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Why Trump’s 'Style' Matters

Before his entry into national politics, Donald Trump spent his entire life learning how to run, and then running, a closely held family business. He was moderately successful (having begun with ca. $100M in far-less inflated currency and having gone through several bankruptcies, I don't believe that we can call his career "brilliant" in any sense).

Having worked for a closely held family business for 31 years, I recognize his style and mode of operating. He is a bully, and he expects to accomplish things through threats. His underlings tend to be "yes-men" and he expects to give an order and to have the order obeyed.

This model is antithetical to representative government, and does nothing but throw sand in the gears. Trump is not used to having to collaborate with a co-equal -- indeed, in many ways constitutionally superior -- legislative body. For the last two years, he has tried to treat them as his underlings, and the results have not been impressive. Indeed, it can be argued that his incompetence in dealing with the legislature is what caused the 25% of government which covers core functions (funding the Coast Guard, airport security, the State Department, and the DHS, among other agencies) to go unfunded until after an election that guaranteed the Democrats control of the purse strings, resulted in the unprecedented month-long shutdown, and is leading to another looming in the wings. His campaign rhetoric, both before and after assuming the presidency, succeeded in politicizing what should have been a routine appropriation request and has thus arguably endangered national security more than it has enhanced it.

Contrast all of this with the last truly conservative president, Ronald Reagan, who was an experienced politician, having been elected to two terms as governor of the largest state in the union before he assumed the presidency. Though Reagan was roundly vilified in the left-leaning press and mocked as a “B” grade actor (not true; he was the holder of an Academy Award for his masterful performance in Kings Row, a classic well worth seeing), Mr. Reagan, the first Republican president to pry blue-collar workers out of the hands of the Democrats, managed to unite the country -- winning at first 44 and then 49 states in his two terms. And he managed to accomplish things, such as the last major tax overhaul before the Trump administration, with a divided legislature.

This is why most of the accomplishments of the Trump presidency have been in the field of executive action, which he does control, but such action is ephemeral. What he can accomplish with the stroke of a pen can be undone by the next Democratic president with another stroke of the pen -- and will be.

Worse, Mr. Trump has a personality that simply brings out the worst in both his more avid supporters and his opponents. He inspires and exacerbates "resistance" at every level, and is an intensely polarizing figure. Having spent the last two years dividing the country to an extent unprecedented since the end of the Civil War, now he calls for bipartisanship. A major part of the problem will be that the country simply cannot afford, e.g., a new "infrastructure" program, despite his grandiose campaign rhetoric. Nothing -- and I repeat, nothing -- has been done to address the appalling national debt and deficit caused by current levels of government spending. Indeed, the much-vaunted tax cut coupled with increased military spending (which, I'll grant, was necessary) without serious reforms to the entitlement programs that are already over 60% of federal spending has simply blown a wider and deeper hole.

This will be greatly exacerbated if any money is thrown down the foolish rabbit hole of "climate change." No one denies that the climate changes; it is constantly changeable, what statisticians call a "chaotic system" due to the plethora of variables. What is very much at issue is the alleged "anthropogenic" nature of that change, as well as such unanswered questions as what the “ideal” average world temperature should be, and who gets to make that declaration.

Another difficulty is that President Trump is incapable of keeping his own counsel, and exhibits the behavior of the sort of opinionated blowhard who can be found in every cocktail lounge and neighborhood bar. The most recent case in point is his interview about the possible mission of the American garrison at 'Ayn alAssad in Iraq. Begin with the understanding that the Iraqi population has a plurality of Arabic-speaking Shi'ite Muslims, and that the present Iraqi president was elected democratically, not imposed by American bayonets. Mr. Trump's bland assertion that the Americans can "watch" Iran and the remnants of the Jihadi elements in Syria from 'Ayn alAssad, and then act when necessary, has understandably inflamed and enraged the Iraqi Shi'ites. The president of Iraq has been forced to point out that there is nothing in the mission statement of the status of forces agreement with Iraq that permits such actions. Indeed, the Iraqi constitution, for good historical reasons (the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s), prohibits forces based in Iraq from attacking a neighbor.

It wouldn’t matter if he were a barfly or a guest on Howard Stern's show, but he is the president of the United States.