Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson, current Physician to the President, has withdrawn himself from consideration for leading the Department of Veterans Affairs. Once the press began looking into Dr. Ronny, they uncovered salacious details of Jackson’s personal conduct, including numerous bouts with booze, and a cavalier attitude towards the distribution of narcotics. Coupled with a reportedly epic temper, Jackson’s poor character was more than enough for the Senate to whisper that the nomination was doomed. So, bowing to the obvious, Jackson has declined the nomination.
But the fact he was nominated at all is yet more evidence, as if it were still needed, that President Trump is incompetent. Apparently, he sent Jackson’s name to Capitol Hill without doing any vetting, without consulting with his staff, and without conducting a personal interview with Jackson. Trump seems to have just thought up the nomination and did it. Trump doesn’t care if anyone he nominates for positions in government is capable of doing the job. I don’t know what his relationship is with Jackson beyond Jackson’s title. It’s a sure thing Jackson has spent time with the president, probably in as intimate a setting as is possible for anyone employed at the White House. But close contact with the president doesn’t immediately make someone the right pick for a cabinet post.
President Trump is winging it. He has no clue how the departments under his charge carry out their responsibilities, nor does he seem to care. He is rewarding personal loyalty with plumb government positions, with no regard for the needs of those positions. He is creating a legacy whereby national government service at the highest levels resembles local machine cronyism more than responsible governance. The damage he is doing will linger on long after he is out of the Oval Office.
The Senate, for its part, finally showed a little backbone in resisting an unqualified nominee. If only they had decided to carry out their responsibilities as a co-equal branch of government sooner, we could have been rid of this mess of a presidency back before Super Bowl LI.
Moving on from the above theme of incompetence, Trump is also dangerous. This morning he called in to Fox & Friends and in a rambling interview that contained all sorts of tidbits, there was this:
You look at the corruption at the top of the FBI, it’s a disgrace. And our Justice Department — which I try and stay away from, but at some point, I won’t — our Justice Department should be looking at that kind of stuff, not the nonsense of collusion with Russia. There is no collusion with me and everyone knows it.
What an attack. It not only accuses the Justice Department of being corrupt, it also threatens direct presidential interference in its operations. And why? Because the law is making headway in proving the allegations about Trump’s campaign and administration. If Trump fears the Mueller investigation, he is right to do so. There is a very real possibility that the investigation will lead to the wholesale dismantling of the Trump empire. His money, his properties, his investments, trickling down to everyone in his family, could be forfeit. Close relatives could find themselves behind bars. This isn’t what he bargained for when he ran for president. If reporting is to be believed, Trump never expected, nor wanted, to win. The whole enterprise was a way to make him super famous and thus a more valuable property. How sweet it is, then, that everything he values is now at risk due to his own hubris. And also his criminality. Let’s not forget that.
Trump is a wily man. That can’t be denied. He conned his way into the highest office in the land, and that can’t be underestimated, regardless of the actions of the Russians. But, Trump doesn’t appear capable of long-term thinking, nor does he seem capable of considering consequences, because, at 71 years of age, he has never faced true accountability for his actions. He’s always been able to buy his way out of trouble. But that’s no longer an option.
The world that he came from, one of backroom deals with some of the shadiest people on the planet, perhaps made him used to a lack of scrutiny. But the presidency is watched by hundreds of millions of people every day. Trump made a major miscalculation that as soon as he was president, what he did in the past would no longer matter. He had a picture of an imperial presidency that doesn’t reflect the reality in this country. Despite the flaws in our democracy, our leader does not have absolute power.
Trump very much wants the presidency to operate like a dictatorship, where power and money are doled out to subordinates to keep them loyal, and the institutions of government exist to serve the leader and not the country. Trump would do very well running a country like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or even North Korea, where good governance bears no relation to leadership. He is a natural at the type of leadership style that keeps dictators in power for decades. Despite how awful it is that he came to power in this country, we are indeed lucky that our laws and institutions have been built up over centuries to combat just this type of person.
And combat it is. The President of the United States is at war with the rule of law. Right now, it’s impossible to know who is winning. Robert Mueller is running a tight ship, and we just don’t know what he has or when he will reveal it. He’s leaving the country twisting in the wind, but that’s just fine. In combating the demagoguery of Trump, it’s important that Mueller and his team are meticulous.
Missing, still, from the fight is Congress. If they would simply protect the integrity and independence of the Mueller probe, then much of the uncertainty surrounding the fate of the law would evaporate. How sad it is to see those charged with protecting this country so complicit in its possible ruination.