The 45th Loser: How Will Donald Trump End his Presidency?

resignation

Donald Trump craves two things: to win, constantly, and, slightly less obviously, to be accepted. Wolff’s new book, and even a brief peruse of his twitter feed, shows us that for all his weird wants and wishes, it is these two things that drive him, and his failure to do either that drives him to distraction.

Wanting these things isn’t unusual. All presidents want to win and probably more than would admit want some form of affirmation. The problem for Trump is that the winning and acceptance simply isn’t happening. Instead, one year on from his inaugural speech that even George W. Bush thought was ‘some weird shit’, Trump has become a loser. He is roundly mocked and abused by the press and establishment he wants to be adored by. The new book paints a vivid portrait of a lonely and strange figure, moaning at the state of the White House plumbing while shouting abuse at three TV screens, half-eaten cheeseburger in hand. Very, as it were, sad.

Trump clearly lacks the self-control, the emotional intelligence or, Wolff claims, the basic comprehension to do what needs to be done to win or be accepted. Like Nixon, Trump is consumed, so utterly consumed, by his rage and resentments at the elite who despise him that he only makes it worse. Wolff claims Trump is a ‘real life fictional character’, a ghost of a racist play acting demagogue, echoing JFK’s famous observation that Nixon ‘had to reinvent his personality everyday’. His habits also call to mind another JFK put down of Nixon: ‘no class’ (I’d encourage you to read the very wonderful ‘Nixon at the Movies’ by Mark Feeney).

Interestingly, ‘Fire and Fury’ claims Trump is obsessed not only by Obama but two other famous political figures: Lyndon Baines Johnson and John W. Dean. Johnson was, of course, the supreme doer of deals, the legislative maestro and the great civil rights reformer- everything Trump is not. One can only presume that the current racist in chief likes Johnson’s style rather than his politics. John W. Dean is even more interesting still. He was Nixon’s White House Counsel who, fearing he was to be made the Watergate scapegoat, co-operated and gave evidence to the investigating committee in a blaze of damning publicity. Why, I wonder, would Trump fixate upon someone with knowledge of something turning against him and going public?

The big question Wolff’s book raises is how will it all end? Even Bannon was unsure that Trump would make a full term. Commentators are plumbing for either the 25th amendment or impeachment.

The 25th amendment looks unlikely. It’s never been used and looks like some bizarre, terrible nuclear weapon of an open ended process: ‘no, you go tell Trump he’s mentally unfit for office and see how he reacts’. Some sort of mass Cabinet resignation, as with Zachary Taylor, could happen but, again, where would it get us?

Impeachment seems even less likely. No president has been successfully impeached. Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998 survived their Senate votes and Nixon jumped in advance. How will it be triggered? Trump has publically supported Nazis (twice with his defence of the Charlottesville racists and Far Right retweeting) and admitted to sexual assault. It’s not clear what it is he needs to do, or indeed what is left to do, to get the Republicans to remove him. And if they ever summon up the courage, it takes time.

The Russia collusion would make a promising impeachment case, but it needs proof. Remember, Nixon was caught by his own recordings, not the allegations. Whatever collusion happened, it needs to have been written down or taped and, most of the time, I think no one’s that stupid (step forward Donald Trump Jr’s emails and Trump’s odd ‘recording’ tweet). That is unless, as Wolff claims, the Trump family fear the investigation turns up something else even uglier hiding in their accounts.

But there is a third option. What Wolff’s book also alleges is that Trump never intended, and didn’t want, to win in 2016. He now sits, in an odd reversal of King Lear, as someone granted huge power who never wanted it. Could he just give up? He clearly has a powerful dissonance capacity but somewhere, somehow, does he suspect he’s not winning? Do his raging tweets not hint that he knows things ain’t going well?

Three Presidents in living memory have given up. Truman decided not to run in 1952, though he could have. LBJ refused to accept the Democratic nomination in 1968. And Nixon resigned in 1974, of course, before he was removed. All of them faced plummeting popularity and poll numbers and so side stepped humiliation. Could Trump do the same? And what can be done to make him go?

