The True Cost of Trumpism

I was reading a column by Max Boot in The Washington Post a day or two ago about Trump’s decisions regarding the Middle East, and the damage he is causing to our alliances, when one sentence jumped out at me:

“It’s dangerous to have a president who truly does not know what he is talking about.”

We can sugar-coat issues and say that Trump is merely playing to his base, which is partly true, but the bottom line is that Mr. Boot is right … Trump does not know what he’s talking about and it is dangerous … very dangerous.

Freedom House is a U.S.-based non-governmental organization (NGO) that conducts research and advocacy on democracy, political freedom, and human rights.  The organization’s annual Freedom in the World report, which assesses each country’s degree of political freedoms and civil liberties, is frequently cited by political scientists, journalists, and policymakers.  The latest annual report was released on Tuesday, February 5th, and I think it’s important that we think about what it says.  The report is too long for me to replicate here, but I would urge you to read some of it, at least the section on the U.S. — The Struggle Comes Home:  Attacks on Democracy in the United States.  Meanwhile, I have included some of the most relevant points.  All highlighting is my own.

Freedom report

At the midpoint of his term, however, there remains little question that President Trump exerts an influence on American politics that is straining our core values and testing the stability of our constitutional system. No president in living memory has shown less respect for its tenets, norms, and principles. Trump has assailed essential institutions and traditions including the separation of powers, a free press, an independent judiciary, the impartial delivery of justice, safeguards against corruption, and most disturbingly, the legitimacy of elections.

So far, America’s institutions have largely honored this deeply democratic sentiment. The resilience of the judiciary, the press corps, an energetic civil society, the political opposition, and other guardrails of the constitutional system—as well as some conscientious lawmakers and officeholders from the president’s own party—have checked the chief executive’s worst impulses and mitigated the effects of his administration’s approach.

But the fact that the system has proven durable so far is no guarantee that it will continue to do so. Elsewhere in the world, in places like Hungary, Venezuela, or Turkey, Freedom House has watched as democratic institutions gradually succumbed to sustained pressure from an antidemocratic leadership, often after a halting start. Irresponsible rhetoric can be a first step toward real restrictions on freedom. The United States has already been weakened by declines in the rule of law, the conduct of elections, and safeguards against corruption. The current overall US score puts American democracy closer to struggling counterparts like Croatia than to traditional peers such as Germany or the United Kingdom.US_Democracy_Scoreboard_Resized_FIW2019.jpgWhile not without problems, the United States has enjoyed a strong tradition of respect for the rule of law. President Trump has repeatedly shown disdain for this tradition. Late in 2018, after a federal judge blocked the administration’s plan to consider asylum claims only from those who cross the border at official ports of entry, the president said, “This was an Obama judge. And I’ll tell you what, it’s not going to happen like this anymore.”

As a candidate in 2016, he questioned the impartiality of an American-born judge with a Hispanic surname who presided over a fraud suit filed against “Trump University.” Soon after taking office, he disparaged a federal judge who ruled against his travel ban on several Muslim-majority countries as “this so-called judge.”

The president has since urged the Department of Justice to prosecute his political opponents and critics. He has used his pardon power to reward political and ideological allies and encourage targets of criminal investigations to refuse cooperation with the government. He has expressed contempt for witnesses who are cooperating with law enforcement in cases that could harm his interests and praised those who remain silent.

An array of independent media organizations have continued to produce vigorous coverage of the administration. But the constant vilification of such outlets by President Trump, in an already polarized media environment, is accelerating the breakdown of public confidence in journalism as a legitimate, fact-based check on government power. We have seen in other countries how such practices paved the way to more tangible erosions of press freedom and, in extreme cases, put journalists in physical danger. It would be foolish to assume it could never happen here.

Previous presidents have criticized the press, sometimes bitterly, but none with such relentless hostility for the institution itself. Trump alone has deployed slurs like “enemy of the people,” flirted with the idea that the media are responsible for and perhaps deserving of violence, and defended his own routine falsehoods while accusing journalists of lying with malicious, even treasonous intent.

From the outset of his administration, the president has been willing to ignore obvious conflicts of interest, most prominently with his decision not to divest ownership of his businesses or place them in a blind trust. Instead, he moved them into a revocable trust, managed by his sons, of which he is the sole beneficiary. During his presidency, his businesses have accepted money from foreign lenders, including banks controlled by the Chinese government. Trump has swept aside the norm against nepotism by having his daughter and son-in-law, both seemingly saddled with their own conflicts of interest, serve as senior White House advisers. He also rejected the tradition obliging presidents to release their income tax records.

