“A body of men holding themselves accountable to nobody ought not to be trusted by anybody.” – Thomas Paine, The Rights of Man (1791)
The Rights of Man was written by Thomas Paine as a response to Edmund Burke, a conservative thinker of the time who wrote a pamphlet critical of the revolution in France. This particular thought was supposed by Paine as one of a litany of reasons that the people rose up against the French monarchy. When I consider this quote, I cannot help but immediately think of the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue: President Donald J. Trump. To that end, let me modify Paine’s quote:
“A man holding himself accountable to no one ought not be trusted by anyone.”
Donald Trump’s campaign and, ultimately, victory was fueled by his ability to tap into the insecurity of the American people – economically, demographically, geographically – and by painting the Washington establishment as entrenched career politicians more interested in preserving their own power rather than serving the people the people who elected them.
His promises crack down on Wall Street greed, to enforce and augment existing immigration law, and to address external threats that had been, at times, largely ignored resonated in a way that surprised the most seasoned political analysts. Political correctness was unceremoniously tossed onto the proverbial dung heap, and the electorate responded favorably to his plain-spoken rhetoric, which was the opposite of the focus-group-approved drivel that in the end says nothing at all. I look back at articles written a year ago, even two years ago, about how his campaign was doomed to failure and quietly smirk to myself. The expressions of utter shock by the mainstream talking heads on election night are forever seared into my memory. How could this unorthodox, sometimes patently offensive, campaign have won the day?
I absolutely agree with his assessment that Washington was, and is, broken. The idea of an outsider who was tied neither to the strings of special interests nor to the political establishment appealed to many, myself included (though ultimately, I did not vote for Trump). For a long time I have believed that someone from the business world, a CEO, could be a successful president. The traits of a successful CEO would, more often than not, mirror traits that would be embodied by a successful president (please note that this list is not all-inclusive): respect, patience, an open mind, enthusiasm, ACCOUNTABILITY (see what I did there?), humility, empathy, responsibility, initiative, diplomacy.
There were several CEOs in Obama’s second term that were viewed as potential candidates, and they all had most or all of these traits in spades. In their roles as CEO of publicly-held and traded corporations, they had accountability to shareholders at the end of the day. The problem is: Donald Trump has never been accountable to anyone – ever. In all of his dealings, personally and professionally, prior to becoming president, he never had to exhibit these traits because he was both CEO and majority (read: only) shareholder. It was the Donald’s way, or the highway – after being told “You’re fired” in that Apprentice sort of way.
While Trump brings an ample amount of initiative and enthusiasm to the Oval Office, I see a stark deficit in the remainder of the traits. Respect? His Twitter feed is rife with ad hominem and other attacks on an almost-daily basis. Patience? He comes across as a petulant child who is not getting what he demands. An open mind? Okay, maybe I will give him a pass on this one as it simply too early to assess, because although is he Republican in name, many of views are contradictory to the Republican platform. Humility? Do I REALLY need to say anything on this one? Narcissism, thy name is Donald Trump. Empathy? If his responsiveness to various events is an indicator, I do not think it is non-existent, but it is lacking in emotional understanding and sensitivity. Responsibility? I cannot see him as responsible with so many bankruptcies tarnishing his record. Diplomacy? He has never had the need to be diplomatic as the head of his own empire.
I choose that word “empire” for a specific reason: an emperor holds himself accountable to no one. Trump’s style of governance more closely resembles that of an emperor ruling by fiat or decree, as opposed to an elected leader who feels accountable to those who elected him AND to those who did not. To Trump, this is normal. This is business as usual. It is the only mode of operation he has ever known. And, it is why his presidency is doomed to fail.
Eventually, the lack of any meaningful progress in the reforms Trump has promised, due to his inability to compromise and predisposition to dictate the course of action, will erode his support with his own base. That support is already crumbling outside of that core group, thanks to his lack of tact, respect, and empathy. And when it finally does collapse around him, he will wag his finger in denial of responsibility, instead blaming everyone and everything except the real cause: himself.
The Antifa and other left-wing movements are seizing upon his weaknesses, calling for revolution, to overthrow their government in the same manner as the French did in the late eighteenth century. But unlike France at that time, we have a system of government that allows the people to make corrections through the ballot box, rather than resort to armed revolution and violence.
With that in mind, I believe that in 2020 we will see something that has happened only one other time in American history: a sitting, duly-elected President will be denied his party’s nomination for the subsequent election. Franklin Pierce, elected in 1852, was the only other one to whom this fate befell. Not ironically, C-SPAN’s Presidential Historians Survey ranked Pierce as the third WORST president in our history. Donald Trump was given the opportunity to do something unique in his time as President, but instead is allowing his ego to smother that opportunity before it has the chance to grow and bear fruit.