Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Donald Trump and the challenges facing us from the unraveling of an American presidency

Posted in book recommendations, social networking and business by Timothy Platt on September 7, 2018

This is my 34th 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 my first posting to what has become this overall series: Thinking Through the Words We Use in Our Political Monologs , and see my same-named subseries within that: Donald Trump and the Stress Testing of the American System of Government, as can be found at Social Networking and Business 2, posting 244 and loosely following.

I have taken a somewhat lengthy path to reach this point in this name changing series. But I find myself, to a significant degree at least, approaching it as if I were still addressing the issues that I began all of this with, during the Republican Party’s 2016 nominations process that led to Donald Trump serving as their flag bearer and presidential candidate. I find myself thinking back to my first step posting in all of this: my above-cited Political Monologs thought piece.

Donald Trump is either famously or infamously known for having bragged in public that he could shoot and presumably kill someone –anyone and in public on Fifth Avenue in the heart of New York City, and that that would not in any way dent his popularity or his approvals ratings with his faithful. And here we are on September 7, 2018 as I write this, and his approval ratings as assembled and offered on FiveThreeEight.com: the largest and most widely cited nonpartisan political polling site available online, still show him holding onto a seemingly unchangeable and uninfluenceable 40% positive rating and at a time when his own inner circle is beginning to publically question his fitness for office, and at a time when he has done essentially everything that might challenge his ratings except actually shoot someone.

I wrote a short email note on this to a friend the day before yesterday, and begin this update posting by noting a point that I made there. “I approach this from the ironic position of being caught between two competing and strongly, widely held publically received wisdoms:

• That it is inevitable that Trump will put himself in a position where either his own cabinet and vice president, or congress will remove him from office (through taking recourse to the 25th amendment, or by impeachment and conviction respectively) AND
• That it is impossible to actually achieve his removal from office, and by either of those measures, so Trump will just continue to be Trump … and with his hand way too near the nuclear button and with that same hand actively on all of the power levers that a president more conventionally has at their disposal for when they seek to carry out their will.
I, unfortunately, still see real validity in both of those wisdoms so I feel a bit like Schrodinger’s cat in that box, not knowing what will happen next. I am going to write about the mounting evidence in support of removal that president Trump and all of the rest of us face, and I will write about the bind that we are all in now for the impossibilities that we face in actually responding to any of that and in any meaningful, positive way. Whatever happens in the coming months, we are at a watershed moment now and I am planning on writing a bit about it as the wave? begins to crest.”

Let’s start out by considering the wave, such as it is and how it is gaining both visibility and acknowledgement and from a widening range of directions. The most obvious of the new of that, and certainly as of this writing, can be found in a real rarity: an anonymously published Op-Ed piece that apparently came from a senior member of president Trump’s inner circle, in-house administrative team:

I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration.

The New York Times is carefully protecting the identity of this whistleblower but they claim to have carefully verified the legitimacy of this source. And according to this news piece – and it is one, the writer of this missive is only one of a group of similarly minded and similarly acting members of the Trump team who have reached a conclusion that he is unfit for office and a danger to the republic.

Trump has lashed out calling the author of this piece a traitor, and by branding anyone who would act as they claim to in intentionally thwarting him, to be traitors too.

This is simply a new voice sharing what has already become an at least somewhat familiar message, and I cite a recent book by another insider to confirm that:

Manigault, O. (2018) Unhinged. The Gallery Publishing Group.

Omarosa Manigault Newman: a member of the Trump inner circle who served as his Director of Communications for the Office of Public Liaison in his presidential administration, expressed similar concerns as to Donald Trump’s intellect, mental stability and incapacity to in any way learn from anything, ever. And in the course of her longer narrative, she wrote of how actions that he orders that do not make sense, are ‘slow walked” into oblivion – or the papers related to them are simply taken from his desk so he can more easily just forget about them.

Donald Trump’s loyal core constituency: his 40% would and in fact do approve of anything he says, anything he does, and anything that he simply claims to have done, believing that if he says it, it must be true. It must be truer than true. And if that sounds like hyperbolic Orwellian doublespeak, remember that Trump’s own (current as of this writing) leading legal council: former leading prosecuting attorney and mayor of the City of New York, Rudy Giuliani publically proclaimed in his boss’ defense that “truth is relative” and “truth isn’t truth.” See:

‘Truth isn’t Truth’: Giuliani weighs risks of possible Trump interview in Russia probe.

And that 40% of the American public still follows him as his very own congregation of true believers. I initially inserted the words “cult-like” in that sentence, but why bother? His true believers still believe and no matter what. And when they lack anything like third party verifiable evidence they always have faith to guide them – faith and trust in their own bubble chamber-echoed words.

