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Trump presidency could be transformational, but that’s not what he wants: Paul Heise

Posted 6/27/17

The most probable course of American politics is a full four-year term for Donald Trump as president.

We must face the fact that the American people explicitly voted for change in the last three …

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Trump presidency could be transformational, but that’s not what he wants: Paul Heise

Donald Trump
Donald Trump
Posted

The most probable course of American politics is a full four-year term for Donald Trump as president.

We must face the fact that the American people explicitly voted for change in the last three presidential elections, and change is what Trump promised. That sets up the opportunity for Donald Trump to be a transformational president, if he does it right. In fact, the Trump faction views his serious character flaws, incoherent policy objectives and incompetent management as Andrew Jackson-like strengths. So, what are our politics going to look like after four years of Trump?

If Donald Trump conducts his presidency the way it has begun, as a continuation of his campaign, he is going nowhere. The campaign-like crowds are diminishing, and his approval rating is in the 30s. The shadow of constant investigation will soak up his political space. For all the talk, we, the American people, don’t like to impeach. We let Richard Nixon duck and run. We acquitted a popular Bill Clinton despite the facts. The talk of impeachment, obstruction of justice, special prosecutors and politicians suing the president is, until someone finds that traditional smoking gun, so much blather for the TV talk shows. There will be four years of such. Sorry about that.

With the election and the presidency, Trump won the mantle of change agent. Change does not come by itself, and it will not endure if it is not nurtured. If Trump were serious about presiding over a transformational administration and presidency, he must now put together a team of committed professionals who will work together in an institutional structure.

That is not what is happening.

The staffing of the executive branch is months behind schedule. In some agencies, only the Cabinet-level member has been appointed. Hundreds of sub-Cabinet posts sit empty with departments being run by civil servants who do not have the authority necessary to do the job. More importantly, Trump Cabinet-level officers have taken on the immense task of changing the actual mission of the departments they head. This is their definition of change. Something they must do if they would transform our government. Thus, the Trump Environmental Protection Agency is shifting its mission from environmentalism to deregulation. The Department of Education is shifting its support of the public school system to a privatizing mission. The traditional civilian control of the military is out and the Department of Defense is being turned over to the generals. All of this is transformational but it will not endure unless it is part of a coherent program. That is not happening.

Dark money is political funding that is unlimited and anonymous. The $900 million committed last election to the Republican Party by Charles and David Koch is the best example. Trump won with a pittance of that amount. This does not mean money has lost its importance in politics. Those dispensing the dark money will continue to be able to buy public office. This would be more important if Trump were actually building a political party or movement. But he is not, and the two parties will continue to spend most of their time raising funds.

Trump’s campaign and election threw the two-party system into a crisis, and the cliché that “a crisis is a terrible thing to waste” is applicable. Governance characterized by incoherence and incompetence leaves lots of room for action that might not otherwise be possible — good and bad. Chaos provides a consensus for action. The Republican Congress is secretly negotiating a Trumpcare health package with no Democratic input and sharp benefit cuts to low- and middle-income workers but with significant tax cuts for the very wealthy. All of that would be the topic of conversation but for the crisis.

The Russian hacking into our election process in at least 39 states is not a domestic political issue. It is something else, something more, something that cannot be ignored. It must be dealt with outside of our political context as a warlike attack on our country. Politics stops at the voting booth curtain.

In the next four years, Donald Trump will not build any kind of political movement, and that will diminish his long-run impact on American politics. The American political system will continue in crisis with the existing parties trying to figure out what to do about the angry populists and their rallies. The Republicans will endure Trump and the Democrats will endure not knowing who they are or what they want.

Paul A. Heise, of Mount Gretna, is a professor emeritus of economics at Lebanon Valley College and a former economist for the federal government.