Friday, January 20, 2017

The Beginning of an Error

Eight years ago today, I wrote a blog post entitled "The End of an Error." The title was, perhaps, not particularly original, but it expressed perfectly how I felt about the Bush administration that was leaving office that day. Despite how happy I was to see Obama entering the White House, on Inauguration Day, I was evidently more concerned with writing about what had gone before than what was to come.

In the same way that I felt January 20, 2009, was the end of an error, I feel that January 20, 2017, is the beginning of one.

Of course I feel this way: I'm a liberal, after all, who abides strongly by typically liberal political beliefs and perspectives.  No matter who it was, if a Republican was entering office today, I would undoubtedly consider it the "beginning of an error."  

But this particular beginning is even more troubling and upsetting because of who it is. Donald Trump is not a typical Republican.  He's not a Republican at all.  He's an authoritarian and oligarch whose gods are himself and money. 

He enters office with the lowest approval rating of any president-elect since such polls have been taken (which, in fairness, only goes back to the early 1990s). Real Clear Politics shows the current average of approval ratings to be 41.8%. That's remarkably low for a president-elect who hasn't even gotten into office yet; George W. Bush in 2000, despite winning a disputed election in a campaign that was widely considered to have two less-than-stellar candidates, entered office with a 59% approval rating.

I'm not one of those people who hopes Trump (or any president, for that matter) fails. Like all decent human beings - not to mention self-respecting American citizens - I want all presidents to be successful and to lead the country into prosperity and general well-being. Unlike people like Rush Limbaugh, who openly asserted in January of 2009 that he hoped Obama failed, I hope Trump succeeds. I hope the country does well under his leadership, and if it does, I will be the first to give him credit for it. I haven't forgotten when Mitch McConnell, upon assuming the mantle of Senate Majority Leader, said that his primary job as leader of the Senate was not to govern, but to ensure Obama did not get reelected (which means, of course, that he failed in his primary job). I don't support views like that. I hope Trump succeeds, and if he does succeed, I will support his bid for reelection. 

Having said that, I have no hope whatsoever of that actually taking place, and no reason, in my view, to feel anything different. As a historian, I tend to look at things like this through the lens of history, and I see nothing in historical precedent to make me think the chances of Trump succeeding are very good. 

There are two primary reasons for this: 

1. His economic policy is based on a failed policy frequently referred to over the last few decades as trickle-down economics: cut taxes for corporations and the rich so that these "prime movers" of society have more wealth with which to invest and create jobs, which will make their extra money "trickle-down" to the rest of the masses and improve everyone's life. 

This was a fine and noble theory 45 years ago when Ronald Reagan began championing it in the mid-1970s and used it as the centerpiece of his economic policy after being elected president in 1980. Unfortunately, we have known for a very long time now that it does not work. The wealthy simply get wealthier while everyone else stagnates. More money in the pockets of corporations does not make them hire more people or, especially, pay their people better. Instead, it is reinvested in growing the business to pad the pockets of their investors, or held back in savings against a future bad economy. 

There is simply no reason to suppose that this time it will finally work. That this time, Reagan's grand vision will finally come to fruition. It won't. Instead, over the next four years, the wealth gap will undoubtedly grow wider.

2. People often think that success in business will naturally equal success in the White House. Republicans, in particular, tend to abide by this belief, as evidenced by the many wealthy businessmen they have nominated for the presidency over the last century (including three of their last four nominees going back to 2000). 

Unfortunately, history shows that successful businessmen tend to make unsuccessful presidents. Prior to Donald Trump, there have been three presidents who were successful businessmen before winning the White House - two Republicans and a Democrat.

The first was Herbert Hoover, who was one of the wealthiest men of his day, earning a fortune in the mining business. He was the third Republican in a row to be elected to the White House, taking office in 1929. He, of course, presided over the Great Depression and lost in a landslide four years later to Franklin D. Roosevelt. He is widely remembered as one of the 20th century's worst presidents. 

The second was Jimmy Carter, who owned a large agricultural business in Georgia (commonly referred to by his critics as a peanut farmer, it's important to realize he was not a sunburned farmer in overalls picking peanuts, but the head of a major farming operation). He took office in 1977 and, after presiding over an economic recession, was easily defeated in 1980 by Ronald Reagan. 

The most recent was, of course, George W. Bush, who was an oil industry executive before entering the White House in 2001. Like the two businessmen-turned-presidents before him, he presided over a major economic recession and left office with the lowest approval ratings of any president in modern history. 

Learning from history has never, of course, been the forte of many conservative voters, and clearly the monsters and naive enablers who voted for Trump don't realize and/or don't care that no other businessman has been able to translate his business sense into good public policy as president. 

This is not surprising since the factors and qualities that make for successful business operation do not work when it comes to governing.  You can't run the country like a business for the very simple reason that the United States is not a business.

When you consider that all our previous experiments with businessman-as-president have failed, and when you also consider that those three previous presidents did also have governing experience as well as being successful businessmen, but still failed, while Trump has never governed anything, it leads to a very strong sense that he will fare no better than Hoover, Carter, and Bush before him. God forbid that he fare worse. 

And these historical considerations, of course, say nothing about his personality, his bluster and bloviating, his narcissism, his inability to accept criticism, his vengefulness - all qualities that make for a poor leader.

So I see no reason to be upbeat or positive about the prospects of Donald Trump's presidency. I hope he does well, but I do not expect him to. I have every reason to suppose that this is the beginning of an error, which will hopefully come to a peaceful end in four years.   

It's 12:12 pm, Barack Obama is now an ex-president, and Donald Trump has taken the oath of office. 

God help us. 

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