Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Donald Trump and the stress testing of the American system of government 18

Posted in social networking and business by Timothy Platt on May 21, 2017

This is my 23rd 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 18th installment here since the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States.

I have been charting the chaotic course of a Trump presidency in this series since one month after his taking the oath of office. And for much of that time, I have posted a new series installment every four days (see Parts 6-22 of this series.) And in the course of developing that progression of postings, I have at least attempted to offer both a current events-oriented narrative of the first 100 days of a Trump presidency, and an organized discussion of relevant constitutional law, historical precedent and related information that would put a Trump presidency into a more meaningful perspective. The choices that we face in understanding Donald Trump there, are both increasingly clear and increasingly grim for what they portend:

• That he may be so mentally incapacitated so as to be unable to fulfill his constitutionally mandated duties of office without causing chaos and endangering the country (as would be determined in accordance with the 25th Amendment to the US Constitution),
• That he might be so entangled in illegalities of a type and nature that would justify impeachment and removal from office under terms of the Constitution’s Article 2, Section 4,
• That he might be so incompetent as a manager and leader so as to be unable to effectively serve as president and even if he were deemed to be sane, technically, and even if he is not entangled in “treason, bribery, or high crimes and misdemeanors” as cited in the Constitution’s impeachment clause,
• Or some combination of mental incapacitation, criminal involvement and incompetence in office.

I ended Part 22 of that progression of postings by noting that I was planning on adding more updates to this series but on a less regular basis. And I had at least tentatively selected a topic for a next such installment, for after Congress had acted, or explicitly decided not to act on a few more of president Trump’s major agenda fulfilling legislative proposals, with healthcare reform and tax reform listed as high on his list that he is actually pursuing in office. And my topic for this posting as so anticipated can be easily summarized as to its basic orientation in a simple tagline:

• … promises made and kept or at least remembered and pursued, and promises made just to be discarded and forgotten.

One of the biggest and most far-reaching campaign promises that a then still candidate Trump made to the American people was that he would actively push for a one trillion dollar infrastructure rebuilding and improvement program. That promise has for all intent and purpose, entirely evaporated since he became elected. And the irony of that, is that a comprehensive infrastructure redevelopment program that was offered as a non-partisan initiative, is the one and only proposal, conjecture or fleeting throw-away line comment of any sort in Trump’s entire campaign for office that held any real chance of gaining broad based support and from across the political spectrum. This is the one and only promise of any sort that candidate Trump made, that might have brought the country together in support of what he was doing and seeking to do.

Let’s consider the might have been of this. If Trump had stated in his inaugural address that partisanship and political campaigning where now over and that he had just taken the oath of office as the president of the entire United States and not just for those who agreed with his political views, and if he had used that point of reassurance to launch into a brief but focused presentation on how he wanted to work with all Americans in rebuilding our national infrastructure, and in putting more people to work, and full time and in real careers that they can advance in, that would have silenced a great deal of criticism that he was facing and that has only grown in his actual presidency.

Millions of people in this country are in fact either unemployed or under-employed, or employed in dead-end jobs. And that holds true even as the official unemployment rates remain low. President Trump could have reached across the political divide to address the needs of these people, and of all Americans and regardless of their demographics: their political affiliations and beliefs included. And our rail and roads and bridges and our electrical power grid and so much more do need correction and repair and improvement. How many dams are there in the United States that span and regulate the water flow of how many rivers? How many of them need inspection and remediative repair work? A lot of them, and they and other critical needs infrastructure challenges can be found in essentially every state in the nation. The infrastructure problems and challenges that I so briefly make note of here can be found all over the country.

Some of these challenges would be relatively easy to gain both local and state, and I add national support for resolving. Some of them, on the other hand would be contentious and very difficult to actually resolve. And as an example drawn from that category of problems faced, I cite actually selecting and finalizing a solution – and picking a location for very long-term capable, permanent storage and sequestration of high level nuclear waste from nuclear power plants and other sources.

To pick up on that troublesome challenge, the US government is still trying to find a way and a place for permanently storing the radioactive waste generated from the World War II era Manhattan Project and that was concluded in 1945, over seventy years ago. This is an infrastructure problem that is vitally important to address and resolve and it has proven at least as difficult to address as healthcare reform, tax law reform or any other issue that we face. It might in fact be the single most difficult challenge of all that we face, at least politically. But we do need to address it and soon.

