Writings and observations

A new day

mckee

Starting with Harry Truman’s impossible win over Governor Thomas Dewey in 1948, Tuesday marks the 17th presidential campaign that I have personally watched – usually from the edge of my seat, sometimes with hair standing on end, but always mindful of every twist and turn, from beginning to end. Nine of these races went one way, and eight the other, meaning that overall, the end result has been as close to 50-50 as one can get with an odd total.

No matter which party, and no matter which candidate was involved, no matter the issues involved or the principles being argued or the programs being promised, in every one of these past goes, approximately half the country was convinced that the defeat of their candidate meant doom was inevitable for the end of the world as they knew it was nigh. And yet the country survives, just as it will undoubtedly survive this one.

I tried this logic on my sweet wife, and was told, promptly and in no uncertain terms, that this one was different. Perhaps it is so. This is the first time in my memory, for example, where we have elected a misogynistic, homophobic, anti-Semitic, racist who declared himself such before taking office. Most have waited at least until after the oath was administered to stumble into the issues. But then, certainly no one is contending that this will be the first time we have ever had such in the White House? Right? Of course not.

What does make this is one different in my view is that this is the first time in memory, and perhaps even in recorded history, when so little has been known about the president-elect’s true abilities at governance. To my memory, the only other candidate with no direct experience at governance from elected office was Eisenhower – but he had accumulated a reasonably acceptable record as a substitute; he won WWII.

As far as Trump is concerned, we know him only to be a business man of uncertain and somewhat controversial talents. Trump has made it abundantly clear that he is not what anyone would call a skilled politician, and we have no idea how what skills he does possess will translate into the political science arena. We do know that he organized a primary presidential run with almost no money, mowed down the entire bench of traditional candidates offered by his party, ran his end game with very little ground support, and somehow kept the significance of most of what was happening away from the cognoscenti of traditional campaign methods.

What nobody was paying any attention to, and what was not being picked up by the media, the savvy commentariat, or the data mavens of conventional polling, was that a huge segment of the voting electorate was so enraged with the status quo, so unhappy with the beltway norm, so dissatisfied with what they perceived the politicians were delivering up to now, that they were collectively willing to sacrifice it all on a total unknown, despite all the political gaffs and missteps, despite the randy women’s issues, despite the lack of depth on any of his promises and bumper-sticker slogans of policy, despite the foreign relations blunders, and despite the suggestion of chumminess with the wrong foreign leaders, all simply upon the promise that he was not your typical politician and that he, and he alone, intended to shake the box.

We may believe he is singularly unqualified to serve, but right at 50% of the voting public disagree. Because of the arcane way we count, they are in the majority and they are willing to take this chance that shaking the box will work no matter what else might be involved. And who knows what will happen here. Giving the box a sound shake up by one from the outside has never been tried before. What can possibly go wrong besides a worldwide economic depression, the dismantling of history’s most responsive democracy and thermonuclear war?

Actually, the implementation of much of the policy changes Trump is talking about by executive fiat may be very difficult to bring about. The President’s power to act unilaterally, without the concurrence of Congress, or the concurrence of the deeply imbedded civil servants in most agencies, is considerably limited. Especially if some shakeup appears to be a drastic change or upheaval from the “normal” way of things are done, it is probably going to be much, much more difficult than Trump imagines.

Changing regulations by executive order can run into trouble if the President starts to monkey around. Everything is governed by the Administrative Procedures Act and nothing can happen summarily. The agencies critical to our national security, for example, the Pentagon, the CIA, the FBI and Foggy Bottom, are all loaded with career civilians who are in designated positions that are insulated from political influence. These folks cannot be fired, have out-lasted numerous changes in the administration, and can cause significant problems in the implementation of any administrative orders that are not favored. Look at the problems being encountered at streamlining the Veteran’s Administration. Ingrained methods and programs are very tough issues to tackle, regardless of the best of intentions.

Insofar as obtaining Congressional approval, having simple majorities in both houses of the President’s party is not necessarily a pathway to everything Trump desires. The razor thin majority in the Senate is not enough to get anything done if the minority digs in its heels – as the Republicans recently proved to Obama. Even among the R’s, a fair number do not necessarily approve of him or his programs. Further, the members of Congress are separately elected, and are individually going to be watching out for their personal interests, more so over Trump’s. Outright repeal of many programs with desirable features will be troublesome; we are at least likely to see amendments attached to any repealers to keep the more desirable features and prevent serious a harm from resulting.

So, Secretary Clinton had it right in her talk. The best thing here is to take a deep breath. This fellow is our president, whether we like it or not, and he deserves a chance to get it right. Some of these things do need changing and there is the possibility that he will grow into the job and be effective at it. If he is terrible and horrible and awful at it, there are plenty of resources within the government to block his way, slow things down and make it difficult if not impossible for him to do any real harm. We bide our time until the mid-terms and then corral his power completely. Or wait it out until the next general.

And that may not be too bad; remember, he was a Democrat until just a few years ago.

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