Trump properties have hosted foreign delegations, business dinners, trade association conferences, and Republican Party fund-raising events, complete with Trump-branded wines and other products, likely arranged in the hope of earning the president’s gratitude. The Washington Post revealed that a month after President Trump’s election, lobbyists representing Saudi Arabia booked hundreds of rooms at Trump International Hotel in the capital. Indeed, a number of foreign and domestic interests allegedly sought to influence the new administration by arranging donations to Trump’s inauguration festivities, which are now under investigation.

The importance of credible elections to the health of a democracy should be self-evident. If citizens believe that the polls are rigged, they will neither take part in the exercise nor accept the legitimacy of those elected.  During the 2018 midterm elections, he suggested without evidence that Democrats were stealing a Senate seat in Arizona and committing fraud in Florida’s senatorial and gubernatorial balloting. He complained that undocumented asylum seekers were invading the country so they could vote for Democrats. He suggested that Democratic voters were returning to the polls in disguise to vote more than once.

At the same time, the administration has shown little interest in addressing genuine and documented threats to the integrity of US elections, including chronic problems like partisan gerrymandering and the fact that balloting is overseen by partisan officials in the states. But the most glaring lapse is the president’s refusal to clearly acknowledge and comprehensively combat Russian and other foreign attempts to meddle in American elections since 2016.

Trump has refused to advocate for America’s democratic values, and he seems to encourage the forces that oppose them. His frequent, fulsome praise for some of the world’s worst dictators reinforces this perception. Particularly striking was his apparent willingness, at a summit in Helsinki, to accept the word of Vladimir Putin over his own intelligence agencies in assessing Russia’s actions in the 2016 elections.

Cambodian strongman Hun Sen consolidated one-party rule in sham elections last summer after banning the main opposition party and shutting down independent media. He acknowledged that he and President Trump shared a point of view about journalists, saying, “Donald Trump understands that are an anarchic group.” Poland’s president, whose party has sought to annihilate judicial independence and assert control over the press, similarly thanked Trump for fighting “fake news.” Saudi Arabia’s crown prince almost certainly ordered the assassination of a leading journalistic critic, apparently believing that the action would not rupture relations with the president of the United States. It seems he was correct.

All of these are things we already knew, things we have written of and bemoaned for the past two years.  But, seeing them cited by a respected bipartisan watchdog group as threats to our core principles, as a weakening of our democracy, should give us all renewed reason to sit up and take notice, to keep on fighting against these injustices.  According to the President of Freedom House, Michael Abromowitz …

The grim reality is that Freedom House now ranks the United States well below other large and long-standing democracies, such as France, Germany and Britain.

As Mr. Boot said, It’s dangerous to have a president who truly does not know what he is talking about.”

30 thoughts on “The True Cost of Trumpism

  1. I struggle with trying to understand why more than 20-30 people support him. Here are three possible reasons: 1. Religious cult 2. Chief Entertainment Officer 3. Stick with the team no matter what. (Sadly, their “team” is the GOP or Trump rather than the USA). https://petersironwood.com/2017/01/09/trumpism-is-a-new-religion/
    https://petersironwood.com/2019/02/17/you-bet-your-life/
    https://petersironwood.com/2019/03/21/newsflash-winning-by-cheating-is-losing-it-is-not-winning/

    Liked by 1 person

    • Like you, I question how anybody in their right mind can support a ‘man’ with no honour, no integrity, no intelligence … a childlike temperament and the inability to focus on actually doing the job for which he was elected. The dishonesty is the worst thing, in my book. We should be able to believe our elected officials, and there is not a one in his administration that I trust. The second most egregious thing is his disregard for the environment as evidenced by rolling back all the regulations intended to slow carbon emissions, protect water sources and wildlife, etc. Thanks for stopping by, by the way!

      Like

    • I’m not really sure. For a while, it looked as if both democrats and republicans in Congress were determined to come to a workable compromise, and if nothing else, pass it with a veto-proof majority, for another shutdown is the last thing this country needs. Republicans in Congress are taking a beating from their constituency already, and another shutdown would make that even worse. But then this morning, it is reported that they have reached an impasse, and Trump doubled down on his determination to get what he asked for, so … I would not be surprised if there is another shutdown at the end of the day next Friday. Sigh. We really need an adult at the helm of this ship!

