L’état, c’est Trump?

The Globe and Mail (Prairie Edition) - - GLOBE FOCUS -

Other than Don­ald Trump’s vaudevil­lian press con­fer­ence on Wed­nes­day, the news out of Washington, D.C., this week was dom­i­nated by the con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings of the pres­i­dent-elect’s cab­i­net ap­point­ments.

We heard a lot about Rex Tiller­son, Jeff Ses­sions and James “Mad Dog” Mat­tis, and we will even­tu­ally learn more about Steven Mnuchin, Betsy DeVos and other nom­i­nees. Much of it will mat­ter.

But none of it will mat­ter more than the one ques­tion that couldn’t be an­swered this week, and which may take sev­eral months to re­veal it­self: How will Mr. Trump lead once he takes power next Fri­day?

Will Mr. Trump lis­ten if Mr. Ses­sions, the nom­i­nee for at­tor­ney-gen­eral, re­peats the as­ser­tion he made this week that wa­ter­board­ing is il­le­gal, a po­si­tion that de­fies Mr. Trump’s elec­toral pledge to use the tor­ture method on ter­ror sus­pects?

Will the pres­i­dent-elect al­low Mr. Tiller­son, his nom­i­nee for sec­re­tary of state, to con­tinue to say, as he did Wed­nes­day, that the U.S. must live up to its NATO com­mit­ments?

Will he lis­ten to Mr. Mat­tis, the de­fence sec­re­tary nom­i­nee, who said in his con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing that Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin is try­ing to break up NATO, and that sanc­tions against Rus­sia for its in­va­sion of Crimea and its med­dling in the U.S. elec­tion should re­main in place?

Those are con­ven­tional and re­as­sur­ing po­si­tions that don’t jibe with the of­ten un­set­tling pol­icy state­ments made by Mr. Trump dur­ing and since the elec­tion.

Will Mr. Trump lis­ten? Will he be open to changes in tone and di­rec­tion based on the ad­vice of his cab­i­net? Will he seek and take coun­sel? Be­ing able to be­lieve so would be a big re­lief for the many who worry that Mr. Trump will live up to his cam­paign rhetoric and re­ject tenets of Amer­i­can for­eign and do­mes­tic pol­icy that U.S. al­lies have long re­lied upon for their se­cu­rity and pros­per­ity.

Will he lis­ten, or will Mr. Trump ex­pect his cab­i­net mem­bers to be en­ablers, show­ing un­ques­tion­ing fealty to his po­si­tions, even if they violate the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion (ban­ning Mus­lim im­mi­gra­tion), harm the econ­omy (reck­lessly tear­ing up free-trade agree­ments), or defy com­mon sense, such as build­ing a wall the length of the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der?

Will they en­cour­age their boss’s taste for show­ing favour to those who praise him, and for us­ing his of­fice to bully any­one, no mat­ter how small, who crit­i­cizes him? Will they dare show him up, or take the risk of out­shin­ing him on the files they were hired to man­age?

“I think we have one of the great cab­i­nets ever put to­gether,” Mr. Trump said Wed­nes­day. We will leave it to his­tory to judge. The one thing they are most def­i­nitely not, how­ever, is rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the work­ing-class Amer­i­cans who voted for Mr. Trump.

Many of the nom­i­nees are ex­tremely wealthy busi­ness­men who, like their new boss, view gov­ern­ment as an un­fair con­straint on their abil­ity to max­i­mize profit.

The cab­i­net in­cludes Mr. Tiller­son, un­til re­cently CEO of Exxon Mo­bil, Mr. Mnuchin, the for­mer Gold­man Sachs banker who made mil­lions off the real-es­tate col­lapse fol­low­ing the 2008 crash, and who is slated to run the Trea­sury Depart­ment, and An­drew Puzder, the fast-food ex­ec­u­tive nom­i­nated for the job of labour sec­re­tary.

Some of the nom­i­nees come with con­sid­er­able bag­gage. Mr. Ses­sions, a for­mer Alabama at­tor­ney-gen­eral, was re­fused a judge­ship in 1986 af­ter wit­nesses tes­ti­fied at his con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing that he had made racially in­sen­si­tive re­marks. Mr. Mnuchin made his money fore­clos­ing on peo­ple dur­ing the mort­gage cri­sis. Mr. Pudzer is seen by many as an out-of-touch mil­lion­aire who op­poses a higher min­i­mum wage and bet­ter con­di­tions for the work­ing poor.

Neg­a­tives aside, they are suc­cess­ful and ex­pe­ri­enced, and they are not stupid. Mr. Trump – who has zero gov­ern­ment ex­pe­ri­ence – is sup­posed to rely on their ad­vice and their abil­i­ties in or­der to man­age the vast Amer­i­can fed­eral bu­reau­cracy.

We have our doubts that he will. “I want them to be them­selves and ex­press their own thoughts, not mine!” Mr. Trump tweeted on Fri­day, af­ter his nom­i­nees re­peat­edly con­tra­dicted him on key is­sues. If only we could be­lieve him. Let’s re­mem­ber whom we are deal­ing with. Mr. Trump has demon­strated that he is venge­ful, nar­cis­sis­tic, mean-spir­ited and able to lie with a so­ciopath’s ease. He is not one for con­sis­tency. And he doesn’t like rules.

You saw it in his news con­fer­ence this week. His ex­pla­na­tion as to why he will not re­lease his tax re­turns? “I won.”

The Amer­i­can pres­i­dency has in­creas­ingly ac­cu­mu­lated pow­ers over the past three decades. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama set records for the num­ber of reg­u­la­tions he uni­lat­er­ally signed into be­ing. Ge­orge W. Bush be­fore him re­peat­edly ig­nored Congress as he stripped away rights in the name of his “war on ter­ror­ism.”

And now we have Mr. Trump, who is used to be­ing the star of his own show. He has never demon­strated much pa­tience with checks and bal­ances of any kind, and seems un­in­formed about the roles of the dif­fer­ent branches of the U.S. gov­ern­ment. He some­times even refers to him­self in the third per­son – “No­body has ever had crowds like Trump has had,” he boasted Wed­nes­day – a habit suited to mad kings.

The job of pres­i­dent al­ways re­veals the per­son hold­ing it. The worry with Don­ald Trump is that there is noth­ing left to learn. The qual­i­fi­ca­tions, or lack thereof, of his ap­pointees will be ir­rel­e­vant if he gov­erns by whim, im­pulse and late-night tweet, and with the ex­pec­ta­tion that ev­ery­thing will work out just be­cause “Trump” says it will.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.