VIEW FROM HERE--For historians, the current president of the United States is terra incognita. Donald John Trump is the first of the 44 individuals who have held the office to never have been a government functionary. Even men like U.S. Grant and Dwight Eisenhower served in high-ranking military positions, overseeing the huge bureaucracy of war. As far as I am aware, Trump has never even been a local commissioner, let alone an elected official.
Trump’s experience in the business world didn’t teach him how to manage the world’s biggest government. It taught him how to be a dictator. I suspect Trump would agree with France’s King Louis XIV who said, “I am the state.” The environment of wealth and privilege, one that emphasized greed, forged an individual who doesn’t serve others; they serve him.
Understanding that context explains Trump’s behavior. His recent moves in firing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster, and Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin are aimed at “unleashing” Trump’s inner child.
Many who voted for Trump did so thinking his campaign rhetoric was just that—campaign rhetoric—and once in the White House, he would act in a more “presidential” manner. Trump’s lack of knowledge about government and unfamiliarity with those who served in previous GOP administrations, as well as a dislike for, and suspicion of, Bush appointees opened the door for more mainstream figures like Reince Priebus to join the Trump team. We all know how that worked out.
Trump’s chaotic and personal management style did not lend itself to conventional methods of policymaking. Priebus and others were in a constant three-way tug-of-war with Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner and provocateur Steve Bannon. Current chief of staff John Kelly was hired to clean up the mess and hailed by pundits as a recognition by Trump that it was time to let the grown-ups take over.
We also know how that has worked out.
Anyone getting a paycheck from the federal government and whom Trump can fire or demote or reassign to a desk in the far reaches of Montana understands that you do not ever criticize the President or even contradict him. As much as possible, Trump’s minions are cleansing the federal bureaucracy of those viewed as disloyal. This is how dictatorships work.
No one should be surprised when Trump cleans house at the Department of Justice. Jeff Sessions’, Rod Rosenstein’s, and Robert Mueller’s days are numbered. No one should be surprised either if the response of Congressional Republicans is to do nothing. Perhaps some of them will offer thoughts and prayers on the demise of the Constitution.
Since George Washington took the oath of office nearly 23 decades ago, Americans have expected presidents to be “presidential.” Occupants of the White House are expected to act with a certain dignity, but not too much dignity. They’re expected to believe in the rule of law but respect the rights of individuals. They’re expected to understand it’s “We the People…” and not “I the State.”
The course of history is often described as a circle; that “what goes around, comes around.” I think the story of humankind is better thought of as a pendulum. Over time, we move from one extreme to the other—politically, from left to right; economically, from capitalism to socialism; artistically, from the plain to the ornate—and all of this plays out in different locations at different times.
More than ever before in the arc of American politics, we are in the grip of a chief executive whose motivation is his own well-being. The people who excuse Trump’s behavior should understand that, like a pendulum’s swing, the reaction is likely to be just as extreme. They would do well to remember the last words of Louis XIV, “After me, the flood.”
(Doug Epperhart is a publisher, a long-time neighborhood council activist and has served on the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners. He is a contributor to CityWatch and can be reached at: Epperhart@cox.net)