Peddling False Hope.

By way of a short thought, I venture again into the waters of US election year politics.

Today’s subject is Donald Trump, or more precisely, the promises he passes off as solutions to the US malaise (as he and his supporters see it).  The key denominator in everything he says is that he offers the promise that he and he alone can solve the nation’s problems, foreign and domestic, and that he can do so in a clear, simple and direct fashion without much cost or sacrifice to the nation. Much like PT Barnum a century or so ago, he clearly believes that there is a sucker born every minute in the US. And what he is peddling to them is no more than that snake oil known as false hope.

Let me outline what he has promised to do but which he cannot do. Trump cannot build a wall and make Mexico pay for it. He cannot deport 11 million people including US citizens born of undocumented residents. He cannot place a ban on “all Muslims” immigrating to the US, he cannot institute blanket profiling of Muslims and surveillance of mosques, and he cannot stop refugees from Muslim-dominant countries from seeking asylum in it. He cannot leave NATO to its own devices. He cannot leave South Korea and Japan to defend themselves against Chinese aggression, and he cannot influence Chinese monetary policy in a way that would “level the playing field” with the US. He cannot force US based companies to return all of their operations to the US while paying US workers higher wages. He cannot reinstitute water boarding and other “worse” forms of torture. He cannot order the US military to commit war crimes such s killing the relatives of terrorists, and he cannot “take the oil” from Iraq. He cannot preemptively launch nuclear attacks based on whim. He cannot renege on trade deals without consequence. He cannot “rip up” NAFTA (the North American trade bloc involving Mexico, Canada and the US). He cannot fire generals because they disagree with his views, and he cannot form a partnership with Russia just because he admires Putin.

Trump cannot mandate that women be “punished” for having legal abortions. Trump cannot “wipe out” Daesh.

Trump cannot make “America Great Again” because his vision of greatness–white male christian nativist and insular–has been overcome by the structural, demographic, cultural, social and technological changes of the last quarter century. In fact, his vision of “greatness’ was great only for a socio-economic few, and that few will be a distinct minority within twenty years.

Trump cannot drill, drill, drill or frack, frack, frack. Trump cannot make the US safer by ensuring that more people have guns.  He cannot re-institute “stop and frisk” as the solution to African-American demonstrations against police brutality or even urban crime without re-hashing the case of its (un)constitutionality. Trump cannot run his administration like a family owned business lacking shareholders or a Board of Directors and he certainly cannot use bankruptcy as a means of avoiding liability for poor financial decisions. He cannot renegotiate the US debt using default as leverage.

The reasons he cannot do anything of what he has promised is not only that his words are meaningless and empty, in typical national populist demagogic tradition. It is due to the fact that the US political system does, in fact, rest on institutional checks and balances grounded in law. Any and everything that he proposes, were he to try to execute it via Executive Order, would be challenged in courts as unconstitutional and take years to litigate. He needs Congress to pass laws that will allow him to do some of the things that he promises to do, and other promises require congressional approval in any event. Even if it remains in Republican control, Congress has been the subject of his often personal attacks and understands its role as a check on the Executive (witness the obstructionism of the past eight years). So no matter who controls Congress, but especially if the Democrats win the Senate, the legislative branch will not just play along with Trump’s demands and initiatives and will in fact spend much time blocking most of what he has proposed on the campaign trail. He is on a hiding to nothing.

Trump cannot use his personal wealth while president, which includes paying lobbyists to advance his political projects. Although he can fund partisan and personal trips and events out of his own bank account, he cannot use his taxpayer-funded salary or the resources of his office for personal reasons. That means that he will have to place his assets in the hands of others, be it via trusts or family delegation for the duration of his incumbency. The Donald may have some problems adjusting to that situation and could try to circumvent the rules governing presidential finances. Beyond the ethics of the matter, that poses a practical challenge for him because even if he fills the entire upper echelon of the federal bureaucracy with political appointees (whose credentials will have more to do with shoe licking than competence), he still will have to deal with a career civil service with institutional knowledge and depth of expertise (if not vested interests) when it comes to policy implementation paid for by the taxes Trump thinks it is “smart” to dodge.

Nor can he reconcile his financial plan, which involves lowering corporate taxes while renegotiating trade agreements and increasing spending on the military and elected infrastructure projects. In an age of budgetary cost-cutting that has resulted in several government shut-downs, he simply will find it impossible to fund his projects with public money even if he offers sweetheart deals to private parties in order to offset public expenditures–again, because it is not for him alone to do so and he will find his purse strings not only constrained by but attached to the demands of other interests regardless of who controls Congress.

