Status report on Trump: a president in peril

Summary: Here is the best status report I’ve seen about Trump’s problems, and the dynamics that will either keep him in play — or put VP Pence in the Oval Office. By now it is obvious that Trump is lost in the job, with his administration fracturing around him. Here presidential biographer Elizabeth Drew reviews his problems and the basis of his support.

Donald Trump - unhappy

Excerpt from “Trump: The Presidency in Peril

By Elizabeth Drew in The New York Review of Books, 22 June 2017.

“If Donald Trump leaves office before four years are up, history will likely show the middle weeks of May 2017 as the turning point.”

Problem #1: investigation of Trump’s ties to Russia.

Chief among his mounting problems are new revelations surrounding the question of whether Trump and his campaign colluded with Russia in its effort to tip the 2016 election. If Trump has nothing to hide, he is certainly jumpy whenever the subject comes up and his evident worry about it has caused him to make some big mistakes. The president’s troubles will continue to grow as the investigators keep on investigating and the increasingly appalled leakers keep on leaking.

Two especially damaging disclosures occurred on Friday, May 19, the day Trump departed on his first foreign trip. That afternoon, while Air Force One was in the air, the Washington Post broke an ominous story that law enforcement investigators had under scrutiny a “person of interest” on the White House staff, described as “close to the president.” No longer was the focus on a small number of people at some distance from Trump … The indications are that the “person of interest” is Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law. …

Problem #2: leaks from Trump’s team about his behavior.

Where are all the leaks coming from? Many Republicans want to make this the issue rather than what the leaks reveal, but the fact that they keep coming is a sign of the state of near collapse of the White House staff. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Trump has the most unhappy staff ever, with some feeling a higher duty to warn the public about what they see as a danger to the country.

From the stories that emanate from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue the impression one gets is that Trump is a nearly impossible person to work for: he screams at his staff when they tell him something he doesn’t want to hear; he screams at them as he watches television news for hours on end and sees stories about himself that he doesn’t like, which is most of them. Some White House staff are polishing their résumés. Leaks are also being made by the intelligence community, many of whom see Trump as a national menace.

People who have been to the Oval Office have come away stunned by Trump’s minimal attention span, his appalling lack of information, his tendency to say more than he knows. (Intelligence officials have been instructed to put as much of his daily briefing as possible in the form of pictures.) Aides have been subjected to public embarrassment by his propensity for changing his story. …

Will this be the surprise of 2017? Of 2018?

Donald Trump - fired

Problem #3: other investigations.

That same day, The Washington Post disclosed that Trump had asked the heads of two major intelligence agencies to announce that there had been no collusion between his campaign and Russia. Both declined. Some Trump defenders will argue that he didn’t know enough to understand that he shouldn’t have made those calls, or to try to get Comey to back off investigating Flynn — what might be called the ignorance defense. But while ignorance of the facts might be an acceptable defense in criminal or impeachment proceedings, ignorance of the law isn’t. …

Trump’s survival depends on his key supporters.

The survival of Trump’s presidency may depend most of all on congressional Republicans. Unless the Democrats take both chambers in the midterms, the Republicans will decide his fate. At what point might their patience with Trump be exhausted? How will they respond if high presidential associates or even the president himself are indicted and he chooses to fight it out rather than resign? Is it possible that a Congress in which the Republicans control both or even one chamber would consider impeaching Trump?

The impeachment proceedings against Nixon were accepted by the country because they were bipartisan and considered fair. Too many different unknowns are in play to predict the outcome of the midterms, though the respected Cook Report anticipates substantial Republican losses in the House. Republicans are starting to panic. …

The Republicans are in a bit of a spot: they don’t particularly like Trump and to them he’s an interloper. One reason many of them, especially Ryan, allied themselves with Trump was that they thought he would get their programs, especially tax cuts, through Congress, but prospects for major legislation are receding. And there’s no reason to think that a President Mike Pence wouldn’t back the same programs.

