anathema to all that they fervently want to believe in.

• The basic question that I start this posting from is one of what could be done next, to at least somewhat correct or remediate a Trump presidency, assuming at least a full four years and one full term in office of that. How could a Trump presidency be made to work?

One obvious answer to the challenge of president Trump and his administration as it is now, is resistance from the left and from both the Democratic Party and from Independents and from more moderate Republicans as well when they can be convinced to challenge their own political party. And that is shaping up as the steady and consistent response to Donald Trump and to all he seeks to do through Congressional action. Many Republicans, and certainly Republican members of Congress who view themselves as being more conservative have been vehemently objecting to this tactic, proclaiming it to be unconscionable for how Democratic stonewalling is blocking the agenda of an elected president. They, of course forget while doing so, that they themselves wrote the playbook for that approach to political resistance when Barack Obama was president and they sought to block all that he attempted to do, and whenever and wherever possible.

But set that detail aside for now: the Democratic members of Congress have at the very least sought to hinder Trump agenda bills. And they have succeeded, and certainly up to now, for blocking Trump’s vision of healthcare reform: one of his key agenda goals. And they have succeeded there on at least some other legislative measures as well, and certainly when a fight seemed to be worthwhile for them to pursue. But as long as the Republican Party holds control of both the House and the Senate, the most they can do is to protest and to seek to gain at least single issue support from the edges of a Republican majority, as for example for Trump’s first repeal and replace effort for doing away with the Affordable Care Act: Obama Care.

Given this at least current reality, the Democratic Party, has to actively seek to regain at least control of the Senate in the 2018 off-year elections if they are to have any actual voice in federal government decision making and action again. But November, 2018 is a long way off, as of this writing. And the next presidential elections in the United States are even further away and by two more full years. So let’s focus on the here-and-now and on the Trump administration as it might somehow be course-corrected – and as noted above when assuming he simply remains in office.

Do any of the lessons of change management, as that would be pursued in a business context, hold value here for addressing this type of organizational and leadership challenge? Do change management processes or practices that are used as tools for organizational and leadership remediation per se, offer value here too when we confront the de facto ongoing crisis in government that we see coming out of the Trump presidency? I have brought up the possibility that this might reasonably be answered in the affirmative towards the end of each of the last two postings to this series before this one (see Part 20 and Part 21.) And the one real possibility that I could think of for arriving at that affirmative, involves finding ways to implement some of the key change management approaches that can be used when remediating family owned business challenges, and particularly where a strong and dominating family leader is the leader of a family business too, and one who is dogmatically opinionated and always seem to be “leading” from crisis to crisis from that. That description, unfortunately, captures the Trump administration and as an uncomfortably close fit to what we actually see coming out of the White House these days.

How does a business consultant work with a resistant family patriarch, or the occasional family matriarch who rules a family business with an iron hand but also with closed eyes, ears and mind? Simply trying to persuade them directly is not likely to work and particularly when others in that family business and in their family itself have already directly seen most of the specific areas where the enterprise is underperforming, or even failing outright – but without being listened to for that. The real question here is one of identifying who this family leader does actually listen to and on what issues or matters and under what circumstances. Who do they communicate with best, and two-way for that and how and where and when? And how could these sources of possible communication channels and of influence be cultivated and developed in remediating the business involved here too?

That is where I hit a real wall in this discussion. Who does Donald Trump listen to? Who does he surround himself with who would even just in principle be in a position to provide a positive voice of influence for him? As I have outlined and in some detail in this series, both candidate Trump and now president Trump have selected people for their loyalty to him and not for their professional experience or competency, or for their desire to serve the needs of the country or of the American public as a whole. This shows in his Cabinet and senior staff appointments, and it shows in who he has allowed into his inner circle. For a telling news piece on that, see:

Trump Reaches Beyond West Wing for Counsel.

