Does having Donald Trump as President of the United States frighten me? Absolutely. He appears to be a loose cannon who might more effectively fight against the evils that assail us ... or he might turn his fire on all that is good in our country. Most likely, he will do both.

Am I panicking? Absolutely not. Frankly, I would probably be more afraid if it were Hillary Clinton in the White House, because she's a well-entrenched part of the system and would quickly settle into the job-as-usual. As happened with President Obama, Big Things Would Get Done.

I am not a fan of Big Things Getting Done when they are issues on which the country is deeply and closely divided.

Maybe with Republican control of both houses of Congress there might have been effective opposition to Mrs. Clinton, but I doubt this election could have produced that situation without also putting Mr. Trump in the White House.  Even now, that control is tenuous.

I find a recent George Friedman essay to be somewhat comforting. Once again he points out the limited powers of the president, especially an unpopular one.

[The American presidency] is the most noted position in the world, imbued by observers with all the power inherent to the world’s most powerful country. Everyone is now trying to understand what Trump intends to do.

At the same time, the American president is among the weakest institutional leaders in Euro-American civilization. He can do some things unilaterally, particularly in foreign policy, but Congress can block them. He can do some things by executive order, but the Supreme Court can overrule them. He can pass certain programs that require cooperation from states, but the states can refuse to cooperate. At every step, as the founders intended, his ability to act unilaterally is severely limited.

[The defection of only three Republican senators would] make it impossible to pass any proposed legislation. As such, any Republican senator who can position himself as a potential defector will be able to negotiate for the president’s support on any number of issues. The president will either be forced to compromise or risk having the legislation defeated.

Senators are not free actors. They need to be re-elected. Their calculation on whether to oppose a Republican president will depend heavily (if not entirely) on whether the president will help or hurt them in their re-election bids. That depends on the president’s approval ratings, particularly in the senators’ home states.

Trump’s approval ratings are unlikely to fall below [the current] 37%, but to be effective, he can’t stay at that level. Republican senators will look at the president’s negative ratings in their states and calculate whether supporting his programs might lock 50% of voters against them. It is important to recall that constitutionally, a senator is supposed to serve the people of his state, not the president.

I confess I'm not completely comfortable with that much "power to the people"—largely because approval ratings give more power to the loudest and most obnoxious among us. But there it is. Speak up or be left out.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, January 27, 2017 at 8:08 am | Edit
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Let's hope and pray the checks and balances work. I must confess that Mr. Trump as president appalls me. I found him appalling since the beginning of the campaign, because I've read extensively in psychiatry and psychology, (this, apart from the genital grabbing, antiMexican, antiMuslim, and nasty woman comments) and I immediately recognized a tremendous narcissism, like I had never witnessed in a leader during my lifetime. His public discourse was disturbing, and the support of far right groups coupled with the lack of support from important people in his own party added to my discomfort. Then there was the tweeting. And then he became president. He has exhibited delusional behavior (continuing to harbor fixed beliefs regardless of conflicting evidence). And several times, he has annouced things and then withdrawn them (for instance a 20% import tax as a way to pay for The Wall). This shows me somebody who talks before having carefully thought things out. I have found trends that evoke fascism, especially his war on the press. And the list just goes on and on. I am sorry, but I just can't be optimistic. I just hope checks and balances work. But that is not heartening either when his party has control of both House and Senate, and with another conservative Supreme Court appointment that branch of government will also be under his sway... Power to the people, my eye! Heaven help us...



Posted by Diane Villafane on Friday, January 27, 2017 at 10:18 am

There may be another way to read what Trump is doing when he announces something crazy and then withdraws it. Scott Adams (yes, the Dilbert creator who's a little too much into alt-right conspiracy theories for my taste) calls it "pacing and leading" - examples here under section 8. (Pacing and leading seems to stem from the pseudoscientific NLP theory/model.) Others just call it shrewd negotiation: brazenly exaggerate with your first offer, and the next offer (which otherwise would also have looked like brazen exaggeration) will sound a lot more reasonable...

In short: let us not underestimate Mr. Trump.



Posted by Stephan on Saturday, January 28, 2017 at 2:28 pm

I think you are right, Stephan. Mr. Trump may be an unpleasant person, but he's not a fool. Anyone who says he has no political experience doesn't understand what it takes to succeed in the business world.

I notice that Scott Adams has picked up on the Nixon-in-China Syndrome. I wouldn't be surprised if many knowledgeable Democrats are privately laughing, no matter how appalled they need to appear to their constituencies.



Posted by SursumCorda on Sunday, January 29, 2017 at 9:04 am

What is meant by "Nixon-in-China Syndrome?"



Posted by Stephan on Sunday, January 29, 2017 at 6:29 pm

President Nixon succeeded in restoring our relations with Communist China in a day when the very idea was considered a major betrayal of Taiwan, which was the only "China" we acknowledged. Consider how much longer it took to normalize relations with Cuba (and we're still working on it), a much smaller and less significant country. If a Democratic president had tried to recognize Red China, the uproar and opposition would have been crazy. But Nixon was a Republican, and could not be accused of being "soft on Communism"—and he made it happen. Whether that was in the end a good idea or a bad one is not the point.

My understanding is the President Clinton similarly accomplished things that Republicans in general supported, which would have met strong opposition coming from a Republican president.

Similarly, I think President Trump is going to end up doing things that would raise a huge Republican outcry from a Democratic president. But IANAP. (I am not a prophet.)



Posted by SursumCorda on Sunday, January 29, 2017 at 6:46 pm
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