While I am at it, and to really drive home what a more thoughtful president Trump might have done and from his day one in office, he could have chosen to focus on education too, and not by bringing in a Betsy DeVos who has only wanted to dismantle the Department of Education. He could have affirmed support for strengthening the American school system as a whole, and with a new focus on expanding adult education opportunities and particularly educational programs and resources for learning new skills needed for new and emerging jobs. I think of coal miners as I write this, who then-candidate Trump made his many florid promises to: of restoring their jobs and their careers and their dignity and their entire communities, by turning back the clock – while closing off the already less than adequate educational options and resources that they did have, when they need retraining if they are to ever have a chance of moving on to new jobs and new careers. Automation has already made their pasts that Trump has promised to restore, their distant pasts, never to return. He could have offered them work opportunities in his vast new infrastructure redevelopment initiative and right in their home states, and training opportunities that would have made their participation in this both possible and realistic.

An alternative reality Donald Trump, if you were, could have actively set out to make this vision our reality, starting a process of redevelopment and renewal and of increased work and career opportunity and for many, that other subsequent presidential administrations would have had to continue. But the real Donald Trump is unable to see or appreciate the possibilities in this or anything like it that would call for long-term and even difficult effort, and long term focus and commitment, and to the welfare or others.

I am writing here of an alternative fact-based, alternative reality and one that the real world Donald Trump has never had the vision or knowledge or will to even begin to make real fact or actual reality. More is the pity for that, as he has focused all of his real world energies in promoting legislation that would only benefit the very wealthiest in the country – and at the direct expense of harming the very people who voted for him. And his trillion dollar infrastructure promise has become as fact-based and real as his promises of shared wealth in his many failed business ventures.

Let’s consider the specifics there, with a very real-world example from Donald Trump’s own past. And his promises going into his disastrous Atlantic City casino venture come to mind as a perfect example to cite here. Trump promised wealth for all who bought into this venture and to all who invested in it in any way. Then everyone else who bought into his promises there, lost their shirts out of that fiasco, but not The Donald. Everyone else lost out and lost big: lost tremendously to use one of Trump’s favorite words – except of course Trump himself. He walked away from this bankruptcy with a combination of genuine losses and paper-only financial losses that totaled close to a billion dollars for tax write-off purposes. And he has been able to use this largely paper-loss to offset his year-to-year reported income for years, when filing his income tax forms, turning this “loss” for him into hundreds of millions of dollars in actual (if year-to-year deferred) profits.

And his once grandly promised infrastructure initiative has disappeared as Trump tweets about how big his inauguration crowd actually was, and about how everyone actually loves and admires him and as he pushes for deregulation of all sorts and for windfall benefits for the wealthiest people in the country and without regard for the impact that his proposals would have on the vast majority of Americans – and on his own supporters and political base in particular.

I was going to focus on this set of issues in this 23rd series installment, and probably in a few weeks when we have had a chance to see how the US Senate takes up and votes on the latest version of the Trump healthcare plan: the American Health Care Act as finally, narrowly passed in the House. And I was also planning on waiting to see how his actual tax reform bill is drafted, and how Congress would respond to that. But recent events and developments coming out of the White House and directly from president Trump himself, have caused me to rethink and reconsider what I would address here. So I start this posting by noting what I would have focused upon, and entirely in this series installment. But I end it by turning to consider the wave of crises that Trump has created for himself, and certainly since his firing of the director of the FBI, James Comey.

Donald Trump’s campaign for the presidency was reckless and chaotic and deeply divisive. And that did not change when he was elected, or when he was actually sworn into office as president and began to serve in that capacity. But it might be argued that the pace and tenor of his chaos has changed and fundamentally so and in very troubling ways. Has he reached a tipping point in his presidency from all of this, where a sufficient number of Republicans in Congress would now consider speaking out and even taking action against their own Republican Party-affiliated president? If president Trump has not pushed matters far enough for that yet, what is he going to do next, and when and how will that be viewed, and both by the American public as a still bitterly divided whole and by elected members of the House and Senate?

As a reality check on my own views and assumptions here, I spoke earlier today with the mayor of a large American city who I happen to know, asking him very specifically if he thinks that Trump has in fact pushed matters to that tipping point yet. The mayor I spoke with is a life-long Democrat and serves in a city that tends to vote for Democratic Party candidates. But he has to work with strongly partisan Republicans too, and there are areas of his state and even significant ones that are Republican bastions too. And he is a realist – not prone to wistful thinking or presuming. I asked him if a point has been reached where even Republican members of Congress might be at least contemplating pursuing 25th Amendment, or Article 2, Section 4 US Constitutional proceedings against president Trump, and if not because of outrage and concern as to what he is doing to the country, then because of what he is most probably doing to them and their party going into the 2018 elections. He said no; as much as he would like to think that enough Republicans in Congress might be ready to take a stand in opposition to president Trump now, he does not think that we are there … yet.