The problem with much of the predicting about what will or might happen in Washington is that it proceeds from an assumption of stasis—as if things won’t happen that could change the politicians’ calculations. When it comes to how long Trump will remain in office, one possibility often discussed is that things might get so bad for him that he decides to return to his much easier life in New York. But he insists that he’s not “a quitter.” (There’s also a question about the corpulent Trump’s health, but that’s not considered a proper topic of conversation.)

Politicians are pragmatists. Republican leaders urged Nixon to leave office rather than have to vote on his impeachment. Similarly, it’s possible that when Trump becomes too politically expensive for them, the current Republicans might be ready to dump him by one means or another. But the Republicans of today are quite different from those in the early 1970s: there are few moderates now and the party is the prisoner of conservative forces that didn’t exist in Nixon’s day. …

The critical question is: When, or will, Trump’s voters realize that he isn’t delivering on his promises, that his health care and tax proposals will help the wealthy at their expense, that he isn’t producing the jobs he claims? His proposed budget would slash numerous domestic programs, such as food stamps, that his supporters have relied on heavily. (One wonders if he’s aware of this part of his constituency.) People can have a hard time recognizing that they’ve been conned. And Trump is skilled at flimflam, creating illusions.

——————— Read the full article———————

Elizabeth Drew

About the author

Elizabeth Drew is a political journalist and author. See her Wikipedia entry and follow her on Twitter.

See her articles in The New York Review and at Project Syndicate. She has written fifteen books, including Washington Journal: Reporting Watergate and Richard Nixon’s Downfall, Richard M. Nixon: 1969-1974 and On the Edge: The Clinton Presidency.

Subscribe to the New York Review Of Books!
It deserves to be at the top of your reading pile.

Measuring Trump’s support

Polls show Trump losing support, a key requirement for successful impeachment.

For More Information

See “Will Trump be impeached – or is it just a liberal fantasy?” in The Guardian — “Only two presidents in history have been impeached {and none removed; Nixon resigned}. Here’s how the process would work – if it would at all.” They do not say why liberals fantasize about having the competent and far-right Pence as President.

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about the Constitution, about ways to reform America, about Trump and the new populism, and especially these…

  1. Trump’s win revealed the hollowness of US politics. Stronger leaders will exploit this.
  2. The GOP might impeach Trump, changing our politics forever – for the better.
  3. What Trump told Russia, why it matters, and why journalists ignore the smartest man in Washington.

Books about impeachment in America – and the case against Trump.

The Case for Impeachment
The Case for Impeachment

One of the best introductions to impeachment in modern American politics is The Age of Impeachment: American Constitutional Culture since 1960 (2008) by the historian David E. Kyvig (deceased). For more background see these five books about the process and history of impeachment in America.

The latest and most provocative book on this subject is Allan Lichtman’s The Case for Impeachment, released in April. He is a professor of history at American University. From the publisher…

“In the fall of 2016, Lichtman made headlines when he predicted that Trump would defeat the heavily favored Democrat, Hillary Clinton. Now, in clear, nonpartisan terms, Lichtman lays out the reasons Congress could remove Trump from the Oval Office: his ties to Russia before and after the election, the complicated financial conflicts of interest at home and abroad, and his abuse of executive authority.

The Case for Impeachment also offers a fascinating look at presidential impeachments throughout American history, including the often-overlooked story of Andrew Johnson’s impeachment, details about Richard Nixon’s resignation, and Bill Clinton’s hearings. Lichtman shows how Trump exhibits many of the flaws (and more) that have doomed past presidents. As the Nixon Administration dismissed the reporting of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein as “character assassination” and “a vicious abuse of the journalistic process,” Trump has attacked the “dishonest media,” claiming, “the press should be ashamed of themselves.”

“Historians, legal scholars, and politicians alike agree: we are in politically uncharted waters—the durability of our institutions is being undermined and the public’s confidence in them is eroding, threatening American democracy itself. Most citizens—politics aside—want to know where the country is headed. Lichtman argues, with clarity and power, that for Donald Trump’s presidency, smoke has become fire.”

