Having graded the president’s economic and foreign policy in Part One, I turned to examining the president’s domestic and social policy in Part Two and also started to look at the way President Trump conducted himself as the president. I conclude that look here.
Despite his flaws, the one thing you would expect from a businessman president is for him to be a superb manager, but that has not been the case. There’s a big difference between managing a private company and the federal government.
The president’s poor management has shown up in the sheer number of vacancies. More than 80% of the most important executive posts remained unfilled, not due to Congressional inaction but because the President has failed to name appointees. This failure has left the president depending on Obama Administration holdovers and career civil service employees, and this has hurt the ability of the administration to enact policy.
In many cases, the president has refused to give cabinet secretaries such as James Mattis at Defense and Rex Tillerson at State the people they want because their choices for Deputy and Assistant Secretaries were often critical of the president in the election. The president’s pettiness not only has left the country without appointees for key positions, but it has also confirmed the fears of many who have wanted to give him a chance.
Had the president been more open to appointing people who were willing to work with him despite misgivings about him for the good of the nation, it would have shown a willingness to build bridges and the ability to be magnanimous in victory. Unfortunately, the president has shown such concepts are beyond him and that he will put his ego before the interests of the country.
The lack of high-level appointments has left a significant amount of power centered around Trump’s dysfunctional White House. Trump’s White House has been marked by public acrimony with competing leaks made to the press for principles to damage one another, and in some cases, the president. A general atmosphere of distrust and suspicion is apparent. Watching the White House has been like a Washington, DC Season of the Apprentice. It makes for an excellent reality show but poor government.
The roles of the president’s daughter and son-in-law Jared Kushner in this administration are troubling. Relying on unqualified relatives to run the government is a mark of a third world banana republic and is not the American way. The use of family members in the White House is a point of Republican hypocrisy. I am old enough to remember when Republicans complained about Hillary Clinton having a significant policy role. Republicans said, “Nobody elected her.” There was something unseemly, even if it was not illegal, about giving an important policy advisory role to someone the president could not easily dismiss, someone who was only getting to have that say because of her relationship with the president.
The big difference between the role Bill Clinton gave to Hillary Clinton and what Trump has given to Ivanka is the amount of experience Hillary Clinton had. Mrs. Clinton was more qualified to play a policy role with her years of legal experience and probably could have landed a White House job or a Congressional seat on her own merits. Ivanka and Kushner would not be given jobs at this level in any other administration on their own merits, their presence as presidential advisors is nepotism at its most dangerous. The people whom the president most trusts on policy matters are not qualified, seasoned, or particularly wise, but he will not discard their advice because of complex psychological and emotional family ties.
The nepotism of Ivanka and Kushner in the White House is only part of a larger pattern of the president, who has at the very least created multiple appearances of self-dealing and has walked a tightrope over an ethical abyss on a variety of ethics issues.
The president has taken golfing trips nearly every weekend despite promising a “no vacation” presidency. While I do not take issue with the president leaving Washington to de-stress or even the general cost of these trips, I do take issue with the way in which the president’s company is profiting off of these trips. The president’s privately owned company charges our government to protect the president’s life. For example, the Secret Service paid $35,000 to rent golf carts to travel around the president’s privately owned Mara Lago golf course. The Secret Service and Pentagon are having to rent space in Trump Tower which runs at $1.5 million a floor. When we add up all the money that the president’s company has received from taxpayers in exchange for allowing the Secret Service to protect the President, it will almost certainly dwarf the $400,000 salary the President chose to forgo.
There are a variety of other conflicts involving the president and his businesses and his refusal to either liquidate or put them into a blind trust, and there are so many aspects of this business that lead to situations that just don’t pass the smell test. Trump’s sons are planning a major nationwide expansion of the Trump hotel business with a new chain called Scion whose hotels will not feature the president’s name on the hotels. It will rely on real estate developers and investors to put up the capital for the hotels.
This expansion opens all sorts of ethical cans of worms, with the potential of people investing in new hotels for the company the president owns to attempt to influence the president’s administration. Also, having a company owned by the president will influence many local government leaders to bend over backward to offer approvals and even taxpayer assistance for the building of these hotels. The lives of municipal leaders across this country are consumed by little more than seeking federal grants. A few will imagine that being helpful to a hotel chain run by the president will get their cities money, but even more will decide to oppose the hotel may hurt their community’s chances of getting federal funds given the president’s temperament.
It also raises the specter of the Trump family using the administration to build its wealth. As Republicans face the potential of an electoral wipe out in the mid-term elections and a generation of reputational loss, they may find themselves to be like the real estate investors in Trump’s Atlantic City casinos who bet on Trump and his reputation and lost their shirts while Trump himself made off like a bandit.
This appearance of a conflict of interest manifests itself in foreign policy. As I wrote in the first article, the president has loaned legitimacy to the brutal regimes of Turkish President Erdogan and Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte. One potential explanation for that is that the president has significant business holdings in both countries. Of course, given a choice between a president who praises dictators because he admires their jailing of the press and illegal killing of their citizens or one who praises them because he does not want to hurt his hotel chain, many voters may prefer the latter.
