Pundits of the left and the right have spilled much digital ink on Donald Trump in recent weeks, increasing in recent days with his unconscionable comments about John McCain. (McCain is not my favorite politician but a fighter pilot who refuses early release from the Hanoi Hilton because other members of our military had been there longer than he had is by any measure a war hero.)
Democrats enjoy what they wrongly perceive to be a massive Republican circular firing squad and a public being pushed to believe that Trump is representative of the broader GOP.
Conservatives who oppose Trump point out that he has contributed at least $200,000 to the Democratic Party and to the campaigns of Democrats including Senators Harry Reid, Chuck Schumer, Max Baucus, Dick Durbin, Chris Dodd, and, yes, Hillary Clinton (both her senatorial and presidential campaigns).
Trump’s political contributions have tilted rightward in recent years (including substantial contributions to the presidential campaigns of John McCain and Mitt Romney). And many uber-wealthy businessmen spread the cash around senior politicians — especially of their own state — in order to maintain hoped-for influence with them. But how does this make Trump a credible Republican candidate in a country desperate for good government and sick of crony capitalism?
I understand the appeal of a “non-politician” politician who doesn’t couch his words in political correctness. Still, between providing so much aid and comfort to his newly found political enemies and having supported single-payer (socialist) health care, abortion, a ban on so-called “assault weapons,” and, perhaps worst of all, the Supreme Court’s horrendous Kelo decision (allowing government to steal private property and give it to other private property owners), it is remarkable that more Republicans don’t recognize the man as unprincipled and, at best, a Donny-come-lately to the political right.
His xenophobic pandering to the anti-immigration fringe of the GOP is a thin reprise of his pandering to the “birther” fringe four years earlier. Throw in his opposition to and misunderstanding of free trade (is he aiming to have his name mentioned in the same breath as Messrs. Smoot and Hawley?) and you have a candidate whose presence in the Republican field would, in the absence of his money and fame, be somewhere between unthinkable and simply ignored.
But bad policy, bad hair, and a bad attitude aren’t the biggest problem with Donald Trump.
Trump’s political differences with the Barack Obama are, in most cases, stark. But I see a troublesome similarity in their personalities, one which makes both unfit to sit behind the Resolute desk.
Beyond championing one destructive and ill-considered policy after another, Barack Obama has an additional defining characteristic, one that makes him such a terrible leader of a democratic nation: he is a narcissist.
He can’t get through a paragraph without multiple uses of first person pronouns, even at funerals. In a June 2008 speech in St. Paul, Minnesota, Mr. Obama suggested that his nomination was the moment when “the rise of the oceans began to slow and the planet began to heal.” He routinely exploits tragedy to make political points. And he is never, ever, ever wrong. (And if you don’t believe him, just ask Chris Matthews.)
Yet when it comes to narcissism, Barack Obama has nothing on Donald Trump. A few examples from The Donald:
This persistent narcissism makes a hypothetical Trump presidency as likely to be a kind of “third Obama term” as a Hillary presidency would be. Trump, like Obama, believes the rules should bend to his will, rather than the other way around. He believes he’s bigger than the people, bigger than the nation (and other nations). One wonders if, like Barack Obama, he fancies himself as bigger than the Constitution. He believes that his business success makes him a leader of men — and that he can ignore them if they don’t blindly follow because he simply doesn’t need them. And he’s wrong about all of it.
In fairness to Mr. Trump — and it’s clear from some of the quotes above — he has more self-deprecating moments than President Obama does — and in those moments Trump seems at least slightly sincere and genuinely funny whereas Obama is glaringly affected in faux humbleness. While both men are remarkably prickly when responding to even gentle criticism, Trump’s narcissistic bravado has a hint of showmanship. Nevertheless, it is what he is projecting as a candidate for the most important job on the planet and it is therefore what voters must judge him by.
Such an approach can, albeit infrequently, work in the business world and it offers moments of entertainment on reality TV. But it doesn’t work in politics and it is particularly ineffective in international affairs — where Trump has aimed so much of his bilious rhetoric over the past month.
Even the question of effectiveness misses the key point. To the extent of imposing his Progressive views on a largely unwilling nation, Barack Obama has been quite “effective” but at what cost?
Few liberals honestly answer this question — indeed, few even ask it — but law professor (and long-time Obama supporter) Jonathan Turley dared to do so: At a 2013 congressional hearing, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (VA) asked, “How does the president’s unilateral modification of act of Congress affect both the balance of power between the political branches and the liberty interests of the American people?” Turley responded, “The danger is quite severe. The problem with what the president is doing is that he’s not simply posing a danger to the constitutional system. He’s becoming the very danger the Constitution was designed to avoid. That is the concentration of power in every single branch.”
Who other than an irredeemable narcissist would make such extreme efforts to concentrate temporary power in his own hands at the expense of the founding principles of our federal government?
Obama’s policy prescriptions are abysmal but most are at least theoretically reversible. Unfortunately, his erosion of the law-based foundation of the country will be much longer-lasting; this, as Jonathan Turley recognizes, is Obama’s true “fundamental transformation” of our nation. Just a few examples:
In each of these cases — and many more — the political goal is bad enough. But the methods used to reach those goals are disastrous — and un-American. They circumvent well-established political processes and the constitutional provision that only Congress shall make law. President Obama’s actions frequently ignore the clear intent of Congress and the people, chip away at the rule of law, and disperse in the United States a whiff of tyranny for which there is no obvious political Febreze.
Will a future Republican president (particularly if serving alongside a Republican House and Senate) overcome the temptation to follow in the path of Barack Obama by implementing government by fiat, by executive action, and by regulatory agency?
Conservatives might briefly applaud a Republican president who by the wave of his hand attempts to change federal policy or law in a direction they approve of. The “taste of their own medicine” approach will be tempting and Democrats will have no ethical mooring from which to oppose such actions.
But, just as Mitch McConnell is wisely treating Senate Democrats far better than former Majority Leader Harry Reid treated Republicans and returning that chamber to “regular order,” the proper course for a future Republican president will be to undo that which President Obama has unlawfully done while promising — because the president is not a king — not to behave similarly to Obama even on issues of great concern to the nation or to the conservative base.
Public confidence in our political institutions, in their operation “of, by and for the people,” is paramount lest the tree of liberty need too soon to be “refreshed.” Donald Trump cannot enhance such confidence.
Among presidential candidates there is no Republican — and I use that term very loosely when it comes to The Donald — more likely than he to allow narcissism to Trump a proper respect for the rule of law. Can you recall a single instance of Trump suggesting “working with Congress” to fix a problem? No, it’s always “I will…” (Even when speaking of things where he clearly won’t, such as “bring back our jobs from China.”)
The president runs the executive branch but he is not the country’s CEO, able to tell citizens “You’re fired!” or unilaterally revoke treaties or change business practices in other nations. While a respect for and understanding of business is important in our political leaders, politics and business are different; not acknowledging the difference is superficially appealing but fundamentally corrosive to the foundations of good government.
Donald Trump, like Barack Obama, sees himself as nearly infallible, above criticism, and not bound by the usual rules of the game. Each believes we should be grateful just to have him and each has been reinforced in that view by fawning admirers. Because of the two men’s shared devotion to the politics of personality, Donald Trump — just as much as Hillary Clinton, although in an utterly different way — would be the very “third Obama term” that so many voters across the political spectrum are rightly desperate to avoid.