We’re now in the fourth year of the Trump regime, with the daunting prospect that we’re only halfway to its end. The Democrats are flirting with disaster, while Trump continues to undermine institutions that are supposed to safeguard us.
If anyone honestly thinks it isn’t so bad, here are at least three areas where we’re in danger.
First, and maybe least, is the economy. Sure, it’s booming. The stock market keeps breaking records, unemployment is at an all-time low, wages are creeping up while inflation is actually lower than what the Fed would like it to be. But, but. The national debt is out of control; Trump’s proposed budget shows a trillion dollar deficit, and the current fiscal year is $1.08 trillion in the red. Congress lowered taxes, especially for the rich, when it should have raised them to bring the deficit under control at a time of prosperity. Trump bullied the Fed into lowering interest rates because the economy wasn’t hot enough for him, so when the next recession comes–and it will come–the Fed will have one less tool to try to turn things around. And, with the deficits already at record levels, Congress may be reluctant to pass programs to counteract the economic slowdown.
Second, after the impeachment proceedings in the House last year Sen. Susan Collins said she thought that Trump had learned a lesson. He did. Trump learned he can do almost anything and get away with it, just as he has for his entire life. Constitutional barriers mean nothing to him because Senate Republicans, either out of fear or misguided (to put it generously) conviction, won’t move against him. They have drunk the Kool Aid, or at least pretended to have. He has begun to weaken the independence of the Justice Department, installing a more than willing partner in William Barr as attorney general, while venting at his perceived enemies–generally people who have resisted his “suggestions” and/or obeyed the law in ways that damaged him. Watch for him to pursue retaliatory prosecutions against his enemies while using the pardon power to let his friends and supporters avoid punishment for felonious behavior.
Third, he continues to appoint “acting” heads of departments, probably in violation of the law, to diminish their independence and increase his control. The latest, according to news reports, is Richard Grenell, described as a Trump loyalist, to be appointed acting director of intelligence. Grenell is now U.S. ambassador to Germany, but he doesn’t have a background in intelligence. Despite lacking that credential, he will oversee 17 intelligence agencies, perhaps for quite a while if Trump exploits a loophole in the law. The advantage of having a Trump loyalist directing intelligence is that it gives the president greater control over intelligence gathering, perhaps diverting the various agencies away from keeping an eye on Russia.
This is all part of an increasingly recognizable pattern. Previously, Trump ran a small business, which he owned. He could and did direct what it did and how it did it, while keeping its internal operations shielded from public view. Now, on a far grander–let’s say imperial–scale, he’s doing the same thing. He gets to shoot the moon whenever he likes because no one wants to take the queen to stop him. And he is doing it. Anyone who gets in his way gets canned. That’s part of the reason he likes appointees to be “acting” rather than permanent and confirmed.
There’s no exaggerating how truly perilous this situation is. Trump is systematically running over the checks and balances supposedly put in place by the men who wrote the Constitution. The institutions constructed to preserve the republic aren’t automatic. They are all populated by men and women, human beings; and they have to embrace the spirit of the Constitution for this democratic enterprise to continue. If they fail to do their job, as all the Senate Republicans save one did earlier this month, the institutions are worthless. So it turns out in the final analysis that we are a nation of laws only up to a point. The laws don’t enforce themselves. Enforcement needs men and women of character and patriotism, not sycophantic, spineless self-seekers interested only in self preservation.
There’s an old joke about a Jewish telegram. What does a Jewish telegram say? “Start worrying. Letter follows.”