Setting aside any arguably hostile sources of newspaper and magazine articles, televised and online commentary and books that have come out recently, that fit the pattern laid out by the above-cited Op-Ed piece and Omarosa Manigault Newman’s new book, we still find ourselves confronted by a veritable deluge of new and frequently scathing allegations. I add a few more such references to this posting simply to highlight how even Republican and conservative-leaning thought leaders in what should be Trump’s own party, have also come to question.

I would begin documenting that by citing a much lesser known work than the above-noted Op-Ed piece, that was written by a Republican strategist who has had national impact in conservative circles, and in shaping their agendas and approaches:

Wilson, R. (2018) Everything Trump Touches Dies: a Republican strategist gets real about the worst president ever. Free Press – a Simon and Schuster, Inc. imprint.

And I match that by citing a new book that is on the cusp of being released to the general public that the entire world seems to be waiting to read:

Woodword, B. (2018) Fear: Trump in the White House. Simon & Schuster.

I have not been offered an advance copy of this book, so I can only go by the news and comments offered from those who have read it, and from the pre-release excerpts and details that they have shared from it. It is already clear that president Trump and his administration have already come to see this new book as representing an entirely new level of threat to their staying in office and staying in power. As such, I find myself recommending this book strictly on the basis of third party commentary and from my knowledge of the author’s prior work and both as a reporter and as a book author.

And for a CNN piece on the reaction that this new book has already engendered within the Trump administration, see Woodward Book Prompts West Wing Witch Hunt, Sources Say.

And president Trump’s supporters still think that he can walk on water and solve all problems and that he is the only one who can.

I have accumulated a lot of links in recent months, since last writing to this series: links to verified news stories and thoughtful news analysis pieces, that would normally be considered to be game changing for the level of damage that their revelations would bring to any presidency caught up in them. The fundamental problem that I face here with that, is corruption and venality overload. I mean by that, the simple fact that I have been adding news and analysis links to this series of that sort, coming from Trump election campaign and then from the Trump presidency, since before he was elected. And I have only skimmed the surface of the flood of that material that has been coming out and going public through all of those months. And by now this accumulation of what should be the damning has all come to blur together for most all of us into a single vast amorphous sense of wrong – except of course for Donald Trump’s favored and favoring 40%.

I effectively began this posting by making note of two visions of where we are and of where we are going, and as a society and nation and globally. It is crucially important to remember here that in spite of the US based pundits and their priorities, and certainly as they are being expressed leading up to the mid-term primaries in the United States, this is not about Republicans and Democrats. It is about democracy as a possibility worth striving towards, and it is about what we have gained, and what we stand to lose of what we have already achieved in that.

I began this note by writing of a wave that appears to be starting to crest, appending a question mark and the uncertainties that that punctuation mark implies to the possibility and nature of “wave” here at all. The Trump presidency has moved into realms of incompetence, venality and corruption that have no precedent, at least in United States history. We are navigating uncharted waters. And a majority of the Republican leadership in congress, and in the state houses, and yes in the Trump administration too, still support him and for reasons of their own self-interest if nothing else. The why of that does not matter there; it is only important that they do. And that magical 40% and its undying loyalty serves as a very effective cover for any and all governmentally placed support that Donald Trump receives.

Both the pro and con sides to Trump’s self-inflicted predicament as offered at the top of this piece look to offer predictive value even as they flatly contradict each other. On the one hand, the one expectation that we can reliably trust Donald Trump to come through on is that he will continue to ratchet up the crazy and the vile to new levels, and on what is essentially an ongoing daily basis. He does not take days off. But we have to assume that there is nothing that Trump could do that would dissuade his 40%, or at least a very, very close approximation of that number from continuing to follow him and as if he were their messiah. And we all have to expect his Republican Party backers, and certainly his more powerfully placed party backers to continue to do so. Any of them capable of the self-reflection and any capable of self-judgment over the consequences of their decisions and actions taken, who might be able to reconsider their support of Trump through all of this, would have already done so and left.

I hold out hope for an eventual end to this long national nightmare. And until Trump I never, ever expected to find myself facing that as a defining hope and certainly not in American politics or the American system of democratically framed governance. This is not and has never been a perfect country and by any measure. But the growing challenge to all that we have reached for and for all that we have achieved, shows its value and even for all of its flaws and gaps and for all of its room to grow and improve that we have always faced.

