Trump’s ineptitude and feckless advisers provide a partial explanation for why more damage has not been wrought. He’s had to settle for phony executive orders that only “study” bad ideas (e.g., protectionism, building the wall) rather than pursue them. His tone and demeanor are much worse than what he has managed to pull off. Aside from a White House arguably the most feeble and chaotic in a century or so, why have his “wins” been kept to a minimum?
The answer: Democracy is holding up well under its stress test. Trump’s election has provoked a sense of urgency and, yes, fear, among many Americans. (According to polls, Trump remains uniquely unpopular for a president at this stage in his presidency.) Rather than hide under their beds, however, Americans have reacted by protesting (on Jan. 21; at airports; for science on April 22), turning out by the thousands at town halls, organizing themselves, giving money to causes they care about, signing up to run for office and contacting lawmakers before key votes. They turned out in force in the GA-6 special election, overwhelmingly voting for Democrat Jon Ossoff or for Republicans who did not embrace Trump. And they’ve subscribed to mainstream newspapers in record numbers.
Speaking of the press, despite bullying, hiding from and insulting the media, Trump hasn’t affected respected news outlets one iota. They continue to fact-check him, investigate his conflicts and reveal his team’s ties to Russia. It’s no wonder he is so furious with the media — he cannot control them or block (even by distracting tweets) facts from getting to the public.
The courts have also done their part. Over and over again, federal courts struck down his Muslim ban. He tried, but failed miserably, to bully judges. He’ll win some and lose some in court for the remainder of his presidency but on his first big, unconstitutional project he was stopped in his tracks.
Trump has also been guided away from many of his destructive and dangerous foreign-policy notions by national security adviser H.R. McMaster, Defense Secretary James B. Mattis and Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley. Even Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson has resisted Trump’s pro-Russia bent. Give credit to Trump for choosing them, but the country should be grateful they’ve essentially set foreign policy (e.g., shoring up NATO and Asian alliances) rather than implement whatever crackpot ideas he was peddling.
In sum, Trump may be anti-democratic and inclined to authoritarianism, but Americans are not — and don’t appear ready to give in.
There’s one glaring exception to the refusal of Americans and democratic institutions to fall in line behind Trump: Republicans in Congress. With a paltry number of exceptions, Republican lawmakers have excused or ignored Trump’s conflicts of interest. They show zero interest in enforcing the Constitution’s emoluments clause. They refuse to take action to force the release of his tax returns. In the case of House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) they’ve entirely abandoned their constitutional obligations.
Nearly all Republicans opposed a select committee to investigate his Russia scandal. The Senate has rubber-stamped every nominee (a couple have had to drop out), even ones who had ethical weaknesses, lacked experience and displayed unnerving ignorance about the subject matter they were to be responsible for.
Most Republicans have refused to rebuke Trump’s wild claims (e.g., President Obama wiretapped him), egregious statements (siding with National Front proto-fascist Marine Le Pen) and out-and-out lies (e.g., crime is rising due to illegal immigrants). They have put party and partisanship above country and principle, just as they did in the election.
Republicans failed to pass health-care reform not because they determined Trump was backing an extreme, counterproductive and cruel bill, but because it did not go far enough. (The exception here was an undetermined number of moderates who objected to pulling the rug out from the neediest Americans.) Despite pre-election talk about restricting the executive, they’ve raised not a peep about executive orders, including ones that seem to trample on local control (e.g., his so-called sanctuary city order).
As bad as Trump has been — in our book he’s been just as bad as we anticipated — democracy is faring better than we feared. Unfortunately, Republicans in Congress, again with some noticeable exceptions, have demonstrated they have neither the ability nor the will to check the president. They’d better step up to the plate soon or voters will conclude the only way to prevent further damage to the Republic is to vote for Democrats in 2018.