Read the first chapter here.

 

16 thoughts on “Status report on Trump: a president in peril

  1. A few comments followed by some analysis and predictions:
    – Trump’s management style seems to have primarily been learned during his time with the WWF and “The Apprentice,” depending on how curious he is (probably not very), he might be very confused by its lack of success compared to when he was a reality TV star. Confusion can be a catalyst for change. Or not, it depends on the man.

    – “Unhappiest White House staff ever” – While this is a reasonable statement, I think that the happiness of White House staffs is, in general, overstated. While the perks are nice but hours are incredibly long, the pressure is intense, and the satisfaction is never that high because success rarely comes without some pretty big strings attached. It’s just plain a terrible place to put yourself.

    – Over the last 30 years the White House has become an incredibly leaky place. JFK would never have gotten away with his “afternoon naps” even during the Clinton era and things have gotten a lot worse since then. Leaks are a source of stress relief and are useful to help influence the agenda in your favor. They are the tool of the successful modern courtier rather than the policy planners that were intended to fill the White House offices. But these days the skills of a courtier are more useful to the Presidency than the skills of a policy planner. If nothing else, predictable internal strife of the Presidential court is useful grist for the 24-hour news cycles and is cheap to gather.

    I have been watching Trump since the early days and was one of the few who were too confused by him and his supporters to underestimate them initially. I think I’ve got a pretty good handle on the general direction of where things go from here but the author was quite right when she said that nothing in the White House is static so I will refrain from making any specific predictions.

    1. Trump is not learning fast enough from his mistakes and events are beginning to press on him, expect him to make more mistakes.

    2. Trump has learned the benefit of decisive-appearing military non-events. It buys him support from the increasingly frustrated conservatives, knocks his liberal attackers off the front page, and lets him briefly control the news cycles. Expect him to reach more and more frequently for air strikes, drone attacks, missile bombardments, and increasingly arcane weaponry to be on display. But, very fortunately for us, Trump seems to be wary of risking military lives so he will avoid actions that might get Americans killed.

    3. The author correctly senses the increasing frustration of the other factions of the Republican party but under-estimates their willingness to show openly show their disagreements. They will continue to publicly support Trump because they perceive that he is their key to retaining majority control in Congress. They could be right for the 2018 election cycle, Trump is a great campaigner. But the Republicans are also underestimating the damage that Trump is doing to them

    4. The author quite correctly wonders when Trump’s supporters will stop supporting him. I have spoken to enough of them to know the answer to that question: never. He has captured the hearts and minds of the religiously-oriented, forgotten working poor in a way that almost matches their love of God. They elected him to help them and/or make the rich and the liberal establishment (whom they view as their real enemies) suffer.

    They don’t care that he isn’t fulfilling his campaign promises to make their lives better because they never really expected him to succeed on that front. They will support him as long as he turns federal government (which they view as the primary tool of their enemies) into a bloody failure, the bloodier the better. Trump understands this even if the Republicans don’t, which is why the Republicans underestimate the damage he is doing to them. The Republicans desperately want to keep Trump’s supporters after Trump leaves the White House but they do not understand how angry those supporters are towards them for supporting the rich.

    5. Trump will not go quietly into the night if impeachment rears its ugly head. He will not play by the rules of the game like Nixon and Clinton did. He will be energized by the fight and will intentionally let the crisis overflow into as many other areas as possible until it becomes an all-consuming issue that threatens or harms vast sections of the population. Military strikes in the name of “national security” against civilian targets within this country are not likely but are not impossible. Regardless of who wins or how, the federal government is going to take a huge hit to its ability to run the country that will echo throughout this country for at least decades.

    I had originally approved of a Trump presidency as I thought it would likely rejuvenate the country when it realized that it needs for Congress to act in the best interests of the country against the President’s wishes. I was wrong. The Republicans have proven too blind, the Democrats are stuck in an echo chamber of their own devising and cannot build consensus, and the public is split into the apathetic and the overly angry who just want to smash the status quo regardless of the cost and without thought for the future.

