The 2016 presidential election boasted the two most unpopular candidates in U.S. history and I’m sure many disgusted voters wished they could both lose. Well, in a sense, they have because Trump will not be fulfilling the role of Chief Executive. Instead, he will be content to play the part of America’s first figurehead president, as was his intention all along. The New York Times reported that during Trump’s search for a running mate, his son, Donald Trump Jr., allegedly made the offer to a senior advisor of dropped-out presidential candidate John Kasich by asking if Kasich had “any interest in being the most powerful vice president in history.” When the advisor sought clarification about what exactly that meant, Trump Jr. replied that “his father’s vice president would be in charge of domestic and foreign policy” while Trump himself would have the sinecure-sounding job of “Making America great again.” Naturally, Trump Jr. denied this exchange took place but, from what I’ve seen of the Trump presidency, I’d say there’s good reason to believe it was true.
But now, one might ask, doesn’t Trump’s burst of activity since his swearing in refute the notion that he’s an empty suit? I’d counter that by noting how Trump has actually accomplished little and that his status quo-shifting policies have yet to become reality. Anyone who doubts this will be disabused by Zack Karabell’s piece “President Trump has done almost nothing”, the following excerpt of which sums up the case nicely:
“There is a wide gap, a chasm even, between what the administration has said and what it has done. There have been 45 executive orders or presidential memoranda signed, which may seem like a lot but lags President Barack Obama’s pace. More crucially, with the notable exception of the travel ban, almost none of these orders have mandated much action or clear change of current regulations. So far, Trump has behaved exactly like he has throughout his previous career: He has generated intense attention and sold himself as a man of action while doing little other than promote an image of himself as someone who gets things done. It is the illusion of a presidency, not the real thing… Trump can issue as many documents called executive orders and presidential memoranda as he wants. As the fate of the travel ban shows, however, that doesn’t mean that even the more meaningful ones are actionable, and the preponderance of the orders to date would in any other administration have been news releases stating broad policy goals that may or may not ever become actual policy.”
The illusion of a presidency—that’s just what Trump needs to sustain if he wants to escape his term without having to implement populist policies that, as a globalist, he never had any intention of delivering on. Every move that the White House has made–and will make–can therefore be best explained by the Trumpian tightrope act where because he branded himself as a fiery outsider–utterly unlike the typical insincere politician–who would shake up Washington for the sake of the forgotten Americans he cannot simply ditch his populist campaign promises but nor does he want to fulfill them and do harm to globalization. But President Trump has found how to maintain the balance and not alienate either side—i.e. he can appear to be trying to make good on his campaign promises but do so in a consciously clumsy and madcap manner that will see these attempts fail in the end. The most conspicuous instance of this was the travel ban and the recklessness with which it was rolled out—almost as if President Trump, in an act of self-sabotage, went out of his way to botch it so that it would become both widely unpopular and legally untenable. Then there’s the added bonus of Trump seeming to adhere to his campaign platform spooking the Democrats and spurring them into becoming obstructionists, as Edward-Isaac Dovere writes:
“Trump’s executive order banning immigration from certain Muslim-majority countries—one of his most controversial and widely dismissed campaign promises—has sparked a panic among his critics about what else President Trump might actually do: create a Muslim registry, deport undocumented immigrant children, try to take oil from ISIS or kill terrorists’ families. Those campaign promises were all laughed off and dismissed by many, just like when he tweeted about sending federal enforcement into Chicago or stripping flag burners of their citizenship—or even changing libel laws to sue reporters or throwing Hillary Clinton in jail. “I was one of the folks that had hoped that he was just saying things to get elected and that he didn’t really believe in them,” said Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), who after the election sent an email to his supporters urging them to move past the election and be proud of a peaceful transfer of power. “I’m now convinced that I was wrong. We should not give him a chance to govern. I believe he is a danger to the republic.”
Getting the Democrats to rally together and block most of Trump’s agenda would suit him perfectly, especially if all these executive orders re-energize the Democrats to the point where they win the Congressional midterms in 2018.
In all, I think it can be confidently asserted that President Trump, like the emperor in the fable, has no clothes and, moreover, that he knows it and isn’t inwardly bothered by being in the (figurative) buff. As I wrote before, Trump never wanted the presidency and so he likely wants to coast through his time in office, do nothing that rocks the ship of state, and wind up with an okay rating of his performance by historians.