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  2. Jill, I agree with Mr. Boot. As I share with some friends who support Trump, it is one thing to lie, but when he sets policies off his lies (or lack of knowledge), it is a bigger problem. You know I often cite Thomas Wells (an attorney who worked with Trump) about Trump’s lying, but he also observed Trump shows no inclination to study what it takes to do the job. This was s recurring theme and frustration which was echoed by staff in Bob Woodward’s book “Fear.”

    Two examples jump out to me. He says every global agreement that precedes him is a “disaster.” No agreement is perfect, but disaster? Our involvement in the TPP agreement was unwound early in his Presidency. Yet, it went on without us. And, it precisely the kind of agreement that would help combat China trade practices, which he says is vital. In other words, he eliminated a tool to help his mission,

    The other is the border wall. There is no crisis at the border, yet he sent troops at our cost to portay that their is. As Congressman Will Hurd, a former CIA official whose Congressional district has the longest border with Mexico, notes the border wall is an expensive and ineffective tool breaking with the President.

    Keith

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s it in a nutshell. It’s okay not to know or understand something … nobody can be expected to know everything. But, when you are making decisions that affect millions, maybe even billions of lives, it is unconscionable not to try to learn everything you can that affects the decision. If you accept your own ignorance, then put lives in jeopardy because you accept it, then you are a fool … a dangerous fool. And that is exactly what we have in the Oval Office. Both of your examples are spot on, and we could name dozens of others, notably those related to the environment. Sigh … can we get rid of him soon, please? I’m tired of him, aren’t you?

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Do men seek power which gives them money or do they seek money which gives them power? Either way or both money and power run the world. Ethics, freedom and a long term view be damned.
    Other more subtle and not so subtle power plays are religion and racism and the dumbing down of the citizens.

    I don’t think there is an end for this. It will play itself out until the end.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Who knows? It’s rather like the old chicken & egg conundrum. Perhaps they are one and the same, power and money. What I wonder is why some people feel so in need of money and power, while others do not. Personally, I care for neither, beyond enough money to pay the bills and put food on the table. Is it something in the DNA, or in the way they are brought up? Like you, I think it will get worse before it gets better, if it ever does.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Therein lies one of the problems. Trump is pursuing an extremely isolationist policy, and has convinced his base that this is the best course, that it is possible to stand alone. The reality, that his base cannot understand, is that we live in a global society now, whether they like it or not, and we MUST be able to cooperate with other nations for trade and national security. I think that much of the problem is a lack of education — people seem to not understand how the world works today.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Change is desperately needed in both our countries unfortunately no viable alternative is available. Just too fragmented. Maybe a bit of our fire needs to be directed at the opposition, they need to raise their game to get us out of this mess. Until then Trump will do his own thing and May will follow.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m not so sure that viable alternatives aren’t available, but the divisiveness in both our nations may keep positive change from happening. You’ve heard the saying, “United we stand, divided we fall”? I think that might well be true.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I agree and that’s what I mean about no viable alternative. We are weeks away from walking off a cliff, unbelievably still with no official plan and yet no credible alternatives exist. In your country you are not that far away from deciding on a new president and you seem to have at least 20 challengers. Strangely the only two official opposing voices we here in the UK are Obama and Cortez.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Sigh. Quite so … on all counts. The March deadline for Brexit is too close for comfort, and I’m not sure I see any viable alternative that could beat that deadline. And as far as our 2020 election … it’s shaping up to be an even worse three-ring circus than 2016. I’m surprised, though, at the two you say you hear the most about in the UK! Michelle Obama has made it very clear that she has NO intention of running, and Ocasio-Cortez is not old enough to run … candidates must be at least 35! Out of the 33 or so who are currently said to be planning a run, there are 3-4 whose candidacy might … I say MIGHT … be viable: Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar are the top runners at the moment, BUT … two of those have so much baggage that I don’t think they’ll get out of the starting gate. 21 months ’til the election, and already the mud-slinging has begun!

          Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, this is true. The bigger danger is the number of people who cannot (or will not?) see that and continue feeding the monster. He wanted isolation, and frankly I’m beginning to feel that we are very isolated.
      Cwtch

      Liked by 1 person

  5. And it will only get more dangerous. More reporters may die before Trump’s reign is over, and it might not be over as soon as many people want it to be.
    The truth is, it can happen here (USA), whatever it is, and it won’t be good.

    Liked by 1 person

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