Editor’s Note: Mr. Dean decided to interrupt his series on the recently discovered historical evidence corroborating Richard Nixon’s sabotaging the 1968 Vietnam peace initiative because of the importance of this day in history.
Today, January 20, 2017, only those Americans with no knowledge or who are self-deluded celebrate the start of the presidency of Donald John Trump, the most unqualified man ever to be elected to our highest office. To wit: There is no evidence anywhere that Donald Trump has even a good newspaper or television news knowledge of the American presidency; nor is there any evidence he has ever read a single autobiography or biography of any of his forty-four predecessors in our highest elected office. To the contrary, the evidence suggests he does not have sufficient concentration power to read a book, or even listen to an audio edition, not to mention receive an exhaustive briefing of the duties of his job.
Ready or not, at noon today begins the first day of 1,461 days of Trump’s (first and hopefully last) term as President of the United States—barring his death in office, or his removal from office because of a physical or mental inability to discharge the powers and duties of his office (under the 25th Amendment), or his impeachment and removal by Congress for treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors. Death, disability or impeachment are not likely, however.
More specifically, as president, Trump will have the best medical care available to any person in the United States, for that comes with the job. While Trump appears overweight, and a connoisseur of junk food, many modern presidents have become healthier in the job. Actuarially speaking, Trump has over 14 years of life expectancy, and the Secret Service is very good at making sure the president’s life is not cut short while in office. While there is troubling commentary about Trump’s mental suitability—for example newsman Keith Olbermann questioned his sanity with the “Hare Psychopathy Checklist” for Vanity Fair—it is doubtful Trump’s cabinet would petition Congress for his removal under the 25th Amendment, or that a Republican Congress would tolerate such an insurrection from his top appointees. (It should be noted, in passing, that President Reagan’s first chief of staff advised his replacement that he might need to invoke the 25th Amendment process because the president was “inattentive,” “inept,” and “lazy” in carrying out his duties; thus, if Trump does go off the deep end, it is not likely someone like Gen. James Mattis, Secretary of Defense, will tolerate it long.) Finally, impeachment is unlikely because Republicans control both the House and Senate, and so long as Trump signs their legislation, they will not cause him any problems.
For these reasons I expect Trump will serve at minimum one term as president, and as I recently told McKay Coppins of The Atlantic, that is enough to give me nightmares, largely because Trump is so unprepared for the job of being president. Not only does he not understand the job, he has been pushed to the hard right during the transition because he is a man with no firm political beliefs of his own.
Preparedness for the Unexpected
Presidential campaigns do not truly focus on the capability of candidates to handle unexpected events should they become president. It is doubtful George W. Bush would have been elected president had America known how imminent the attacks of September 11, 2001, had been, given that Bush II had little grasp of national security. After 9/11 occurred, many Americans were pleased his father had pushed him to have former Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney as his vice president.
Post-9/11 the issue of preparedness to handle such unexpected events has morphed into a secondary campaign issue, the so-called “3 AM telephone call”—or the preparedness of a presidential candidate to deal with difficult national security issues that arrive at the White House in the dead of the night. This issue played out during the Donald Trump versus Hillary Clinton campaign, with Mrs. Clinton’s ads claiming Trump was not ready to handle such a call, and Trump claiming Hillary had slept through such a call as secretary of state during the attacks on the Benghazi embassy. The matter never arose to be a serious issue. Polling showed most all voters felt Hillary had all the experience needed to be president, while few felt Trump had such experience. In the end, Trump voters did not care.
People knowledgeable about government, Washington insiders, do care that Trump is totally unprepared to deal with the unexpected matters that will make their way to the White House because they cannot be resolved at a lower level of the executive branch. Trump, of course, claims he is prepared because of his “gut instincts,” or “common sense,” but many issues that arrive in the Oval Office call for actual knowledge and experience, which Trump lacks. In addition, Trump has made it clear he is not one to study or read briefing books, or for that matter sit through lengthy meetings necessary to make himself familiar with issues.
Think of the Trump White House this way: A president is like the captain of an airplane that inevitably finds itself confronting endless storms of varying danger, or even under fire by heat-seeking missiles. Most people, like passengers, are not even aware of the difficulties, or existential threats, because the skill of the captain averts them, drawing upon his experience to avoid the dangers along the way.