If, as I expect, the Democratic Party takes control of at least one of the House or Senate in the upcoming November 2018 elections, that might lead to congressional action. But I stress the word “might” there and even if the Republican Party were to lose control of both houses and by significant numbers. And if, as intimated by the anonymous Op-Ed piece that I offered a link to above, there is wider resistance to the Trump administration and from within … and if that coalesces into a 25th Amendment challenge to his remaining in office under its Section 4 provisions, that would still just create a “might”, a maybe.

Impeachment and conviction in accordance with the US Constitution’s Article I, Section 2, Clause 5 would call for a simple majority in the House to pass a bill of actionable charges: charges that would show sufficient grounds for trying the president for having committed some combination of high crimes and misdemeanors, or treason so as to call for further action. Such a bill of impeachment, if passed by the House, would serve a role similar to a grand jury indictment of charges in a court of law setting. That document would formally state that there is legitimate cause for a trial and the Senate would then have to agree with its findings and pass it by at least a two thirds vote of all sitting senators for it to succeed and for the president to be removed from office by this mechanism. The 25th amendment, Section 4 calls for what is understood to be a clear cut two thirds or higher vote to proceed from both House and Senate. So numerically, that is the more difficult of the two as a possible course of action here. It would only take a simple majority yes vote to pass a bill of impeachment in the House.

So I keep going back to the two alternatives that I began this with and that 40%. And I keep going back in my thoughts to how Donald Trump keeps spiraling further and further away from stability, reason, morality and ethics and from legality and our basic democratic norms as a key expression of that.

Where will and where can we go from here? I expect to offer a next installment to this ongoing line of discussion and will add that into the queue and post it when and as I find it necessary to update this unfolding news-based narrative and commentary.

You can find this and related material at Social Networking and Business 2, as posting 244 and loosely following.

… and to add an addendum note to this: Who is in charge in the Whitehouse in a practical sense right now, if president Trump himself is in fact the Mayor of Crazytown and unable to actually lead anything, to cite a title that some of his team have been reported to call him?

One possible answer might be found in the reported group of insiders who apparently seek to manage Trump by distracting him and through delays in action that can become permanent as needed. But if there is one thing that we have learned about Donald Trump and his dealings with his supporters and enablers, is that he feels contempt for anyone who would bow down to him and even as he demands that much and more from them as obeisance due. People in his inner circle cannot sit comfortably in that role; they are at least as subject to derision and to dismissive action as anyone might be, and they are in fact more subject to that because he actively sees them. Trump actively sees them as competing with him for the limelight and for their visibility of authority and capability.

This would at least lessen the likelihood of members of his cabinet or other “inner-ring” insiders, taking on a role of eminence grise, and de facto shadow president, at least for long. It would certainly seem to preclude any such individuals or groups of them taking on such a role, individually or collectively on a more stable and ongoing basis. And it, among other considerations, might help explain why the writer of the Op-Ed piece cited in this posting, and their like-minded colleagues, have been acting as they do through subterfuge. But setting aside this more work-around solution to the problem of finding a more stable core in the midst of the Trump chaos, who is left to provide that? I would at least suggest a possibility here by citing another newly released book that might very well highlight a contender for that role:

• D’Antonio, M. and P Eisner. (2018) The Shadow President: the truth about Mike Pence. Thomas Dunn Books – an imprint of St. Martin’s Press.

First, Donald Trump cannot readily dismiss vice president Pence as he can with any of his appointees, and on the basis of whatever whim might be driving him at any given moment. His removing Pence from office would require action through constitutionally defined processes: the same 25th Amendment or Article I, Section 2, Clause 5 processes that he sees as being held over his own head. And second, it is very clear by now that Pence really knows how to operate Trump as if he were a puppet or marionette. Pence knows how to flatter and please him with supportive and encouraging words while following his own agenda – which can always be expected to predominate in any long-run when facing off against what is at most a moment by moment impulse driven alternative.

So I offer this appended note with an outsider to the White House view as to who is really in charge there, and with a guess as to Mike Pence’s current political calculus. And he would probably see that as offering a win-win choice of alternatives for himself. If Donald Trump were to leave office early and either through the types of constitutionally defined processes that I have touched upon here, or through his resigning from office – that would immediately elevate Pence to the presidency when he would never have been able to win that office in a national election as a competing candidate. And if Trump were to stay in office and continue on in his increasingly more dysfunctional ways, that would still leave Pence serving as a de facto president, and from his being more organized and focused if for no other reason. He would not have the title, but he might very well hold much if not most of the actual power – aside from his having to repeatedly respond to and work around the flow of chaos that he would have to “serve” within.

Will Trump leave office early, and if so how? The main body of this posting focused on that question and on the questions that it raises. The more important questions here might be more focused on who would take over as president if he does leave office early, and who is actually in day-to-day power there now, insofar as there is any real order or organization in the White House at all right now.

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