Alternatively, consider the case of China. The president, after spending the last two years calling China a currency manipulator, promptly reversed course and said they were not. On the very same day our President met with the President of China, China granted Ivanka Trump’s company a series of hard to obtain trademarks. What a coincidence!
Moreover, to be clear, some or all of these issues may truly be coincidences and there not be any sinister motive behind them, but it does not pass the ethical smell test. It raises many questions about to what extent the enrichment of the Trump family is motivating American policy. It is why other presidents have divested themselves of their business holdings and why the president’s decision not to do so is selfish egotism that threatens to sidetrack his administration.
A more obvious conflict was the president attacking Nordstrom’s for choosing to discontinue carrying Ivanka’s merchandise, which serves as a bit of intimidation to other retailers who may have wanted to drop her. Kelly Anne Conway got into the act by encouraging people to buy Ivanka merchandise while giving an interview as a Federal Employee on White House grounds turning a news program into QVC for Ivanka Trump. The act was unethical as well as incredibly tacky. Despite the recommendations of ethics experts, Mrs. Conway was not disciplined for the misuse of her office, which gave her conduct the appearance of presidential approval.
The president has also refused to follow through on his promise to release his tax returns as every president has for the last forty years has and this leaves open many questions. What’s the extent of the president’s business relationships with Russia? Will whatever tax bill finally passes have special carve-outs that inordinately benefit the president? We do not know because we do not have the president’s tax returns. We only have his assurances and claims on his voluntary financial disclosures that this is not the case. Given how few Americans find the president honest and trustworthy, this is simply not enough.
As irregular and improper as the role of Trump’s daughter and son-in-law are, they serve a role in counterbalancing the instability of Steve Bannon, who worked hard to increase the voice and influence of alt-right white separatist Richard Spencer and is a self-described Leninist who favors bringing chaos to government operations. The height of Bannon’s influence was early in the administration and most evident in the roll out of Trump’s original travel ban that unleashed chaos around the world. Given that, the President’s daughter and son-in-law’s influence is often the lesser of two evils for the direction of the administration.
Because of Trump’s lack of a clear and consistent core and the forces within his White House, the administration’s core messaging seems to dance back and forth between Bannon’s nationalism and Ivanka and Kushner’s center-leftism, while occasionally sounding like a typical Republican Administration. It is an inconsistent and schizophrenic voice that leaves everyone unsure where our country stands.
Perhaps at the core of the administration’s problems is a central lack of honesty, integrity, or core principles. The president has an almost non-existent relationship with the truth, and he has tainted members of his staff with this. Sean Spicer, in his first press briefing, was given the task of telling a blatant lie about the size of the crowd at the president’s inauguration. Kelly Anne Conway defended this as not lies but “alternate facts,” one of the most Orwellian terms coined in American politics.
The president himself was caught lying about the margin of his electoral victory being the greatest margin since Ronald Reagan (rather than being sixth highest in eight elections since Reagan.)
As Trevor Noah has pointed out, the president lies comfortably about things contradicted with a google search. Coupled with a lack of dedication to principle is the president’s inability to tell the truth. Even people who supported the president’s air strikes on Syria were alarmed at how quickly he completely reversed course.
This lack of integrity means he does not have the confidence or trust of the American people. Only 36% of the American people view the president as honest and trustworthy according to an April Gallup poll. After the attack on Syria, I heard fears that this might lead to U.S. ground troops. That is a needless worry. This president lacks the moral authority for such an action.
A bigger concern is if a crisis arises: a major terrorist attack or a situation where our country has to commit troops in the service of the national interest, the president is politically incapable of doing it. No matter how real the crisis, when the president comes on television to explain what’s happening and to call for action, Americans will be seeing a man who has lied about great matters and small, a man whose administration has created the appearance, if not the reality, of conflict of interest. This president has guaranteed that Americans will greet whatever call to action and whatever plea he offers to “believe me” with scorn.
For these reasons, on the conduct of the president, the president earns an “F.”
Grades from all Categories:
Foreign Policy: C-
Social/Domestic Policy: C+
Conduct of the President: F
The president has done some good, even though it is arguably less good than any other major Republican candidate would have done. Nevertheless, in most areas, he has been an improvement over President Obama.
The issue of his behavior is worrisome and threatens to overwhelm every other area of his presidency. The president’s biggest supporters like to suggest he is a grand chess master whose next move you cannot predict. I would propose that he is far more unstable: a man whose unusual moves are born not out of strategic brilliance but not knowing what he is doing.
His behavior threatens the economy as businesses may become more squeamish as the president’s instability creates uncertainty about the future, and it will certainly affect foreign policy as foreign leaders increasingly try to work around the United States.
The president’s outlook for the future and re-election is not as dim as it could be because the left’s behavior makes the president look more normal. Also, the media has harmed its credibility as they choose to run with several sensational stories they have had to retract.
Many conservatives have been delighted with this, but all the president and the press have managed to do is create an environment where the American people cannot trust or believe anyone. That may be enough to re-elect the president, but it is not a legacy to be proud of.
Overall grade: C-