The truly sad aspect of this is that neither Trump or his supporters understand the very basic concepts of separation of powers and checks and balances. They believe that he can just order people around and “get things done.” They think that he can bully foreign leaders the way he bullies out of favour beauty pagent contestants. They think that he can resort to personal insults, to include fat, slut and disability-shaming, to deter his adversaries and critics. They would be mistaken in those beliefs and it is a shame that the US educational system has produced so many people without even an elementary grasp of how government works or why civility is a value. That one such ignorant person is the nominee of a major political party is a clear sign of its demise.

It will interesting to see what happens over the next few weeks of the campaign. It looks like Trump is starting (?) to come unglued as the pressure mounts and his blustery facade begins to crumble under the light of scrutiny. Clinton pounded him into the ropes in the first debate (I scored it a TKO), and if he decides to bring up Bill Clinton’s affairs in future conversation he will be eviscerated on the hypocrisy rack. From my perspective, the election campaign is just getting better.

One thing is certain: ignorance is not bliss and Drumpf is about to find that out in spades.


8 thoughts on “Peddling False Hope.

  1. First of all, from his erratic behaviour (3am rants, sniffling) I wouldn’t be surprised if it turns out Trump has a towering coke addiction. But scuttlebutt aside, I will make a bold prediction now: If Trump wins, and remains as erratic and bad as he is now, the military will remove him. Quietly if at all possible, but publically if they have to.

  2. Sanctuary:

    You raise an interesting point, although I disagree with your prognosis. If Trump wins it is very likely that he will be impeached if he tries to move unilaterally on any number of fronts and/or revelations of his crimes prior to entering the White House result in indictments. Either way, just the spectre of impeachment will castrate his ambitions.

    To me, the more compelling issue is the constitutional crisis that could be occasioned by his presidency. If he orders the military to commit war crimes or if he orders the intelligence services to restore torture to their interrogation menu, then the agencies charged with doing so will have to choose between following his orders or refusing them. If they accept his orders and follow them then they open their leadership as well as those actually doing the dirty work to criminal prosecution at some future point (by international as well as US courts) and set a nasty precedent for other countries to follow. If they refuse, which is what they more likely will do, then they set a precedent for disobeying the commander-in-chief. That is not the sort of precedent a democracy needs from its security services.

    A way out of this dilemma might be to impeach him if he does order the security apparatus to engage in illegal acts. Since impeachment is confined to “high crime and misdemeanours,” it would have to take something extreme to get Congress to act, especially if the GOP controls the Senate (which is the judge and jury in an impeachment trial and which appoints the prosecutor of the case for it).

    However, since there is no love lost between most congressional Republicans and Trump, the latter may see this as a good way out, especially since they can then deal with Pence as president. Pence is much more malleable than Trump, so for the GOP impeachment may represent a win-win option should Trump go feral.

  3. More of a worry are Trump’s legions of followers or do we not hear from the more rational members of US society? We know people are disenchanted with politics and politicians but what will be the result either way of these new voters/ supporters? They do not seem to value rationality and truth and appear to want to form a mob around a very strange leader. Will they just disappear if Trump doesn’t make it? Or will they just gather at the golf?

  4. “…Since impeachment is confined to “high crime and misdemeanours,” it would have to take something extreme to get Congress to act…”

    My view is the “something extreme” will be a quiet word from the generals. The excuse will be the war crimes order, but the real reason will be fear that the generals will refuse to obey.

  5. A small part of me wants Drumpf to win and, with the inevitable malaise that ensues, the US can then assess whether their form of fpp democracy is working as it should.

  6. Will:

    Perish that thought! Although it would be interesting to see MMP work in a place like the US. I would imagine that it would be too unwieldy given the federal nature of the Republic and the level of heterogeneity in the population, but who knows? Surely it could not be much worse than what they have at the moment.

  7. Should not Pablo be out with a brag show and a moral lecture on that evil sex stuff now. Hillary won’t have any problems with that of course, not up for it, she isn’t human, she only attacks and threatens other people who do sex. I think our white hope Assange is probably surrounded by Clinton thugs now. Oh well what’s another body in the Clinton bag. She better not try her evil luck in the central Ukraine or we will see the smoke from over here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *