Friday, June 02, 2017

What do I think of President Trump?

Earlier today, a dear friend of mine, who lives in Hong Kong messaged me on Facebook and asked me what did I think of President Trump? It is question that American Expats get asked often these days. The answer is, like the American political system itself, rather complex.

What do I think of Donald Trump? Hmmm… okay, well it is safe to say that historians will be kept gainfully employed for decades to come, all writing books on this very topic. I can only give you my thoughts on this. There are several key points you must look at in any examination of how we all got here. As is often the case, to do that we must start at the beginning...

Donald Trump is a product of privilege. Complete, total, and unearned privilege. He is someone who was born on the second highest step on the ladder, and now lauds himself as a “huge” success story for having “gotten to the top”. This is not a criticism, nor is it an attack on wealth. It is just a fact, and a critical one to understand, as it has informed Trumps world view, and his behaviour all throughout both his personal and professional life.

When faced with trouble, or serious personal challenges it was that privilege that got him past it. Be it problems in school, problems in his personal life, or even obligations he didn’t care to fulfil. (His numerous Vietnam draft deferments for a non-existent “bone spur” and his habit of just deciding not to pay vendors, or change the terms of contracts mid-stream and then sue into submission anyone who dares try to fight back, his multiple divorces, all are manifestations of this.)

As result of this…

Donald Trump is completely accustomed to always getting his own way. Any options that are not of his making or control are inherently wrong and unacceptable. The world of New York Real Estate is truly one of dog-eat-dog. Manhattan has a finite amount of land, for which there is a nearly infinite demand. For something new to go up, something old must come down, for one person to win a deal it means someone else must be the loser in that deal. Which means…

For Trump, success is a zero-sum gain proposition. In Trump's world for one person to succeed means another person must fail. Therefore, the world is seen through the singular lens, that in all things there are, and must be, winners and losers; and to be the winner is good, and the loser is always bad. This also means…

For Donald, partnerships are never about mutual success, they are only about expedience. Every partner is still your competition, who must eventually be defeated for you to be the winner. This approach will make you a great deal of money in real estate, but it has revealed the core fundamental flaw in Donald Trump as a leader.

Donald Trump is a remarkably insecure man. As someone who got to where he is more by circumstance of birth than by intellect or ability, Trump’s ego is incredibly fragile. As a performer, Trump is obsessed with ratings. (Be it crowd sizes or polling numbers, or twitter followers).
He is a man who talks about himself in such grandiose terms, often in the third person and nearly always ends with a demand for affirmation. (“believe me!”) This is a man who is trying to convince himself as much as those he is speaking to of how great he is. Anything that contradicts that view of himself as the winner, must be, in his mind “fake”, “rigged” or “very unfair".

In that quest for affirmation Trump finds role models in bullies. Be it Vladimir Putin, or President Duterte of the Philippines, or even North Korea's Kim Jung Un. So of course, his campaign colluded with the Russians. But I won’t go any further down that road here. Instead, we have to talk about the elephant in the room. By that, I mean the question historians will be asking for years to come; How did this man get elected President of the United States?

Donald Trump told the lies people were desperate to hear. As the global economy, the march of technology and social change redrew the American social and economic landscape there was a large sector of the American population that got left behind. The core industries of the rust belt states no longer exist in the same form they did in the years following World War II.

Globalisation forever changed that steel plant in Allentown PA which sprung out of the war effort and became a piston in the engine driving America’s middle class. That coal mine, that auto plant, and all the related business that sprung up around them, were all victims of the march of time. And for the last 40 years, both political parties have been unable to tell these people the hard sad truth. That their jobs were never coming back. Instead both parties told little white lies.

The republicans told them the answer was tax cuts for the rich, who would then invest in their communities and wealth would “trickle down” to them (It didn’t.  The people who got those massive Reagan- Bush 1 and Bush 2 tax cuts, were never going to invest that money in West Virginia, Ohio, or Pennsylvania, they took the money, and used it to get richer. Investment in America became about making money by moving money, not spending it on people.)

The Democrats told these people they just needed more education. If they went to their local community college and got continuing education and training in something new, then all these new economy jobs would come flooding in, as they were now a desirable workforce. (This also didn’t happen. Google, Apple, and Intel were never going to move from Silicon Valley to Hancock County, TN. If those newly educated workers moved themselves to Northern CA then sure, there was opportunity, but those opportunities were never going to move them.)

Then along came Donald Trump, and he loudly proclaimed what these economically desperate, angry people had been waiting for someone, anyone to say. Trump told them their problems were not their fault, and promised to make things like they used to be. Back to when if you were white, and reasonably literate that was enough. When people who were different were the ones who felt marginalized not you. It was lie, but it was a beautiful lie, that affirmed their anger and had a very real subtext that fed on racial and social animosity and fears.

The result? They voted form him in droves. Which brings us to another interesting truth about all this….

Donald Trump honestly didn’t expect to win. The plan always was to run, to lose and then use that exposure, that resulting fame to promote and expand the Trump brand. But then the impossible storm of improbable events all came together. The Clinton emails, The Sanders phenomenon, the Russian election hack (which was always more about hurting Clinton than helping Trump) You look at Trump in the days following the election, he looks like he is in shock. There was no transition plan ready. The Trump team at the first meeting with the Obama Administration, honestly didn’t know that the entire staff of the Executive Office of the President (The west wing staff) wasn’t going to stay on after Obama left.

Which brings us to the core issue with Trump…

The Government is not a business, and being President is not like being a CEO. When a new CEO comes into a company, what is the first thing nearly all of them do? They set about erasing all trace of their predecessors. The new CEO alone can “fix it” and anything the old CEO did was bad. If you do that as President you wind up with 24 million Americans losing health insurance, and America losing its leadership role on the world stage.

You can’t just sign executive orders like corporate memos and do whatever you want. The American system of government is set up so the Presidency is the weakest branch of government. Trump doesn’t understand that.

So, this is a very long run up to the answer to your question- What do I think of President Trump?

He is the most unfit man to ever hold the Presidency. While he is not evil, he is simply completely unqualified and totally unable to cope with complexities of the job. He is not smart enough, not patient enough and lacks a fundamental understanding of the role of the United States Government and the executive branch within that government.

The longer he remains in the job, the more damage he will do, to both the country and to the Republican Party, which is slowly coming to terms with the fact they have to remove him, and soon.

I am in no way thrilled by the prospect of President Pence and Vice President Ryan but the alternative is to do potentially irrevocable damage to the American Presidency and the nation as a whole,.

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