Democrats and #NeverTrump Republicans, unhappily, were prescient about a Trump presidency. President Donald Trump has proven himself intellectually, temperamentally and morally unfit to govern. He refuses to learn what he does not know, so he makes constant gaffes and reveals his ignorance. He rages at the press, to no avail. (The media does its job and Trump’s approval sets records for awfulness.) Predictably he’s accomplished very little — actually nothing, save the Supreme Court confirmation that requires legislative action. He’s surrounded himself with cronies, family members and ignoramuses who cannot manage to draft a defensible travel ban (thank goodness) or unite the GOP on health care or tax reform. He arguably violates the emoluments clause every day, and both he and his children have managed to make conflicts of interest and self-enrichment the rule, not the exception, for high officials.
Trump’s ineptitude and feckless advisers provide a partial explanation for why more damage has not been wrought. He’s had to settle for phony executive orders that only “study” bad ideas (e.g., protectionism, building the wall) rather than pursue them. His tone and demeanor are much worse than what he has managed to pull off. Aside from a White House arguably the most feeble and chaotic in a century or so, why have his “wins” been kept to a minimum?
The answer: Democracy is holding up well under its stress test. Trump’s election has provoked a sense of urgency and, yes, fear, among many Americans. (According to polls, Trump remains uniquely unpopular for a president at this stage in his presidency.) Rather than hide under their beds, however, Americans have reacted by protesting (on Jan. 21; at airports; for science on April 22), turning out by the thousands at town halls, organizing themselves, giving money to causes they care about, signing up to run for office and contacting lawmakers before key votes.
The courts have also done their part. Over and over again, federal courts struck down his Muslim ban. He tried, but failed miserably, to bully judges. He’ll win some and lose some in court for the remainder of his presidency but on his first big, unconstitutional project he was stopped in his tracks.
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Trump has also been guided away from many of his destructive and dangerous foreign-policy notions by national security adviser H.R. McMaster, Defense Secretary James Mattis and Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley. Even Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has resisted Trump’s pro-Russia bent. Give credit to Trump for choosing them, but the country should be grateful they’ve essentially set foreign policy (e.g., shoring up NATO and Asian alliances) rather than implement whatever crackpot ideas he was peddling.
In sum, Trump may be anti-democratic and inclined to authoritarianism, but Americans are not — and don’t appear ready to give in.
There’s one glaring exception to the refusal of Americans and democratic institutions to fall in line behind Trump: Republicans in Congress. With a paltry number of exceptions, Republican lawmakers have excused or ignored Trump’s conflicts of interest. They show zero interest in enforcing the Constitution’s emoluments clause. They refuse to take action to force the release of his tax returns. In the case of House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes and House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz, they’ve entirely abandoned their constitutional obligations. Nearly all Republicans opposed a select committee to investigate his Russia scandal.
As bad as Trump has been — in our book he’s been just as bad as we anticipated — democracy is faring better than we feared. Unfortunately, Republicans in Congress, again with some noticeable exceptions, have demonstrated they have neither the ability nor the will to check the president. They’d better step up to the plate soon or voters will conclude the only way to prevent further damage to the Republic is to vote for Democrats in 2018.