US Politics
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Five Ideas that Trump Killed

Trump has put an end to the idea that corruption and nepotism at the highest levels of government can only flourish in banana republics

Moisés Naím
Donald Trump at a press conference in Florida on the relations between US and Cuba.
Donald Trump at a press conference in Florida on the relations between US and Cuba.CARLOS BARRIA (REUTERS)

It is still too early to evaluate the presidency of Donald Trump. However, thanks to his behavior, his policy initiatives, and his penchant for shooting himself in the foot, some things are already clear. For example, before Trump’s arrival to power there were certain ideas that were widely accepted. But no more.

The Truth: Trump, his spokespeople, his allies in the media, and other social networks (including Vladimir Putin) have shown that, for them, there are no indisputable facts or data. In fact, there is no such thing as “the truth.” Any statement, scientific data, or visual evidence such as, for example, photos showing the size of the crowd on the day of the president’s inauguration, can be questioned. Confronted in an interview with what appeared to be an irrefutable fact, President Trump’s adviser Kellyanne Conway denied it and instead offered what she called “alternative facts.” The interviewer, Jake Tapper, replied that, in that case, the alternative facts were simply a falsehood (he did not dare call them a “lie”), to which Conway explained that this was the typical reaction from a hostile media that is out to get the president. The very idea that we can – through reason and the scientific method – come to verifiable truths is under attack. And, as we have seen, politicians who defend their lies with “alternative facts” now have the invaluable resource of social networks. It is ironic that in this age where there is more than enough information, so little truth is in it.

Trump and his spokespeople have shown that, for them, there are no indisputable facts or data

That running a big company teaches one how to run the government: This is a zombie idea: we keep thinking it’s dead, yet somehow it keeps coming back to life. It is the belief that to be a good ruler it helps to have been a successful entrepreneur. “I am very rich.” “I am a great negotiator.” “I have created many jobs.” These are some of the phrases that Trump repeats incessantly and that, according to him, guarantee that he will be a successful president.

But, as other cases demonstrate (see Berlusconi, Silvio), the skills and the temperament that lead to success in the private sector do not ensure good governance. The chaos and ineptitude that have characterized the government of Donald Trump are only surpassed by the setbacks in his political negotiations both inside and outside the United States.

The next time an entrepreneur aspires to lead the country, he will have to deal with the lesson that Donald Trump will almost certainly leave us: Business talent does not translate well to the public sector.

That the president of the United States is the most powerful person in the world: Trump will prove that this is not so. Of course this president has at his disposal enormous resources and thousands of officials – including the best-armed military mankind has ever known. But the forces that limit the president’s performances are equally enormous – and perhaps even more powerful. These limitations to presidential power are domestic and foreign, legal and bureaucratic, political and economic. Despite being one of the presidents with the most imperial temperament, few of his orders are becoming realities. This is not to say that Trump cannot make decisions that will have enormous consequences – such as getting the US out of the Paris Climate Agreement, for example. But these high-impact decisions will be far fewer than he presumes. And it is also telling that there are many initiatives that he wants to block, but can’t. Such as the investigation into his ties to Russia, to mention one. He is also discovering that gaining power was easier than exercising it.

With Trump the idea that the president of the United States is all-powerful will die

With Trump the idea that the president of the United States is all-powerful will die.

That the longevity of a democracy protects it from corruption and nepotism: In democracies that fail, the Congress, the courts, or other state institutions fail to prevent a venal president from using the prerogatives of his office for the benefit of his private business. Or from naming his relatives to important public positions for which they are not qualified. To a greater or lesser extent this happens everywhere. In African and Latin American countries these abuses become frequent and extreme, while in the United States or the United Kingdom they are comparatively less serious. Until now.

As we know, Donald Trump has appointed his daughter Ivanka and his son-in-law Jared Kushner to high positions. And 200 members of Congress have sued the president accusing him of violating the Constitution for profiting from doing business with foreign governments.

It remains to be seen whether American’s institutions are strong enough to parry the assault on the healthy checks on executive power that have prevailed until now. In any case, Trump has also done away with the idea that corruption and nepotism only flourish in banana republics.

Political Apathy: The Trump Government will make it painfully clear to millions of Americans that the elections have very substantial consequences for their lives. Indifference, disinformation, lack of curiosity, a lack of participation in politics, and protest voting without thinking it through have very high costs for citizens. Thanks to Donald Trump, today millions of people have learned this lesson and have become politically active.

Follow me on Twitter @moisesnaim

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