First, we should continue to point out regularly that he is a loser. By any available metric he is an abject failure. His polling numbers are the worst since records began and worsening (even among his base). In legislative terms he is a loser-all he did was create a huge tax break that the public are against. Most presidents have six months, as Rupert Murdoch supposedly warned him, to do something. But Trump’s early nights and golf (see here) means no wall, an uncertain and globally despised Muslim ban and no Obamacare repeal. When he throws his support behind someone, such as alleged molester Roy Moore, they lose too. Trump’s coattails are actually banana skins.  The numbers look even worse if you compare them with Obama. His legislative agenda and polling numbers were impressive, the sort you’d expect from a winner (he’s even globally popular). Indeed, a majority of these voters wish he was on his third term.

Second, we should emphasise Trump’s unacceptability and continue to hammer away at it. He supports some of history’s biggest losers. He makes no secret of his regard for the Confederacy-and that crazy gang in the White House ‘jokingly’ referred to Trump’s Attorney General by his middle name Beauregard (a Confederate civil war general). In words and deeds, he trolls and targets minorities and the vulnerable. Trump has denied he is a racist, though I’m not sure exactly what his definition is. I take the old fashioned, classic approach of ‘does he say and do racist things?’ When the press must ask ‘are you a racist?’ repeatedly and both the UN and African Union describe you as a racist, I think we can be reasonably sure you are a racist.  And then there’s women and what he said and the (22) allegations. The idea that Trump has some form of provocative, clever strategy must, by now, be over. He says and does racist things, says and does fascist things because that’s what he is.

Will it work? It’s not clear. But is it not worth a try? The chance to push him out of office? Can we make him do the long, slow, painful walk to the waiting helicopter and the longer, inevitable trip to the dustbin of history? As either Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela or Pliny the Younger said ‘everything looks impossible until it’s done’.

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President Trump: Uninterested, Incapable or Unstoppable?

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 Picture courtesy of http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2015/09/donald_trump_is_a_modern_day_george_wallace_the_republican_front_runner.html

What sort of President will Donald Trump be? As the United States of America appears to have voted collectively to reside on desolation row, below are three scenarios, none of which offer any hope.

Scenario One: The Blind Commissioner

The first scenario is that, for all Trump’s bluster, he becomes a do nothing President, a media front man delegating work (rather like George W. Bush) while acting as a clown-ish, blustering super-Berlusconi. There may be some symbolic gestures around walls (or fences) but, rather than a radical ‘reconstructer’ of the political system, Trump could resemble a modern day Warren G. Harding, presiding over little but scandal and pro-business policy. The Trump Presidency would be, as it were, some kind of joke.

The serious question is then who gets the power? Does it go directly to his Vice President? His approaches to John Kasich reportedly involved a promise that the VP would be ‘in charge of domestic and foreign policy’ (and he would be in charge of ‘making America great again’). Handing power to Pence may reassure some, especially as he called Trump’s proposed Muslim ban ‘offensive and unconstitutional’, but the VP carries his own controversial views on gay rights. But what if power instead goes to Trump’s newly appointed strategist Steve Bannon, journalist of the ‘alt right’ (the new ‘acceptable’ media euphemism for extremism, racism and sexism heavy with overtones of those who would ‘sell postcards of hangings’)?

Scenario Two: You’d Better Leave…

The second possibility is that Trump reveals himself to be so truly incompetent, incapable or overwhelmed with scandal that he leaves office. Formal impeachment is rare and legally complex, and a president must be shown to have committed ‘bribery, treason, or a high crime or misdemeanour’. Only two presidents (out of 44 so far), Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998, have faced a full impeachment trial and both survived the Senate stage vote.

As this paper by Christopher Peterson points out ‘Trump has on several occasions promised to commit impeachable crimes as a matter of executive policy… For instance, he has said that, if elected, he would murder innocent family members of terrorism suspects and order the torture of suspected criminal defendants’. It goes on to argue that the Trump university scandal, made up of three ongoing cases, offers grounds already for impeachment. Much may depend on party politics and whether Republicans actually want a President Pence.

