Barrels of ink have been spilt discussing the state of the republic in the wake of Donald Trump's victory in November and his ascension to the presidency.
It is, in fact, a highly noteworthy event, a historic event one could even say. Donald Trump is the first "social media" President, and the first "reality TV" president. He secured office almost exclusively based on his branding and on his manufactured image. He has no military of previous government experience, no legislation to his name, no public policy successes. His business acumen has been challenged as suspect in a variety of lawsuits against his enterprises, many of which have failed and ended in bankruptcy.
People have also observed the pervasive conflicts of interests that Trump has brought into the White House, and the real risk that government decisions are being made to further the personal financial interests of Trump and his delegates. Indeed, the perception of public graft is naked, almost a flaunt by Trump, his family members, and their underlings.
Governance itself is at risk. In an era of unbridled corruption, where numerous executive branch offices sit empty, and where the foremost critics of government agencies have been placed at the head of such agencies (Scott Pruitt heading the EPA, for example), what we may be witnessing is a fatal blow to the credibility of the federal government itself.
When Trump runs for re-election, he will no doubt run on a platform that his attempts to "drain the swamp" were met with obstruction from the Establishment, and he needs a bigger mandate in order to root out the evil in Washington D.C. I suspect this type of message will continue to resonate.
Much of what I have written is approaching the level of conventional wisdom. But there is more to Trump than meets the eye -- and I would take the position that Trump is not the disease. Trump is the symptom of a much bigger problem. That problem is the decades of lawlessness in the executive branch, and the decades of lawbreaking by previous Presidents. They all set the precedent for Trump.
Executive branch lawlessness has been rampant for some time. At its most extreme, it has taken the form of illegal wars, unlawful domestic surveillance, and torture. Let's call this aggressive lawbreaking "strong lawlessness," because it represents affirmative conduct of the executive branch in breaking the law.
But there has also been a form of "weak lawlessness," or a lawlessness that is characterized by lack of enforcement of laws. Here I am thinking about the banks and bank executives who torpedoed the economy in 2008 -- not a single person was indicted or brought to justice for that. I am thinking about the people who authorized the torture in Iraq and Afghanistan -- no high ranking official was ever charged with a crime for such heinous acts. The fact that the executive branch refuses to enforce laws against the powerful is itself a stunning and sordid pronouncement of a two-tiered justice system, a two-tiered economic system, and a two-tiered social system whereby the laws are meant for the little people, while those with power and influence take their seats in a de facto and unaccountable aristocracy.
Both strong lawlessness and weak lawlessness will get worse under Trump no doubt. But it probably would have continued under Clinton. Clinton supporters are delusional if they think Clinton was going to enact any type of genuine reform or rule of law initiatives to curb executive branch excesses. Clinton promised to govern in the Obama tradition, which would have meant she would have continued his policies of not indicting war criminals, of not going after the banks, and of doing little to rectify the two-tiered America that exists today. Perhaps not as obvious or odious, but the inability of President Obama to bring the executive branch into line after 8 years of reckless and criminal wrongdoing by President Bush stands as Obama's greatest failure. Obama, in many ways, bears tremendous blame for continuing unlawful policies and a culture of lawlessness at the executive branch: all things that paved the way for President Trump.
Thinking people should be frightened not just of Trump, but who or what comes after Trump. We live in an era when executive branch officials bomb other countries without legal authorization, torture in the name of security, and break domestic laws simply because they can. Meanwhile, Congress stands idle, and the Courts do little but enable an imperial Executive. America appears to be comfortable with all the rudimentary trappings of dictatorship, repeating the mistakes of past republics and permitting strong men to aggrandize power, to chest-beat their way into dominance for their own personal ambitions, to act more as apes than as humans. We are watching the world burn. And our leaders -- all of them -- are the ones who are lighting the fires.