The Age of Incompetence: BERKELEY – On January 20, 2017, US President-elect Donald Trump will take office having received almost three million fewer votes than his opponent; and he will work with a Republican Senate majority whose members won 13 million fewer votes than their Democratic opponents. Only the Republican majority in the House of Representatives, led by Speaker Paul Ryan, has any claim to represent a numerical majority of the 55% of Americans who voted on Election Day 2016. Trump will also begin his presidency with an approval rating below 50%. This is unprecedented – or “unpresidented,” as one of his semi-literate tweets put it (before he deleted it) – in the history of such ratings... **Read MOAR at Project Syndicate
Trump will also begin his presidency with an approval rating below 50%. This is unprecedented – or “unpresidented,” as one of his semi-literate tweets put it (before he deleted it) – in the history of such ratings. The government of the world’s oldest democracy is, in fact, not democratic. Also unprecedented is the fact that so few members of the president-elect’s own party, and none of the Democratic opposition, consider him to be qualified for the duties of the presidency, apart from serving as Cheerleader-in-Chief.
We thus have a situation unique in post-1860 American history: the government of the world's largest democracy is not democratic. And we have a situation unique--although it has been building for quite a while--in that none of the opposition and very few members of his own Washington DC political allies and staff have any confidence that the president--or precedent--elect is qualified to do the non-cheerleading portions of his job.
What do I mean by "building for quite a while"? With the honorable and notably rare exception of George H.W. Bush, 1957 was the last time that a Republican president qualified by knowledge, intelligent, temperament, and values to be president swore the oath of office on inauguration day. Nobody denies that Richard Nixon was qualified by knowledge and intelligence to exercise the office of president of the United States. But everybody admits he was unqualified by temperament and values. Very few believe that Ronald Reagan was qualified as far as knowledge and intelligence were concerned--"Poor dear", said British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, "he means well, but not too much between the ears", and what qualifications he had at inauguration were eroded by the wounds inflicted by assassin John Hinckley and the shadow of Alzheimer's. But Ronald Reagan had the temperament and--largely--the values necessary and proper, and understood very well that although he was the star he was not the boss: there were, just as in Hollywood, very smart and hard-working trained professionals writing his lines, blocking his moves, and doing the camera work and the post-production, and he knew he should focus on doing his job as star and not interfere with theirs. George W. Bush was supposed to be in the same mold: a folksy cheerleader who would be guided by the very smart executives he had inherited from his father's political affinity. But George W. Bush thought that he was not just the star but the decider. And while Cheney and Rumsfeld had been smart executives in the 1970s by the 2000s they were, to put it bluntly, erratic if not mad. Those were the two he bonded with. And now George W. Bush does not appear at Republican National Conventions and would be a happier man had he never sent James Baker to Florida at the end of 2000 to grab its electoral votes.
Does Donald Trump understand that he is the star but does not have the knowledge and intelligence to be the boss? No. Does he understand that he was not won but merely leveled up to a place in which he has the chance to fail catastrophically and permanently? No. Does he understand that he right now is the person who has the greatest interest in making sure that his policies are technocratically excellent, and will in fact produce a richer and stronger America and a more peaceful world in four years? Probably not.
So, what should the millions of Americans who now fear for the future do? First, we can work at the state level to try to neutralize any Trump policy initiatives that are flawed or infeasible. Democrats and principled Republicans in state legislatures need to work together to keep tax revenues flowing and to fund the many spending programs that are in the American interest, regardless of what is happening in Washington, DC. And they should promise each other that, regardless of who comes to power in 2021, they will not hold each other liable for acting as disruptors today.
At the national level, we should constantly remind Senate Republicans that they speak for 13 million fewer voters than the Democrats do. And we should remind Paul Ryan that he made a mistake by going along with the Bush administration’s discredited economic and foreign-policy initiatives between 2001 and 2008, and that it is a disservice to the country to show unconditional partisan support for an administration that is so obviously unfit.
And, if all else fails, we should remember that standing up to an unpopular president who received almost three million fewer votes than his opponent is not just the right thing to do; it will also make for great reality TV.