Short of impeachment it could be that Trump makes such a series of catastrophic errors that he cannot continue in office and has to resign. He is already historically unpopular and ‘large majorities didn’t believe Trump was honest, had the right experience or was qualified to be president’ and the White House has tested to destruction the skills of many more experienced and popular leaders, from Gerald Ford to Jimmy Carter. Power, as Robert Caro argues, reveals and it may well reveal supreme incompetence underneath the weird mixture of racism, sexism, fascism and love bombing that seems to make up most of Trump’s policies. The problem is exactly what magnitude and sort of crisis would be needed to convince a man capable of such egotism and dissonance to go? Resignation is very rare: only one president out of 44 has resigned-Richard Nixon who left under pressure of impeachment.

Scenario Three: the Riot Squads Are Restless…

The final scenario is the worst. Trump clearly has authoritarian, if not fascist, leanings, a bent reflected in some of his supporters. Those hoping power will normalise and calm him hope against the evidence of the last hundred years and of Trump’s own impulsive, vindictive personality. When Trump comes into office he will take control of the greatest surveillance apparatus and armed might the world has ever known. John Kasich’s former strategist John Weaver warned in a tweet that ‘the racist, fascist extreme right is represented footsteps from the Oval Office. Be very vigilant America.’

This is not to say Trump will immediately introduce some sort of neo-fascism. There will be no heart attack machines or cyanide holes quite yet. But he may well erode and de-legitimize democracy from within. As Mark Mazower has pointed out, Trump’s ‘hollowing out of…basic institutions’ and ‘extremism of political discourse’ was exactly how democracies were fatally weakened in the 1920s and 1930s.

As terrifying as the direct oppression is the lack of objective truth around politics. The truly horrific regimes of the Twentieth century, and Orwell’s own fictional Oceania, sought to destroy ‘truth’ and create their own ‘moral universe’. Orwell defined freedom as ‘the right to tell people things they don’t want to hear’ and the ability to say ‘2+2=4’ while Primo Levi wrote of how those in the camps were taunted by the guards not only with punishment but with the constant gloating that ‘no one will ever believe this happened’. Hiding behind the jokes around ‘post-truth’ politics, Trump’s promised attack on free speech, his lies and the danger of fake news all offer a terrifying glimpse of an increasingly objective-less politics.

Who can stop him? The famed checks and balances in the US are particularly weak now, from the vacant Supreme Court to the Senate’s weaker filibuster. It may be that the US system’s propensity to gridlock will save us. But this relies upon Republicans in the legislature, unexpectedly offered the chance to undo the Obama era, choosing instead to fight and oppose their new nominee-something they were unwilling to do even when it was clear what kind of candidate Trump was.

Those with faith in constitutions forget that laws depend on public opinion.  David Remnick quotes Orwell’s Freedom of the Park to remind us that laws rest on what the public thinks at any one time. The paragraph is worth quoting in full:

…the relative freedom which we enjoy depends on public opinion. The law is no protection. Governments make laws, but whether they are carried out, and how the police behave, depends on the general temper in the country. If large numbers of people are interested in freedom of speech, there will be freedom of speech, even if the law forbids it; if public opinion is sluggish, inconvenient minorities will be persecuted, even if laws exist to protect them.

The ringing declarations of the US constitution have co-existed with slavery for more than a century, and in modern times has sat, albeit uneasily, alongside internment and mass surveillance. The Trump win is a stark reminder that democracy is a fragile and new experiment. The US has been a democracy fully since 1964. Democracy around the world has ebbed and flowed: in the summer of 1940 there were only 13 democracies left on earth.

With the very notable exceptions of Angela Merkel and Nicola Sturgeon, craven foreign leaders are already normalising Trump while beating a path to his door, from May’s warm welcome (penned exactly 76 years after Neville Chamberlain’s death) to Boris Johnson, a man who  ‘never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity for moral courage’. For all those normalising and relying on the wisdom of some long dead 18th century white men who wrote a constitution, I’d offer the warning of a 17th century radical Gerrard Winstanley, who had seen his fair share of oppression: ‘Thou blindfold drowsie…that sleeps and snores in the bed of covetousnesse, awake, awake the enemies is upon thy back, he is ready to scale the walls and enter possession-wilt thou not look out?’