I tend to agree, but add that if president Trump stays his current course, he will push matters to a point where something has to break – and in the Republican Party ranks in Congress as much as in the country as a whole. Then, and with 20/20 hindsight, pundits will look back to the recent events that have prompted me to write this particular posting, as the turning point when momentum began to shift away from supporting Trump and towards removing him from office and even by his fellow Republicans. And as an ultimate repudiation, they will compete for how fully and loudly they can proclaim that they have never actually supported Donald Trump and that he has never actually been a real Republican – a real believer of anything that their Party stands for. Republicans will talk publically of how Trump hijacked the Republican Party and the election. And they will do all of this as part of an attempt to salvage as much as they can of the Republican Party as they have tried to make it, as well as their own careers. I find myself thinking back to an earlier posting to this series as I write this paragraph: Donald Trump, the Republican Party, and Lessons from the Whig Party. As I have already noted, the Republican Party that they would seek to somehow restore as a re-set to a pre-Trump version of “their Party,” is dead and gone. And their hopes of undoing Trump’s impact are as unrealistic as any hopes held by any West Virginia coal miners that Trump will somehow restart and restore their old way of life and their old jobs and communities again.

I am going to conclude this posting with some recent news story links, relevant to recent turning point events in the Trump presidency, simply noting that much more is likely to come out in the coming days and weeks that will add to this narrative. Even just the headline titles of these news pieces outline a significant and compelling story, though I offer links to the full news stories themselves for their details:

1. F.B.I. Director James Comey Is Fired by Trump.
2. Sense of Crisis Deepens as Trump Defends F.B.I. Firing.
3. Trump Shifts Rationale for Firing Comey, Calling Him a ‘Showboat’.
4. Inside the F.B.I., Stunned Agents Wonder About Future of Russia Inquiry.
5. Sally Yates Tells Senators She Warned Trump About Michael Flynn.
6. Updates and Reactions to F.B.I. Director Comey’s Firing.
7. Trump Lawyers Say He Had No Russian Income or Debt, With Some Exceptions.
8. Trump’s Troubles Go Way Beyond Russia.
9. Critics Say Trump Broke the Law in Firing Comey. Proving It Isn’t So Easy.
10. In Trump’s White House Press Briefings, No Degree of Accuracy Required.
11. Latest Developments on Comey: Acting F.B.I. Chief Contradicts White House.
12. In Trump’s Firing of James Comey, Echoes of Watergate.
13. Intelligence Officials Warn of Continued Russia Cyberthreats.
14. Firing Fuels Calls for Independent Investigator, Even From Republicans.
15. Sense of Crisis Deepens as Trump Defends F.B.I. Firing.
16. Days Before Firing, Comey Asked for More Resources for Russia Inquiry.
17. With Awkward Timing, Trump Meets Top Russian Officials.
18. In Firing Comey, Did Trump Unleash the Next Deep Throat?
19. Trump Revealed Highly Classified Information to Russian Foreign Minister and Ambassador.
20. Trump Defends Sharing Information on ISIS Threat With Russia.
21. Comey Memo Says Trump Asked Him to End Flynn Investigation.
22. Senate Panel Asks Comey to Testify on Flynn and Trump.
23. Trump Team Knew Flynn Was Under Investigation Before He Came to White House.
24. Trump Revealed Highly Classified Intelligence to Russia, in Break With Ally, Officials Say.
25. Trump Denies Any Collusion Between His Campaign and Russia.
26. Republicans Pivot and Make Comey the Capitol’s Most-Wanted Man.
27. Robert Mueller, Former F.B.I. Director, Is Named Special Counsel for Russia Investigation.

I find myself thinking back over the last hundred days plus, since Trump was sworn into office as the 45th president of the United States, and back to his campaign for office as I review this relatively extensive, but still lean list of new story references. And one set of details that comes compellingly to mind for me out of all of this, is Donald Trump’s narcissism and his complete and utter lack of self-awareness, or of awareness of the needs or rights of others. At least as troubling are his grandiosity and his very real self-destructive tendencies, as his lack of awareness and his grandiosity bring him to make decisions and take actions that can only lead to disaster and for himself and for those around him. And all of this plays out in the progression of news stories that I share links to here, and in the larger story that they all fit into.