    Neither a Trump or a Clinton Presidency would have had a happy ending; a Clinton Presidency would predictably have led us deeper into Plutocracy with the status quo continuing to strangle the middle class. Much like the man, the legacy of the Trump Presidency cannot be predicted.

    1. Pluto,

      Your comments are usually incisive. But no matter how good, this is too long. At 950 words, it’s the same length as this post! Few will read a comment this long — esp a solid block of text, without subheads or images.

      Also, comments this long kill the thread.

      The practical length for comments is about 250 words, plus or minus.

    2. Hi Pluto,

      Thanks to FM for allowing the long comment to stand and I did read it in full. Spot on. I won’t say you’re right but I’m willing to bet on the same horse so to speak. Where I will veer somewhat away from your analysis of some Trump supporters is that I don’t think they are necessarily ideologically motivated as they are increasingly disenfranchised from a civic American life. There is an ethic among some where being charitable is a virtue, but receiving charity is anathema. Maybe it’s just a Southern thing, and yes, I am of the American South with all of its virtues and vices. DJT is the most un-Southern un-classic liberal president since, um, ever. Not a fan. But, and as I think you might agree, what was the alternative? HRC? For reals? People don’t want hand outs. They want jobs and meaningful civic engagement.

      Until there is evidence of high crimes, people should lay off the impeachment talk. I haven’t liked a president since Ike (still had issues) and Nixon (still have lots of issues), and DJT is not going into the pantheon, but he is still the President, in whom all executive power is vested (no one who hasn’t read the Constitution should be allowed to vote in Bill’s World). The Democratic National Party is so goddamned stupid that they don’t realise that they ran a profoundly flawed candidate that lost to the second most flawed candidate in history. Since the goddamned big bang. Pardon my blasphemy. And they seem remarkably resilient from learning.

      With kind regards,

      Bill

  2. Silliness. Ms. Drew is old, look at that photo. Pure speculation masking as analysis, putting forth her wishful hopes. She voted for who? 😂 Read the Guardian this day and see what happened in Montana yesterday. Read the same paper and see what Donald said about Brexit and how Mr. Tusk is relieved, and Mr. Pluto’s last paragraph above is as close as he comes to reality of today.
    “Humpty dumpty sat on a wall. Humpty Dumpty had a great fall….” but Humpty is most likely not Mr. Trump but rather the entire Political establishment and the the oh so concerned Outer Party! As Krugman likes to say (and what is used against his partisanship quite effectively), serious people speaking from an echo chamber of old hopes and dreams. Didn’t they get enough Hope and Change the last Time?

    These articles are entertaining in so far as they are a display of great effort to wordsmith one’s preconceptions.

    1. Breton,

      She is knowledgeable about the subject (15 books, including several about presidents), and has a good record for analysis. I suggest stay in “read and learn” mode (rather than “mocking”) until the same can be said for you.

  3. The attention span comment interested me. Along with the impulsive tweets, and his entrepreneurial success, Trump does fit the profile for an entrepreneurial, successful ADHD adult.

    1. Dubious,

      Perhaps so. But here is no evidence that Trump is a successful entrepreneur.

      So we’re left with people, including psychologists, trying to diagnose his mental state by looking at brief youtube videos and transcripts. For good reason such “remote diagnosis” is considered an ethical violation by the American Psychological Association (APA). See their code of ethics.

      We don’t know how a competent psychologist or psychiatrist would diagnose Trump. But we have ample evidence he is unsuited for the presidency. We might pay dearly for our folly.

  4. Oh please FM! You’re old, too….you can defer if you wish to credentials of her sort. I’m old, too and I can see you won’t deal with the epistemological assertions of self deception. If waiting until Publishing was the prerequisite to opinion then what are we doing here? Your choice to take it personally. It is your Blog.
    This is nothing but a large Mirror and the reflection is quite revealing. And of “what” is anyone’s fair assertion.