Trump 2020: Do US Presidents Win Re-election?

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Donald Trump has been elected President of the United States and will soon inhabit the office of Abraham Lincoln and FDR. For those deeply concerned by his win, myself included, one question (and hope) is whether he will be a one term President and be gone in 2020, in the next presidential election 1,455 days from now.

Whatever they claim, all conventional political leaders think about re-election constantly. When Trump enters the White House in January 2017 they’ll instantly be thinking about winning again in 2020 and all their thinking will be geared towards that. ‘Every day’ as Barack Obama said ‘is election day’. But what are the chances of 45, as he’ll be known, being re-elected in four years?

Post War Presidents and Their Second Terms

President Did They Win A Second Term? Why No Second Term?
Harry s. Truman No Voluntarily stepped down/did not run
Dwight Eisenhower Yes
John F Kennedy No Assassinated
Lyndon Baines Johnson

 

No Voluntarily stepped down/did not run
Richard Nixon Yes
Gerald Ford No Lost
Jimmy Carter No Lost
Ronald Reagan Yes
George Bush No Lost
Bill Clinton Yes
George W Bush Yes
Barack Obama Yes

 

Looking at this table of all the Presidents since the Twenty-Second Amendment of 1947 (the constitutional change that placed a two term limit on incumbents) six presidents were re-elected and six were not. It appears that there are exactly equal chances, a 50/50 possibility, of Trump winning again or losing office in 2020.

So is there really an equal chance of staying or going? Digging into the details, it’s a little more complex and uncertain. Three Presidents outright lost their re-election bids: Gerald Ford in 1976, Jimmy Carter in 1980 and George Bush Snr in 1992, felled by, respectively, a better opponent, an October surprise and their lack of the ‘vision thing’. All seemed to have been terminally disrupted in one way or another.

Not all of those who didn’t run were defeated in elections. John F. Kennedy never ran for re-election because he was assassinated. It’s not clear if Kennedy would have won in 1964 but, against Barry Goldwater, it would have been very likely. Meanwhile Harry Truman in 1952 and LBJ in 1968 opted not to run. Although it is almost certain both would have lost if they ran, LBJ’s Vice President came within an ace of beating Nixon in 1968. In 1976 incumbent Gerald Ford, despite being the second least popular President in history after pardoning Nixon for Watergate, nearly won in 1976, losing 48% against 50%. Nor does winning two terms guarantee greatness-some polls of post-war Presidents give quite a mixed picture.

Cutting the table a different way, winning seems to be the pattern for the holder of the office in the last few decades. Recent history seems to show a stronger incumbency factor-the last three presidents since Bill Clinton all served two terms and, going back to Ronald Reagan, the last four out of five won re-election, with Bush Snr the odd one out in 1992.

Why is there this apparent incumbency advantage or a challenger disadvantage? The incumbent has got the experience of running and winning a Presidential campaign. If you are already in the office it brings all sorts of resources, from having a proven record, to the ability to get things and guaranteed media attention. Being President should also (normally) mean not having to fight a gruelling, divisive money and energy sapping primary like your opponent will. So once you are in the White House, you are more likely to stay than go.

The real danger is the next four years. The few checks and balances in the US system at present appear weaker than normal. The House and Senate is Republican and the Supreme Court has one vacancy and two elderly judges, so less hope in the seemingly endless gridlock of US politics. More worrying is that Trump, for all his conciliatory acceptance speech, is no believer in democracy, freedom of speech or individual rights. Much of what he has said repeatedly undermined the democratic process and he was, as David Remnick put it, ‘elected, in the main, on a platform of resentment’. As Mark Mazower has pointed out, while this may not be fascism the ‘hollowing out of…basic institutions’ and ‘extremism of political discourse’  that Trump’s victory heralds was the breeding ground for it. The victorious anti-democratic Trump has much opportunity and everything now hangs, at least for the next two years, on Republican party factionalism and how much gridlock remains in the system .

That is, of course, unless something blows Trump off course: a scandal, a crisis or an obstacle. Such unexpected events have disrupted many presidential careers and roundly defeated Ford, Carter and Bush. And American politics today seems to thrive on the unexpected.