Donald Trump: businessman, has driven six businesses into bankruptcy, and now Donald Trump: politician and elected president is on the verge of what is most likely his seventh bankruptcy of sorts. By now you would think that he has been down that path enough times to be able to see and understand the warning signs, but that is clearly not happening. And I end this posting where I began, with the failed, throwaway-line promise of that trillion dollar infrastructure redevelopment initiative – that would have taken real thought and real, sustained effort and commitment on his part and even the spending of political capital in the service of others and not just himself and his own personal interests.

And I end this posting by returning at least briefly to that conversation that I had and that I made note of here, with an elected politician who actually does think and plan before acting, and who actively seeks to build wide-ranging support and buy-in where possible. Has Donald Trump reached a tipping point where he is likely to be impeached and removed from office for what he has done and allowed done? Probably not … at least yet. But the events that I briefly outline in the above links and their news stories do represent what in retrospect will likely be seen as a turning point and both for the Trump presidency and for the Republican Party, and I add for the United States as a whole too.

And I end this posting with a perhaps rhetorical question:

• Can Trump legitimately claim that he has dropped more wide-ranging, non-partisan initiatives such as infrastructure rebuilding from his agenda, only because his hands have been tied by the controversies that his administration is entangled in?

I think that it is essentially certain that he will claim this, just as he will continue to claim that he is victim of a witch hunt in all of this. But his declarations of victimization ring hollow and so will any claims that his self-created controversies have prevented his tackling important issues.

I am going to return to this still rapidly unfolding news story in further installments to this series, as events develop. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at Social Networking and Business 2, and also see that directory’s Page 1.

Addendum: I wrote this posting over the course of several days and then decided the day before it was set to go live, to add an additional note. The Democratic Party came out with a set of numbers that it has been using as it begins to prepare for the 2018, off-year national congressional elections. And I decided to share them here, to put president Trump’s administration and its impact on the Republican Party, in fuller perspective. Before Comey was fired as Director of the FBI, and before any of the chaos that has followed that had taken place, the DCCC: the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee began campaigning for public support by noting that:

• 23 is the number of House seats that Republican representatives currently hold, for districts that Hillary Clinton won by popular vote in the 2016 presidential elections.
• 24 is the number of House seats that the Democratic Party will have to capture from current Republican office holders in order to capture control of the House as a whole.
• 28 is the average number of seats that a majority party loses in its first off-year election.
• And 59 is the number of House districts currently controlled by the Republican Party that the DCCC and its political analysts have determined to be in play because of the Republican Party’s disarray and because of the unpopularity of their support for Trump agenda initiatives.

This last number is important here; the others are set and indisputable, unless that is you subscribe to Trump administration “alternative facts.” The last of these four is the one that is not at all set or established and that is subject to both disagreement and change. But this number was arrived at before the scandals and challenges of the last two weeks – and if anything, these events have given strength to the Democratic Party as it seeks to regain control of Congress.

Received wisdom up to two weeks ago, held that the Democrats were in a stronger position to retake control of the Senate than the House, but recent events have probably changed the dynamics of this, and in ways that make both the Senate and the House up for grabs. And the prospect of losing one and even both houses of Congress has to be weighing heavily in the thoughts and the political calculations of both Democrats and Republicans in Congress, as well as possible candidates for office who are looking to 2018 and its elections. This year’s 2017 special elections to fill congressional vacancies left by Trump appointments bear watching as indicators of possible change to come, though even a Republican sweep of these races should not erase their concerns as president Trump is still in office and still quite capable of stirring up new controversies, and challenges for his own political party. I expect to address the fluidity and uncertainty that Trump has created in this and in other upcoming elections in future installments to this series. And meanwhile, the Trump administration continues its freefall. And I add two more breaking news story links to this posting with that in mind:

Trump Told Russians That Firing ‘Nut Job’ Comey Eased Pressure From Investigation, and
Russia Probe Reaches Current White House Official, People Familiar with the Case Say.

Trump has now stated and in front of foreign dignitaries that he fired FBI director Comey in an attempt to close down investigation into possible collusion between Russian government agencies and people close to him, and within his campaign for the presidency, and within his administration. And the current White House official who is now under direct investigation is his son in law, Jared Kushner. I conclude this addendum by noting that Kushner has in fact been one of the principle stabilizing voices in Trump’s inner circle, arguing for more reasoned behavior on his part. If he has to leave the White House, the chaos is only going to continue to expand.

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