Mr. Trump was able to win the 2016 election on the basis of his status as a billionaire, TV personality, and with the help of Russia under Vladimir Putin. Yet, he has shown himself unable to govern effectively and come up with a plan to deal with the Covid-19 crisis. In this piece, I will reflect on President Trump’s domestic policy, while a future essay will examine his foreign policy.
The basic issue in the 2020 presidential election has to do with Trump’s character and personal conduct. Poll after poll has shown that the American people see the president as dishonest, a serial liar, unable to work with Democrats for the good of the country, and making decisions based on his gut rather than trusting experts to get things done. (See William A. Gaston, “Trump’s Polling Proves Character Counts,” Wall Street Journal, June 26, 2019).
In his address at the 2016 Democratic convention, Michael Bloomberg said words to the effect that if Mr. Trump runs the country like he runs his businesses, then “God help us.” Mr. Bloomberg was prescient in his statement since he knew Mr. Trump had six bankruptcies and ran his businesses into the ground. Mr. Trump had an extremely small staff and it appears he is out of his league in governing a country. In his businesses, he chose people for his staff not on the basis of their skill-set and expertise. Rather, Trump wanted only those who would go along with his ideas and remain loyal to him above all. Apparently, that strategy did not work in running the country as complex as the U.S.
A recent book bears the title, “A Very Stable Genius: Donald J. Trump’s Testing of America.” It seems that Mr. Trump is neither stable, nor a genius. As one anonymous official in his op-ed piece, “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration,” (in the Sept.5, 2018 issue of The New York Times), wrote “Meetings with him (Trump) veer off topics, and off the rails, he engages in repetitive rants, and his impulsiveness results in half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally decisions that have to be walked back.”
Moreover, we have several of Trump’s hand-picked members who spent time in jail or in a courtroom, such as National Security Advisor Gen. Michael Flynn, Roger Stone Jr., Michael Cohen, Rick Gates, and Steve Bannon, architect of the 2016 election campaign, who was recently accused of asking supporters to pony up money to “build the wall,” while using the money to line his own pocketbook.
Then we have Generals James Mattis, John Kelly, and McMaster who decided to work under Trump in order to prevent the President from making poor decisions and causing havoc in the White House and in the nation. They resigned because they found that the President could not be dealt with rationally. President Trump has several weaknesses (1) his inability to trust experts; (2) his thin skin so that he often plays the “blame game;” and (3) his refusal to take responsibility for his actions. For example, with the outbreak of Covid-19, President Trump failed to trust epidemiologists and infectious disease experts like Dr. Fauci about controlling this pandemic. Instead, Mr. Trump downplayed the virus, comparing it to the flu and saying that it will magically disappear. He also suggested that people with the virus take a drug effective against malaria called hydroxychloroquine to treat Covid-19. However, tests to date have demonstrated that this drug does not work against Covid-19.
He also gave citizens a bad example by not wearing a mask on TV for his daily briefings and his team did not observe social distancing as recommended by the infectious disease experts. Instead of putting infectious disease experts in charge to make decisions about controlling the virus, Mr. Trump went the political route and put V.P. Pence in charge. Thus, we now have 175,000 deaths as a result of bad decision-making on the part of the President for which he takes absolutely no responsibility.
It’s not surprising that 70 former Republican national security officials decided to endorse a Democrat, Joe Biden for President on August 20, 2020. Some of these top-notch officials were ex- CIA and FBI chiefs with many years of government service. At the same time, they called President Donald Trump “corrupt and unfit to serve.” There’s also the Lincoln Project run by former Republicans who are spending millions of dollars in ads to defeat Mr. Trump. I have no idea what the future holds in store. However, I would never rule out Mr. Trump winning the 2020 presidential election.
Richard Penaskovic is an Emeritus Professor at Auburn University. His writings have appeared in the Birmingham News, Columbus- Ledger Enquirer, Montgomery Advertiser and online by Informed Comment and Politurco.