It’s seven months into the Donald Trump presidency and what have we learned? Are things going as planned? Is there a plan? Does the future augur a new tomorrow or more of the same?
There are a few home truths on broad display: our man loves to play golf, on his courses, in states where he won a majority of electoral college votes. He rides his golf cart with purpose and pride, and apparently is a good player. Metaphorically, he loves a sport that’s in age-cohort decline, is fundamentally boomer-based and showcases the lives of affluent executives who can afford to spend four hours away from actual work.
It’s also apparent that the president works best close-in with a few types of associates. Family comes first. Daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner have easy and ready access. And they have the additional benefit of mixing work with family, when they sequester away from the office with granddad. Theirs is 24/seven access of a different kind than even the chief of staff, who this month is retired four-star general John Kelly.
Retired generals (“My generals,” as the president likes to call them) are also a favoured class of close-in employee for the president. I wonder if this is because they are, especially after stellar careers in the armed forces, acutely aware of the chain of command, and have provided unquestioning loyalty to their superior officers. “Yes sir!” said with gusto is just the sort of response that the president prefers. The colouring of this immediacy by public servants, like once-FBI director James Comey, who defer to the triplex reality of the judiciary, the legislative and the executive functions of government, does not find Trumpian favour.
It’s starkly evident that the president dislikes those who might usurp his authority by getting their own covers on Time magazine, or engendering whispered asides (perhaps overheard at Mar-a-Lago fundraisers) about “puppeteers” or “presidential horse whisperers.” The president also dislikes egregious displays of profanity (at least that’s my read on the departure of Anthony “The Mooch” Scaramucci), and spokespeople who dress inappropriately or somehow fail to look the part, like poor old Sean Spicer. Stalwart loyalists must either look good in their uniforms or, like Vice-President Mike Pence, look like they were supplied by central casting.
Pence “has been so wonderful to work with,” Trump said in a speech at the White House to the National Governors Association. “He’s a real talent, a real guy. And he is so central casting, do we agree? Central casting.”
It would also appear that real estate development is the preferred career background (e.g., himself, his sons and Kushner) to lawyering or a career in public service. Real estate development has a reputation of being a rich boy’s game, requires ready access to large sums of money and privileges the privileged. It doesn’t require a conspicuous public service orientation or social activism profile. By reputation, it’s an activity (not a profession) centred on branding, flipping and flim-flamming, many would say with the emphasis on flim-flamming.
There appears to be only the promise of more of the same in the future. And as the recent “violence on many sides” comment, presidential advisory councils plus the arts and humanities committee resignations, and Steve Bannon’s firing showed, the president’s vision is myopic and shambolic. Significant new segments of society have been alienated and the stock market is getting wobbly.
Throughout this bizarre murk, it appears that the president’s deplorable base is holding firm, arguably at something like a 25 per cent foundational level. However, as the framers of the U.S. Constitution intended, the judiciary, the legislative branch, and the executive are still separate and distinct, and the tried and true checks and balances are alive and kicking. Robert Mueller and team, investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election, are lawyered-up, hard at work, and undeterred by the pervasive resignations, firings and associated machinations.
Amazingly, even amidst the chaos on the poop deck, the ship of state sails on, with Obamacare still intact, no Great Wall of Mexico, and a growing mass of citizens who plan to vote for change in the upcoming 2018 midterm Congress elections. The endgame has begun.
We are probably in for a delayed and messy departure, but you can feel the change in the weather.
Mike Robinson has been CEO of three Canadian NGOs: the Arctic Institute of North America, the Glenbow Museum and the Bill Reid Gallery. Mike has chaired the national boards of Friends of the Earth, the David Suzuki Foundation, and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society. In 2004, he became a Member of the Order of Canada.