    Oh, where are those Democrats now?

  5. I wonder how close are we to war. Either an external one or civil. Then again, maybe both.

    The GOP is incapable of governing and will have to resort more authoritarian tactics to stay in power. Staying in power is all they want to do at this point. The 40% who voted for him will fight to the death for him and will see any attempt to remove him and anyone who replaces him as illegitimate. Maybe the Dems are biding their time, but they are in a weak position nationally and it does not seem that they have a coherent plan or organization in place to regain power.

    Externally, every mistake Trump makes isolates us more and more from our allies. I am a fan of Boyd and every action this administration takes seems to put this country in a place where our adversaries will be inside our OODA loops(if they are not there already) and easily defeated. Sad.

    1. AC,

      “I wonder how close are we to war. Either an external one or civil. Then again, maybe both.”

      I have heard this countless times since 1970. There is near-zero odds of either, imo. There have been periods in US history when we were close to war, internal or externals. Today’s sleepy times, with our passive and apathetic people, look nothing like those. We’re drowsy sheep, talking big.

      “The GOP is incapable of governing and will have to resort more authoritarian tactics to stay in power.”

      Not even remotely true.

      • The GOP commands a majority of State governments and countless local governments. Most are doing well. The real basket-cases are mostly run by Democrats.
      • The GOP run Congress is running fine.
      • The executive branch bureaucracy is running fine. It will do so, to a large extent, no matter how incompetent the person in the Oval Office.

      The White House is a dysfunctional mess. I suspect there are high odds of it getting worse, esp under the pressure of the next crisis (there is always another crisis). But Congress can and will dump Trump with little effort. I am confident Pence will be a competent president. The far-right Congress and Pence might do serious damage to America’s society and economy, but they will implement their policies competently.

      “Staying in power is all they want to do at this point. The 40% who voted for him will fight to the death for him ”

      Neither of those things is remotely true, except as mad partisan rhetoric. I strongly suggest you change your sources of information. My guess is that you’re reading people who are lying to you.

      “Maybe the Dems are biding their time, but they are in a weak position nationally and it does not seem that they have a coherent plan or organization in place to regain power.”

      Other than the whacko left, they’re playing this smart. Never get in the way of a political foe bent on self-destruction.

      “put this country in a place where our adversaries will be inside our OODA loops”

      Who are these brilliant and powerful adversaries?

    2. FM, although I agree with your intent, you might have overstated your case in your reply. It is certainly understandable if you did so this once, you’ve been patient with thousands of similar comments in the past.

      While I agree that a civil war is a long way away, the US government has a long history of starting external brush wars to take people’s minds off of internal politics. Fortunately Trump seems to be reluctant to put troops in the line of fire. Let us hope that continues.

      “The GOP commands a majority of State governments and countless local governments. Most are doing well. The real basket-cases are mostly run by Democrats.”

      Agreed that the GOP commands the majority of state governments and that most are doing well. But nearly all of the states that I consider to be real economic basket-cases have solid Republican governments and those Republicans are not doing a very good job.

      “Congress can and will dump Trump with little effort”

      For reasons that I detail in my overly long comment above, I disagree with this theory. Only time will tell which of us is right.

    3. pluto,

      “the US government has a long history of starting external brush wars to take people’s minds off of internal politics. ”

      Why is that a rebuttal to a claim that we are “close are we to war. Either an external one or civil. Then again, maybe both.” The US has waged “brush wars” almost continuously since 1900. They’re not “wars” in any meaningful sense – to America (it’s a different thing to those on the other side of our guns).

      “But nearly all of the states that I consider to be real economic basket-cases have solid Republican governments and those Republicans are not doing a very good job.”

      Names? Note that the GOP runs many poor states — regions that have been poor forever. The GOP can hardly be blamed for that.

      Whereas most of the cities and States in decline are run by Democrats. For example — the once-great cities of the Northeast, ruined in part by incompetent and corrupt democratic machines — plus their mad leftist social experiments. Buffalo, Syracuse, etc. And Chicago, perhaps poster child for democratic misrule.