Trump is now our captain, and he is flying the ship of state with no experience whatsoever in the operations of government. Not only is it going to be a bumpy ride, there is no assurance we will land safely, given his lack of knowledge, experience and skill, not to mention his unwillingness to acquire them. In fact, he has hired to assist him a team that in some cases is totally ignorant of the jobs they are taking on, so it may get terrifying, and it will be something of a miracle if we survive 1,461 days of a Trump presidency.
Trump Is an Empty Vessel
Following the November 8, 2016, election, NBC News prepared an analysis of Trump’s positions on some 23 recurring issues during the campaign, noting that he had taken 141 different stances. This NBC study concludes: “After more than a year and a half of stadium rallies, around-the-clock interviews, sweeping primary wins, and one stunning general election victory, the Republican president-elect has the most contradictory and confusing platform in recent history.”
If placed in an even broader context of his long public career, Trump has no carefully considered and long-held core beliefs whatsoever, rather he has been on all sides of many of the most important issues facing the nation. Trump appears to believe anything and everything is negotiable. Given the fact he has no real core beliefs he has been susceptible to the thinking of others.
It will be recalled that Trump had several campaign managers, first Corey Lewandowski and then Paul Manafort before his final team, which assembled during the last 90 days before the election: Stephen Bannon and Kellyanne Conway. Lewandowski, Manafort, Bannon, and Conway clearly realized Trump was an empty vessel into which they deposited ideas, which explains how some of his conflicting stances developed. Bannon and Conway, however, are fronts for billionaire hedge fund operator Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah, who have strong beliefs. As a result, Rebekah directed much of the transition.
The Mercer agenda is radical right-wing. It is not difficult to trace Donald Trump’s sudden turn to the hard-right, which occurred during his transition. Rebekah Mercer is a direct link to the Heritage Foundation, the Koch Brothers, Betsy DeVos and her family’s foundation, along with countless other conservative causes. The Mercers’ fingerprints can probably be found on nominations who want to abolish departments and agencies like EPA, the SEC, Department of Energy, Department of Housing, and the like. Because Trump has no strong feelings about any of these matters, and he needed all the help he could get during the transition, he has given those who came to his assistance at the end of his campaign to help him win a free hand in organizing his administration.
Authoritarians Are Not Good at Democracy
Trump’s authoritarian personality is also very troubling. Authoritarianism does not work well in a democracy.
In the first column I wrote about Trump’s candidacy in July 2015, I explained his authoritarian nature. As I noted at the time, authoritarian leaders are “dominating; they oppose equality; they desire personal power; and they are amoral.” In addition, they are “usually intimidating and bullying, faintly hedonistic, vengeful, pitiless, exploitive, manipulative, dishonest, cheat to win, highly prejudiced, mean-spirited, militant, nationalistic, tell others what they want to hear, take advantage of ‘suckers,’ specialize in creating false images to sell self, may or may not be religious, and are usually politically and economically conservative and Republican.” These traits may work well in the military or law enforcement but have not worked well for American presidents. Richard Nixon, who kept his authoritarian personality behind closed doors, makes the case against these personalities doing well in a democracy.
Other than the gold in Fort Knox, it has been clear from the outset that what Trump wants (read: demands) is attention. I recently re-read the psychological profile done by Northwestern Professor of Psychology Dan McAdams for The Atlantic. Professor McAdams noted Trump’s authoritarian personality in his analysis, and his appeal to authoritarian followers. More importantly, as the professor looked for what might be behind his bid for the American presidency, he found a striking answer. It was a giant ego trip, my words not the professor’s. Here is how Professor McAdams concluded his findings:
Who, really, is Donald Trump? What’s behind the actor’s mask? I can discern little more than narcissistic motivations and a complementary personal narrative about winning at any cost. It is as if Trump has invested so much of himself in developing and refining his socially dominant role that he has nothing left over to create a meaningful story for his life, or for the nation. It is always Donald Trump playing Donald Trump, fighting to win, but never knowing why. [Emphasis in original.]
In short, we have a captain lifting off for 1,461 days of flight, a man with no prior experience in such an undertaking who, in fact, is on a colossal ego trip. The world media, along with people everywhere, are thrilled to be watching this very dangerous high-stakes political reality TV show, because it could result in the end of the end of the United States of America as we know as this empty-suit ego-maniac fights for any of many crazy right-wing ideas that he has only recently embraced and which only a fringe of Americans support.
For some of us it is more troubling than captivating.