Trump — Head of State or Head of Government? Or neither?

Donald J. Trump felt the need this weekend to retreat to the comfort of his campaign memories and to the reinforcement provided by his incondicional supporters, which CBS pollsters on Face the Nation last Sunday told us number about 20% of the population. He has found Washington, D.C. to be a foreign place to him, full of enemies and of conventions and rules that do not bend to his will. His first month as President has been crisis-ridden, chaotic, and his government has shown itself to be highly resistant to the changes he is seeking to impose on the country as he promised he would during his campaign.

Trump has failed to take control of his government and seems not to understand the meaning of being both head of state and head of our government. He continues to govern as if he were the head of his patriarchal business units and has only himself to answer to. Unlike the British model, among others, we combine the roles of head of state and head of government. The British vest the responsibilities of the state in the monarchy and those of government in the Prime Minister in their Parliamentary system. Donald Trump seems unwilling and perhaps incapable of assuming either these roles, preferring to rule alone, listening to a few trusted advisers, seeking no counsel or advise from his appointed Secretaries of State, Defense, Treasury or Homeland Security, among others.

Before leaving for his “Winter White House” in Mar-a-Lago, he gave us a virtuoso performance at his press conference on Thursday, in an apparently successful attempt to recover his lost mojo. He once again attacked the mainstream media as his enemy, full of negativism and always conspiring to bring him down. He once again lied to us about several things, particularly his “overwhelming” victory ove Hillary Clinton, the “mess” he inherited from President Obama, his impressive and historical level of accomplishments during his first month in office, and the well-oiled machine that has been is administration during this last month.

This week has been a very bad week for his Presidency. Monday he was forced to fire Michael Flynn, his head of the National Security Council. Congress is threatening to launch a full-scale investigation into the growing scandal of Trump’s campaign staff contacts with high-level Russian Intelligence officers as well as Putin’s interference in the elections in November. The scandal surrounding Trump’s support for Putin and the leaks to the press, particularly the New York Times, about contacts with Russian intelligence during the campaign have been very damaging to Trump and has finally prompted Republican leadership in Congress to declare their intention to investigate fully these allegations.

This has become a major distraction for the White House and has detracted from their efforts to regain control of the narrative and demonstrate that they are in control of the situation. His nominee for Labor Secretary was forced to withdraw his name from consideration after it become apparent he could not be confirmed by the Republican Senate. Finally, this growing chaos is beginning to gnaw away at one of his professed strengths as a successful businessman — his ability to run a business and an organization with focus and with success.

There was not much new ground covered in his 77 minute press conference. He continues to seek solace from the oppression of the constant attacks of his implacable enemies, the mainstream press and Democratic Party smarting from their disastrous electoral defeat at the hands of the Trump machine. He ignored the urgings of some of his advisors to avoid confrontation with his critics and to focus on regaining control of the narrative of his presidency by solving the problems facing him and to demonstrate with successes that he is in fact in full control of his government.

What seems clear from Trump’s behavior this week is that he does not understand the meaning of assuming the responsibility either as head of state or as head of our government. He continues to flounder with the intractable reality that governing is not at all like managing a corporation or a business. He has so far failed to understand what it means to be the President of the United States of America and he has not taken control of the reins of government as yet. He is woefully behind in the work of appointing top-level positions in all of executive departments, from State to Treasury and all those in between. Some think he prefers it that way so the White House does not have to deal with these important functionaries as it continues to take unilateral actions without consulting the heads of his different departments.

So far we have been fortunate to have avoided a major crisis during this initial period of the Trump Presidency, but I fear that if the President does not change course and move decisively to take the reins of government and of the state he will not be able to confront successfully any crisis that occurs in the coming months. The federal government is a highly complex and difficult organization to manage and without effective White House control of it I fear for our nation when the inevitable crises befall us.

Trump cannot manage any crisis from a ballroom at Mar-a-Lago and he cannot fashion an effective response to any crisis involving national security without controlling effectively the apparatus of National Security of our government. President Trump has no National Security advisor to coordinate intelligence and the. actions of the different agencies involved in protecting us from external threats. He seems to be depending on Steve Bannon and his son-in-law Jared Kushner, neither of whom has any experience whatever in national security matters nor knowledge of the government agencies involved in it, to advise him in the event of a crisis. I fear this is a formula for disaster

Published in my Blog “Reflections on Our Times” at
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