      Also note that the states with the most massive unfunded pubic pension debt — one of the great ticking time bombs in America — are mostly run by Democrats. These will begin imploding in the next decade.

    4. FM: “They’re not “wars” in any meaningful sense – to America (it’s a different thing to those on the other side of our guns).”

      I am of the opinion that a war is a war, even if it is started far away for all the wrong reasons. It changes the public policy discussion and diverts resources that could be used for other purposes. But for the purposes of AC’s comments, you are essentially correct.

      FM: “Whereas most of the cities and States in decline are run by Democrats. For example — the once-great cities of the Northeast, ruined in part by incompetent and corrupt democratic machines — plus their mad leftist social experiments. Buffalo, Syracuse, etc. And Chicago, perhaps poster child for democratic misrule.”

      I strongly agree on Chicago, the rest were more victims of the same economic tides that the Republicans have been ineffectually fighting in Mississippi, Arkansas, most of Louisiana, Alabama, West Virginia, and Kansas (to pick a few just a few names) than of specific Democratic misrule. It is true that the Democrats in Syracuse in particular should have woken up sooner to the changes but that was quite a while back now. The Republicans in Kansas much more recently have been particularly bull-headed about trying to defy the economic common sense and the state has suffered accordingly.

      You are correct about the coming pension fund implosion unless somebody (particularly in New Jersey and Illinois) actually does something for a change. As you’ve noted many times before, the political machinery to make necessary political changes and avert the disaster still exists, the current politicians just don’t think it time to use it yet and they will probably wait until the last minute.

      Then it is very likely that somebody (probably quite a few people, one at a time and one per state) will generate considerable political capital doing drastic things that would not have needed to be so drastic if the problem had been addressed decades ago.

      In general, I think that political of any location by a single party for any length of time is bad for the citizens.

    5. Pluto,

      “I am of the opinion that a war is a war, even if it is started far away for all the wrong reasons. It changes the public policy discussion and diverts resources that could be used for other purposes. ”

      That’s quite a inary statement. Magnitudes matter. As I said, by your reasoning — technically correct — the US has been at war most of the time for two centuries. First with native Americans, then with other nations in the western hemisphere, and since WWII in underdeveloped nations. Most of these were and are too small to substantially “change the public policy discussion” — and diverted a tiny fraction of the nation’s resources.

      “the rest were more victims of the same economic tides”

      Pluto, that’s a triumph of ideology over observations. Nobody with an open mind can look at the first example I gave — Buffalo — and not see generations of massively corrupt and incompetent misrule since the 1930s — in what was a once-promising region (a contender for Henry Ford’s first factory and the UN). I grew up there and can tell countless stories about the extractive misrule by its democratic party machine, in alliance with organized crime and quasi-criminal unions.

      Similar stories can be told about many northeast cities, large and small. Ditto some midwestern cities. Chicago is, of course, in a league by itself. Businesses logically fled these for western (and some southern) cites that were better run, less corrupt, less dominated by corrupt unions and organized crime.

      Of course, some of the NE strongest cities thrived despite these conditions. Such as NYC, although it had support of a few GOP mayors and governors — plus a bailout by upstate NY during the mid-1970s. But these few cities were the exceptions.

      Waving your hand and blaming “economics” is just carefully putting on a blindfold. Economics played a big role, but the differential success of western and NE cities shows that economics is only a partial — probably secondary — factor.

  6. Much concerted but largely unsourced and poorly documented hysteria from NYT and WaPo. The media is frenzied but provides nothing of substance. Ms. Drew is a child of the culture and is likely too old to grow beyond its limitations. Very sad indeed. Breathing helps.

    1. Harcone,

      That would be more useful if you could provide specific objections.

      “Much concerted but largely unsourced ”

      That is quite false. You might disagree with the material or find the sources untrustworthy. But “unsourced” is false.

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