It can’t really be happening, can it?
It is coming up on two years since I finished writing my book ‘NEITHER HERE NOR THERE, A First Generation Immigrant in Search of American Exceptionalism’ in which I voiced my concern about the direction the American political system had drifted in and now I can hardly believe what I’m seeing. This is a classic case of the need to be careful what you wish for. I argued for a fundamental change in the American political system and that appears to be on the horizon now, except not in the way I envisaged it.
I saw the danger for the USA primarily coming from the dysfunction in the Beltway and the resulting inaction on any of the major challenges the nation has to deal with, not from a completely unqualified contender at the top of the GOP leaderboard for the 2016 presidential elections. I have long maintained, and still do, that it matters less who occupies the White House than it matters who controls Congress, the governors’ mansions and the State legislatures. The President of the United States can only do so much on his/her own. That part our founding fathers definitely got right. They did not want another king or emperor in charge with imperial power and unbridled authority. But that does not take away that the leader of the free world can still exert a lot of influence on how the world turns, for better or for worse.
In the first place, POTUS is also commander in chief with fiduciary control of the military might of the USA, including its nuclear arsenal. We all want a judicious, steady hand on the nuclear button here at home as with our potential adversaries.
Second, as we are momentarily reminded, POTUS nominates the members of the third branch of government, the Supreme Court and the Federal Appeal Courts. And the judiciary exerts more and more influence on American life by filling the void as the Congress fails to tackle the most important issues facing the nation.
Third, POTUS represents the country in meetings and negotiations with foreign powers and global institutions.
Finally, POTUS has it within his/her power to dominate the public discourse by using the bully pulpit and the free media attention that comes with it. That is what a demagogue values most.
In this context, the primary imperative for any new ascendant to the presidency of the United States is ‘to do no harm’. If you review the record of the 44 presidents the republic has endured, then it is hard to argue that more than a handful of them have been transformational in a positive sense. But generally they have been able to avoid doing great harm to the country, in a way like Hitler has done to Germany, Stalin has done to the Soviet Union and Mao Zedong has done to China. Most US presidencies have been forgettable and done harm only in the sense of wasting time and squandering opportunities.
But that may change if the American people don’t come to their senses and keep Donald Trump from becoming the nation’s 45th president. If Trump gets elected and follows through on some of his most outrageous campaign statements about the Middle East, North Korea, China, Russia and Mexico, America will be in a world of trouble the likes of which we have not ever seen before. Max Boot and Benn Steil elaborate on this in an excellent article in the upcoming issue of the Weekly Standard under the title ‘Selling America Short’.
Who can, in good conscience, vote for a candidate for the highest office in the USA (if not the world) who speaks in vulgar, insulting and demeaning slogans only, who promises action no US president is authorized by the constitution to undertake and who refuses to address with any specificity the question what he will do to deal with the most formidable challenges the nation faces?
It is time to suspend our disbelief. The betting world gives Donald Trump better than even odds to not only grab the Republican nomination but also then to proceed and beat Hillary Clinton in the general election. The only authority that can prevent that from happening is not the RNC, the DNC, the FBI, the IRS or the Supreme Court (unless, of course, the IRS audit surfaces tax evasion or other irregularities or the FBI finds evidence of malfeasance at the Trump University), but the American voting public. However, there is a real danger that a significant voting block will be so disenchanted with a Trump-Clinton contest that they don’t bother to go to the polls, which will definitely be in Trump’s favor because his supporters, smelling blood in the water, will not pass up this opportunity.
Do we really want to make the White House the home of a 24/7 reality show, the mother of all reality shows, and make America as disrespected as Italy was under Silvio Berlusconi? Do we really want a narcissistic, idiosyncratic, apprentice at the top of our federal government? If not, let all the voices of reason speak out before it is too late.