Midterm progress report

By Roger Bowen

Trump must be, or should be, embarrassed by the draining of the very swamp that he himself created by giving scoundrels higher-level appointments in his administration. Veterans Affairs head David Shulkin, EPA head Scott Pruitt, National Security Adviser No. 1 Michael Flynn and HHS Secretary Tom Price all had to give up their offices despite being defended by Trump as “good men” because of scandals of their own making. All were early appointments by Trump, who promised to staff his government with only the very best and most qualified people. Instead, we got a rogues’ gallery.

Over 20 senior government officials appointed by Trump have “resigned.” Some of these were forced out (like Attorney General Jeff Sessions), while others, such as UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, apparently did not want to be associated with an administration mired deeply in its own sty and with a president who, it now seems clear, violated campaign finance laws by ordering his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, to pay out $280,000 in hush money to a Playboy bunny and a porn star. Dangerous liaisons.

Additionally, Trump has fired six senior appointees who directly or indirectly challenged Trump’s attempts to place himself and his presidency above the law, most notably former FBI head James Comey and Walter Shaub, who headed the Office of Government Ethics.

A revolving door at the top of government, along with a president who is a pathological liar and makes decisions by whim (i.e., what his generous gut, or instinct, tells him) rather than by careful study of actual policy alternatives (that approach requires actual reading), has shaken the public’s confidence which, most likely, accounts for the substantial “blue wave” that allowed Democrats to capture the House of Representatives in the recent midterm election.

What happens next will be of historical significance. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigations into possible collusion by the Trump campaign with the Russians in the 2016 election, violations of campaign finance laws (the hush payments to Trump’s known sex partners Stormy Daniels and Karen MacDougall), and obstructions of justice (the firing of FBI Director James Comey and the alleged Wikileaks release of DNC hacked emails) are bad enough. Add Trump’s disastrous trade war with China, the world’s second largest economy, as well as the plunging stock and housing markets, and you have conditions of deep uncertainty which, taken together, might lead to another recession. To date, only large corporations and the wealthiest of Americans have benefited enormously from the GOP’s one signature accomplishment — the passage of a trillion dollar tax decrease. (Note: Trump has said publicly 123 times, as of 10 December according to the Washington Post, that his “tax cut” was the biggest in history; in fact, it is the 8th largest tax cut, and well behind Reagan’s 1981 tax legislation.) Improving education and the nation’s infrastructure, strengthening access to health care and attacking the disastrous effects of climate change have gotten short shrift in comparison with his one other big initiative — getting Mexico or Congress to pay for the border wall. (Note: Trump has said publicly on 86 different occasions that “We’ve started building the wall,” which is simply untrue.)

Pundits who contrast Trump’s self-serving policies with the selfless devotion to nation by the late Senator John McCain and the late President GHW Bush remind us all of what it means to be a true public servant: Serving the people, not themselves.

Most students of American politics understand that Trump’s decision to hide his tax returns, to deny repeatedly during the presidential campaign that he had business dealings in Russia, to appoint his unqualified daughter and son-in-law as senior administration officials, to denounce his own Justice Department because they did not swear personal allegiance to him, and to tell on average at least eight lies every day of his presidency are evidence that not only is he unfit to hold office but also that he needs to be removed from office.

I hope Trump resigns early in 2019 and spares our increasingly fragile democracy the ordeal of impeachment. That could happen if Don Jr. and his brother-in-law Jared Kushner, both of whom met with Russians in Trump Tower in June 2016, are indicted as a result of the Mueller probe. After all, Trump, who is no public servant but instead believes the public and government exist to serve him, his family and his business interests, will only relinquish his office if those for whom he has paternal affection are also engulfed by the swamp he has created.

Roger Bowen lives in Prospect Harbor and specializes in comparative politics; his last book is Japan’s Dysfunctional Democracy, a study of corruption in government.

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