President Trump And Institutions

President Trump And Institutions

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

President Trump dislikes Government or any organization in which he is not the sole decision-maker. If that does not sound very democratic it is because it is not. When the President went to Missouri this week to address tax reform he spoke strictly in terms of categories of tax policy he disliked and wanted to “fix”; but he left out virtually all the specifics.  Policy initiatives in Government–of which tax reform is probably the most complex—is all wrapped up in details, which truly bore the President. 

As with healthcare Trump did not and does not “wallow” in policy details. The President once again appears not to be interested in a specific bill becoming a law but in having a bill passed which he will sign and can trumpet as an accomplishment. For Trump it is about winning. Substance is of no interest to him. It is about rhetoric not minutiae. This is one of the fundamental flaws in Trump’s entire Presidency and is present in every aspect in which he approaches Government.

Now the President has added an addendum to this axiom.  From now on Trump has decided the success of tax reform will be his while he will blame its failure only Congress. He launched the charge for tax reform and told the House and Senate leaders to do it. The input on the legislation even from the Treasury and the White House staff appears to date to be unimpressive and unsophisticated.

What has become evident as well as in this initiative is that Trump is actively campaigning against those who attack or oppose him. As he did against McCain and Flake in Arizona so did he begin set forth his attack this week on Missouri’s Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill.  First Trump called for bi-partisan support for his tax bill and then noted that that were she to oppose him he was calling on Missourians to defeat her bid for re-election in November 2018.   

What Trump is doing, however, is more than traditional political posturing. He is abdicating legislative leadership, telling Congress to write a bill, threatening those who oppose it, and telling his followers that they should insist that he gets what he wants. The only problem is that he has told no one what he wants beyond generalities, does not work on specifics, and attacks individuals and institutions which do their job. As he has done in challenging the courts and judges so too he is undermining the Congress. He is rousing the American people to blame everything that is wrong on Congress and accept no responsibility.

Unless the American people demand that the Republican Party genuinely rise to the challenge, Trump’s drive for more power could bring the country to a standstill. With the debt ceiling extension, FY 18 spending legislation, and now emergency funding for hurricane Harvey related damages, requiring expeditious handling by Washington in September, this is hardly the time for political machinations. 

While some of these issues could be kicked down the road for a few months through temporary funding, the American government’s institutions need to function together. This is the job which bores the president. It is not glamorous or exciting, but it is governing. Wednesday’s meeting at the White House with leaders of Congress and the President could well signal where the Congress—both chambers and both parties—are prepared to go to address America’s problems or whether they will be cowed by a bully.  

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