Strategically building relationships that he can personally benefit from has always been one of Trump’s greatest strengths. But in this case and in his current position, his more narrow-vision approach to pursuing relationships can only come back to haunt him and everyone else as well, as he only selects and allows in those who would simply reinforce the ongoing one-sided message of his personal epistemic thought bubble. Who would a good business consultant look to as a source of insight and as a potential ally in positively influencing a family business leader such as a Donald Trump? I look over the lists of potential candidates that Trump allows into his circle and both in his administration and from outside of it, as appear in the news and on lists in news pieces such as the above-cited one. And I do not see all that good a selection to choose from, and particularly given the personal partisan agendas that most all of these people hew to, while striving to stay in Trump’s good graces. And the way that Trump can and does make even the most long-term consequential decisions that he faces, entirely on his own and even contrary to any information or opinion offered to him, and even from his inner circle, does not bode well here either.

When Trump began what seemed to be a shift towards the middle in who he listens to, with a downplaying of Steve Bannon’s position in his administration among others and a seeming turning towards at least apparently more pragmatic business professionals, I at least briefly thought that an effort from, for example leading but still more moderate Republicans to cultivate more moderate members of Trump’s inner circle, might offer hope of possible positive change. Those more moderate Republicans would definitely include members of Congress who are currently caught between being Republicans and having to face and support voting constituents from their own districts who would suffer under Trump’s more alt-right leanings. That is what I was looking at when I first proposed the possibility of there being a way to make even a Trump presidency work more effectively, or at least less chaotically ineffectively – with this type of reality check added into his inner circle conversation.

Then the problem would become one of identifying and cultivating the right Republican, or at least recognized conservative bridges, who could help facilitate meaningful conversations with the right members of Trump’s more immediate team and with a goal of influencing him in a more moderate and less chaotically spontaneous direction.

Now I am not so sure that approach could work, and at the same time I wonder if “more effectively, or at least less chaotically ineffectively” could even begin to be a good thing even if it did. What would a more efficient Trump presidency do and seek to do, and would any of it realistically seek to serve the interests or needs of the country as a whole or the American public as a whole?

So I said that I would write about possible change management approaches that might offer hope for at least somewhat addressing the chaos coming out of the White House under a Trump administration. And I held off on actually writing about this to more fully see what this would mean, and particularly as president Trump has come to see that 100 days in office benchmark approaching, when he would be as likely to flail into action as he would under any circumstances. Now I am no longer hopeful that anything like this could be made to work, or that it would be beneficial even if it could be.

And this brings me back to the three basic challenges that president Trump and his administration face from within and from him in particular:

• The possibility of president Trump being so hampered by mental health challenges as to render him functionally incapacitated and to the extent that he cannot perform his constitutionally mandated duties of office,
• The possibility that he is so entangled in criminality as specified as grounds for impeachment in the Constitution, so as to justify or even demand his removal from office for that,
• The possibility he is simply so incompetent that he cannot fulfill his duties of office,
• Or some combination thereof.

And this brings me directly back to the difficulties that acknowledgement of and action regarding each and every one of these possible challenges to an ongoing Trump presidency faces, and certainly when he himself would be the target of an investigation and of possible action, but even when it is simply a key member of his inner circle team who would be. Michael Flynn and his ouster from the position of being Trump’s first National Security Advisor, showed that it is possible to move a member of Trump’s inner circle and core team out of office. But Trump’s still active supporters and certainly in Congress, would probably be much more reluctant to pursue that type of path against a second senior member of his team, and particularly against a Cabinet officer, and even when a significant number of those officials face conflicts of interest challenges of their own that might be impeachable too. Any attempt to pursue any of these possible avenues of removal from office against president Trump himself would initiate a veritable partisan political World War III.

And this is where things stand as we reach that often cited if artificial test point for a new presidency: the measure of his performance and achievement in his first 100 days in office.

I will simply note here in that context that while Trump ran on a campaign promise of reaching tremendous new heights of performance in his first 100 days in office, far exceeding those of any of his predecessors in office, he now calls this an inconsequential artifact of bad news reporting. And meanwhile, he is rushing to push a new and still fatally flawed healthcare reform package to and through Congress as quickly as possible, and a tax reform measure that by all reports so far looks even worse, and for fiscal conservatives and deficit hawks in his own party as much as for anyone else in Congress. The chaos continues.

I am planning on posting further installments to this series, but on a less regular basis now and primarily as specific events and developments arise that would call for them. 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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