Re take the long view: allow me a polite riposte, not of course to my precious KOB, who is just trying to see the bright side (albeit one I don’t perceive), but to the Toronto Star, which I believe to be flabby and complacent in its editorial. Clearly, I should shut up and start my own blog, but just this once…
It is true that constitutionally, the American Presidency is designed to have limited powers, particularly when it comes to making war and raising and spending money. It’s also true that Congress can thwart many ambitions of the sitting President, as we saw only too well over the past eight years.
However, it bears remembering that we are nowadays in a murky constitutional grey zone of Presidents using military force without Congressional approval, executive orders supplanting legislation, and unconstitutional behaviour going without protest or even comment.
Here’s what President Trump has the unequivocal power to do, all by his lonesome:
- he can emit a tweet that causes stock prices to crash, or foreign powers to become alarmed, signalling sea changes in US policy without the filter of Congress or even his own Cabinet – recall how much of geopolitics and the global economy runs on perception, giving his intemperate little 140 character rants appalling power;
- he can, arguably, tear up treaties – there is debate on this re NAFTA, for example – http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/donald-trump-nafta-trade-1.3657673;
- he can tear up environmental regulations that Obama instituted by executive order;
- he can allow his Cabinet cronies to gut the agencies he’s picking them to lead, with dire consequences for the EPA, Dept. of Labour, HUD and so on;
- he can reverse course on Gitmo;
- he can use his authority over institutions like the IRS and FBI, and the massive national security apparatus in general, to make life miserable for his countless perceived enemies, it being obvious from the Comey affair that elements of the federal bureaucracy are quite willing to ignore their own ethics and protocols – under Trump, who craves revenge against all perceived slights, civil liberties and freedom of the press may come under savage assault;
- to which end he can boot the press corps out of the West Wing, and refuse to subject himself to media questioning, preferring instead to Tweet random gibberish at 3 AM;
- he can sidle up to Putin and undermine NATO in a thousand ways, great and small, while generally wreaking geopolitical havoc, emboldening dictators and terrifying allies;
- he can move, and indeed has moved, “the goalposts”, just as Reagan did, shifting political discourse such that the far end of the spectrum becomes the middle, ushering in a new era of crassness, vulgarity, and the shattering of norms, damage of a sort that tends not to get undone;
- he can initiate an almost continuous period of constitutional crisis, as debate ensues over the breadth and meaning of the Emoluments Clause, whether his apparent collusion with Russia is something tantamount to treason, whether his close family exercises too much power within Cabinet, contrary to anti-nepotism laws, whether his limitless conflicts of interest are something the law needs to be changed to address, and so on;
- he can inspire, and already has inspired, politicians at state and local levels to attempt to pass new laws that restrict voting and reproductive rights and attack the LGBT community, which only a soon-to-be-stacked judiciary can stop;
- he can create, and already has created, an atmosphere of licence in which the gutter dwellers of America’s alt-right and white supremacist communities sense it’s now permitted to give vent to their darkest urges;
- he can, of course, pick up the phone and kill every living thing that walks or crawls, and none of you should believe for one second that the military will do anything except salute smartly and execute an authenticated order to employ nuclear weapons;
- and so much more, really.
Let’s also remember that the constitutional checks on the executive branch are supposed to be a vigilant and incorruptible judiciary, and a suspicious and uncooperative Congress. As to the judiciary, The Donald now gets to stack the Supreme Court, and fill literally hundreds of vacancies at the federal circuit court level that Congress prevented Obama from filling; as to Congress, be serious. This is the Congress of Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, Ted Cruz and the Tea Party. True, these yahoos may quietly spike some of Donald’s plans, for example when it comes to international trade, but they’ve proven themselves thus far to be craven bootlickers, quavering in terror of Trump’s deranged base, which is also their base. In any case, they could ignore Trump altogether, and it wouldn’t do the world any good: this is a group of sour white men devoted to the denial of climate change, the ravishing of the environment, the disenfranchisement of the poor and non-white classes, the savage restriction of female reproductive rights, the cutting of taxes on the super-wealthy, the dismantling of the social safety net, the repealing of health care reform, and the list goes on. Does the Star think Trump will be exercising his veto when that legislation crosses his desk? So long as the current Congress simply does what it says it wants to do, American society will enter what amounts to a privileged white man’s revanchist wet dream.
Let’s be clear: these grey men don’t just want to undo Obama. They want to undo LBJ, and FDR too. They want to undo Roe v. Wade, Brown vs. Board of Education, and Miranda, and The Donald has just the Supreme Court nominees to make it happen. They want to undo social security, medicaid and medicare, and they want to repeal the already anemic financial regulations like Dodd-Frank that were enacted to try to put a firebreak between the freebooting capitalist buccaneers of Wall Street and the global economy, as if it wasn’t just recently that Henry Paulson was wondering whether the lights would still be coming on when he got back to his office.
The best hope is that the American people resist, in droves, vehemently, and soon, once they figure out what’s going on. Maybe it isn’t too naive to hope that something can change with the midterms in a couple of years, despite the relentless gerrymandering of Project Red Map. Maybe undoing the 20th Century will be harder than the likes of Paul Ryan can possibly understand, as they snuggle into bed each night in their Ronnie Reagan Pajama Roos, clutching tight to their well-thumbed copies of Atlas Shrugged. Maybe. But now is no time to wait and see.
The long view? I’m with Keynes; in the long run, we’re all dead. Yes, we manage to live through bad Presidencies, but not without semi-permanent damage. The likes of Nixon and Reagan had lasting impact, and the world still rocks in the reverberations of the Bush years – just ask the people of Iraq and Syria about that.
That said, O’Leary is indeed an asshat.
I keep telling hubby he needs to start his own blog; he’s brilliant, articulate, and very opinionated. He disagrees with my post about the TO Star editorial being comforting. He thinks it encourages complacency. Which was not my intention – March! Protest! Fight! For sure! But please let’s not have the world end, please make me feel like it’s going to be OK.
So here is his take: