Now that we’re into May, I thought it appropriate to ask the question: how is the new administration occupying 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. doing? For answers, I looked to three people whose opinions I value greatly.
Dr. Barbara Perry is the director of presidential studies at the Miller Center at the University of Virginia. She has spent her entire adult life studying our presidents and it is difficult to imagine someone more knowledgeable on the subject. When assessing what kind of learning curve a person like Trump (with no political or government background) would confront when stepping into the White House, she commented, “It’s like Mount Everest…it’s as steep as they come.”
Dr. Perry continued, “Is this an entry level president? I think that’s too generous. Unless he would be an intern, he would not have a position in the White House.” As to the claim that running the government like a business would bring a fresh approach to the job, she countered, “This president has no experience in the areas that we’ve always valued in a president and the experience he does have has not proved helpful in past presidents.”
Dr. Robert Dallek is a renowned presidential historian and the author of some outstanding works on several presidents including Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy, Nixon and Reagan. Professor Dallek suggests that Trump’s lack of experience “is showing…particularly in his dealings with Congress.”
After his first 100 days in office, the new president trumpeted his accomplishments: “There are those that are saying that I’ve done just about more than anybody.” Dallek’s take on this claim: “As usual, he engages in hyperbole…which is utter nonsense…he’s gotten little accomplished.” As for Trump’s personality, Dallek pulls no punches: “He’s a man of such grandiosity…he has to be the best, the greatest. His use of language is always overstating what he is doing or expects to do…its counter logical.”
Perhaps most discouraging is the professor’s prognosis on whether or not President Trump will learn anything from his failures and shortcomings: “I don’t know. He doesn’t seem inclined to say, ‘I’m wrong’ or ‘I made a mistake.’ He’s so resistant. There may be a significant learning curve; he may just keep going in this direction because that’s just part of his character.”
Finally, I looked to Pulitzer Prize winning conservative political commentator, George Will. For Mr. Will, an important question is: Why have there been so many perceived missteps? Mr. Will was scathing in his analysis: “There seems to be not a mere disinclination but a disability. It is not merely the result of intellectual sloth but of an untrained mind bereft of information and married to stratospheric self-confidence.”
In documenting his disability claim, Will cites two major head-scratching claims. First, in February, Trump noted, “Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is getting recognized more and more, I notice.” Of course, the fact that Douglass died 122 years ago makes this statement ridiculous. Will raises the question of whether or not this was merely another of Trump’s “verbal fender benders” or whether it was an indication of something much more troubling?
Then, just a few weeks ago, Trump instructed us that Andrew Jackson was angry about the Civil War (that began 16 years after his death). Trump asserted, as if he possessed unique perception, “People don’t realize, you know, the Civil War, if you think about it, why? People don’t ask the question, but why was there a Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out?” Libraries are packed with books, counters George Will, that are dedicated to exploring that very question.
For intellectuals like George Will, Trump’s lack of even the most rudimentary knowledge of our nation’s history is unforgivable and dangerous. Will points out that the president didn’t know or understand what a nuclear triad is or the significance of the One China policy. Even more alarming was Donald Trump’s stated solution to Middle East terrorism; “I would bomb the s**t out of them...I’d blow up the pipes, I’d blow up the refineries, I’d blow up every inch, there would be nothing else.”
Summing up his objections to the new president, the renowned conservative commentator put it this way: “[Trump] lacks what T.S. Elliot called a sense of not only the pastness of the past, but of its presence. His fathomless lack of interest in America’s path to the present and his limitless gullibility leave him susceptible to being blown about by gusts of factoids that cling like lint to a disorderly mind.”
Given the ferociousness of Will’s indictment, the logical question is what do we do now? He proposes the following: “Americans have placed vast military power at the discretion of this mind, a presidential discretion that is largely immune to restraint by the Madisonian system of institutional checks and balances. So, it is up to the public to quarantine this presidency by insistently communicating to its elected representatives a steady, rational fear of this man whose combination of impulsivity and credulity render him uniquely unfit to take the nation into a military conflict.”
Given the present state of affairs perhaps the better question is how are we doing?