The do-nothing President?


Nearly 100 days into the Trump Presidency it appears as if the Donald is over his head.  Sure, he shot a few missiles into Syria, and met with some foreign leaders.  Yet for all the talk of “making America great again,” and “draining the swamp,” this administration has been at best quiet, at worst ineffective or incompetent.

This should not be a surprise.   During the campaign I used the metaphor of a car salesman.  The salesman can make lots of claims, talk up the car, and his job is done once the buyer signs the dotted line.  Trump is a good salesman.  But when you actually need to service the car, the salesman is irrelevant.  The mechanic in the service department has no desire to talk up the car; she’ll tell you what’s wrong, and even note if a particular model has problems the salesman didn’t mention.  You would never want her replaced by the salesman – you need her to keep the car in working order.

Yet Trump made the sale and now he’s in charge of the service department and doesn’t really know what to do.  He’s used to giving orders and having his staff follow through (ready to fire them if they fail), but that’s not how the Presidency works.  Business leaders in general have problems moving to executive positions in government; this seems especially so with Trump.

The health care fiasco is this in a microcosm.  With all the bravado of a salesman Trump declared that the plan to repeal and replace Obamacare would yield a better system that would “benefit everyone.”   Yet reality was messy.   People would be thrown off insurance, the public was worried about losing aspects of what they liked about the ACA, and Republicans were split on just how to “repeal and replace.”

At that point, the President had to become a master of detail, someone who could sit down with the stakeholders, negotiate, cajole, and make the deal.  The trouble is, Trump has never really been a good deal maker.  He’s a salesman; his deals have historically been poor, which is why he has so many failed businesses and has often flirted with bankruptcy.   He assumed his staff would do the hard work, he didn’t realize he actually had to do more than just talk and posture.   The result: an embarrassing failure that left Washington insiders amazed at the apparent incompetence of GOP leaders and especially the President.

Now as the Republicans turn to his promise of tax reform, people are pessimistic that anything can be done.  With Trump’s approval ratings down around 40%, he lacks political capital to pressure people to comply, and he appears to lack the patience to learn the details and work through the issues.

The missile strike on Syria is another example.  While a few people said that this represented “toughness” on the part of the President, it’s easy to order attacks.  Obama, Bush, Clinton, and really every President in recent history have ordered strikes.   The Syrian strikes were especially impotent – the US warned Russia, who assured Syria was not caught by surprise, and they did little damage.   Overall, it’s hard to see much change from the Obama foreign policy to the Trump policy, despite his promise to “put America first.”


At a California protest that bloodied both Trump supporters and opponents, this woman is punched by a known white supremacist – caught on film.

That leads to the most incongruent aspect of the Trump Presidency – his populist message is at odds with his style of governance.  He quickly ordered an end to the “drain the swamp” rhetoric, and has stocked the White House with lobbyists and insiders.   His nationalist guru Steve Bannon is finding himself overshadowed by Trump’s mainstream son in law, Jared Kushner.  Simply, beyond rhetoric President Trump has done nothing that really jives with his campaign.   The salesman behaves differently when he runs the service department.

Yet anger at Trump from the left, along with support by xenophobes and white supremacists on the right still resonate.   Republicans hope the President’s mainstream approach to governance will convince  moderates that he isn’t some kind of dangerous radical.  But already Breitbart news and some on the “alt.right” have warned Trump that if he veers too far from his rhetoric, or if he were to dump Bannon, they’d turn on him with a vengeance.

Simply, Donald Trump doesn’t have what it takes to be President.  He lacks patience, discipline, and is too insecure – focused on how the media portrays him.   Rather than lead a revolution in American politics – some kind of rejection of globalism in favor of strident nationalism – he’s appears like a deer caught in a car’s headlights.   He’ll enjoy the pomp, offer rhetorical flourishes, but lacks the capacity to have a disciplined approach to governance.

This could change – Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump want to turn the administration around, and they are likely a moderating influence.   This could be early day stumbles; perhaps he’ll learn on the job.  But at this point Donald Trump, for all the bluster, appears en route to becoming “the do nothing President.”

Update:  This article in the “Daily Beast” chronicles an effort by the “adults” in the White House to gain control and stabilize the Presidency:

  1. #1 by List of X on April 17, 2017 - 21:56

    I think that Trump has been able to do some good deals in his real estate businesses – after all, he did make at least a couple of billions, but a lot of those deals probably relied on special connections, or having access to non-public information, or being more willing to go to extreme measures like lawsuits, and refusing to pay his bills and loans.
    And as a president, his access to these tactics is limited.

  2. #2 by Norbrook on April 18, 2017 - 13:31

    If there’s one hope I have, it’s that Trump’s presidency will put an end to the conservative belief that business people make good governors or Presidents. One of the biggest things they fail to understand is that government is not business. Trump is demonstrably unable to accept that reality, hence his multiple attacks on the judiciary and on various members of Congress. They’re not subordinates, they’re equals, and they don’t answer to him. I have no hope that he’s going to grow into the office, since he’s shown no willingness to accept that there are things he doesn’t know, and is unwilling to learn them or surround himself and listen to the people who do know.

  3. #3 by timactual on April 26, 2017 - 16:40

    Much of what you have said about the beginning of the Trump administration can also be said, quite accurately, about the Clinton administration. And others. Like any other job there is a learning period.

    “Overall, it’s hard to see much change from the Obama foreign policy to the Trump policy…”

    I would imagine you would think that is a good thing, since Obama was so successful.

    About the photograph. Just who is that “known white supremacist”? How is he “known”? Who says he is? What about her? Is she perhaps a “known Marxist revolutionary”? Perhaps you should have posted the entire video clip instead of just one out of context frame. Why are her hands are on his throat. Perhaps she hit first.

    • #4 by Scott Erb on April 26, 2017 - 16:55

      She did hit first, I believe. The article I was reading noted it was a White Supremacist group and the guy was well known as a leader, but since it was just a photo caption I didn’t really put much there as it wasn’t central to the post. So fair enough – I didn’t put much effort into the photo. I do think Trump’s stumbles and low approval ratings are far beyond what Clinton, Reagan (who also had difficulties early) or Obama experienced. I also think the others did better trying to work with Congress. But yeah, Trump might learn on the job. If he doesn’t, his administration will be the best thing to happen to the Democratic party in a long time (but only if the Democrats can ditch the old guard and embrace some new leadership).

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