Trump and the dangerous reinvention of the presidency

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United Statesbastion of liberal democracy, has lost its way“. The blunt statement appears in the last report on the world state of democracy prepared by the dozens of sociologists and hundreds of experts who collaborate in the project Varieties of Democracy. They are not the only ones who alert from autocratic drift that the country has suffered with Donald Trump, that in four years has profoundly transformed the presidency. What the polls dictate this Tuesday will depend on whether that reinvention that its defenders see positive, as a reinforcement of the position, but that many others identify as a serious danger continues or ends. And the question mark main for the seconds is if the damage can be repaired.

Nothing sets off more alarms than Trump’s unprecedented and continued attack on the legitimacy of the electoral process, his agitation of unfounded fears about possible fraud and his refusal to commit to a peaceful transition in the event of defeat. It is the review of his entire presidency, however, that shows how Trump has moved away from norms and conventions, how has undermined trust in institutions and how has shaken the constitutional pillars, from the freedom of expression and press until independence of the judiciary. According to Matthew Eshbaugh-Soha, professor of Political Science at the University of North Texas, in a telephone interview, “the key question is whether reset standards and limits“.

“There is not much to do to stop him”

Those limits have been tightened by Trump in matters of Shape and background. In the former, as confirmed by the expert, “has thrown overboard many standards of what we considered presidential behavior“. In the latter, and without being the first to try to extend his authority, he has also gone further than his predecessors, since in the expansion of the use of executive orders even beyond where Barack Obama went to the dangerous politicization of the entire government.

“Many presidents have politicized departments and agencies to implement their agendas and priorities, but Trump has done so in areas that were typically off limits“, Reflection Eshbaugh-Soha.”Has taught other presidents how to do it and, also, that there’s not much other branches of government can do to stop him“.

Rejection of science and hyperpolarization

In recent months the coronavirus pandemic has been the maximum exponent of other fundamental traces of the presidency Trump, who is more concerned with controlling the message than the virus. Because your answer has evidenced your distancing from science and their choice not to follow the guidance offered by the experts, elements of their management that are also reflected, for example, in the ambitious agenda of deregulation in matters of environmental protections.

Trump arrived in the Oval Office in a country already polarized But in his presidency that division has become extreme, largely encouraged by himself. And in the USA where protests and awareness for racial injustice in general and police brutality in particular have resurrected a social movement not seen since the years of fighting for civil rights, Trump has abdicated the responsibility of trying to bring the country to unity, one of the characteristics of presidents in times of crisis.

He is also a president who has appealed to the most basic instinctsThey are often low on issues that go beyond race. As Eshbaugh-Soha recalls, “has given wings to the marginal, to the extreme“And it has empowered, for example, those who propagate conspiracy theories like the dangerous QAnon.”Others before him did, but normally they were candidates, governors, congressmen and senators like Joseph McCarthy … but they weren’t presidents“.

The legacy

In his palpable legacy there is nothing more determining than his impact on the judicial establishment and, especially, in the Supreme court, where it has secured a conservative majority for decades. For now, it has also transformed the immigration system, cut the network of social protections, has promoted economic measures that have increased the inequality and it has taken controversial steps that feed ghosts of a police state.

Also of particular concern is his effort to reconvert the Government following a barely democratic model. Recently, for example, Trump signed an order classifying thousands of officials as political appointments, making them susceptible to arbitrary firings. 120 experts and former officials signed a letter denouncing that “there has never been a so blatantly irresponsible and willfully incompetent management, employee to achieve specific political goals, as the country has seen for the last three and a half years. “And Bob Corsi, president of the Senior Officials Association, has warned:” This is how the governments of countries with authoritarian and party-ruled leaders they are organized and staffed. “

Purges, layoffs, and replacements: a government based on loyalty

One of the factors that has made the presidency of Donald Trump abnormal is the instability of his cabinet and his administration. The level of dismissals, resignations and replacements during his first term is unparalleled among his five predecessors, as confirmed the Brookings Institution analyzes or, more anecdotally, the fact that he is the only one with a page dedicated to those personnel movements on Wikipedia. There is also no recent precedent in the number of high positions that work temporarily, without going through confirmation processes.

Trump downplays the relevance of these changes (“You call it agitation, I call it being smart,” he once said) but numerous experts warn that it represents something problematic and with serious consequences. On the one hand, the loss of department or agency leaders has cascading effects throughout the organization they lead.

Above all, however, Trump has shown that he is guided by loyalty and not by effectiveness or professionalism to make appointments or genuine purges of what his White House calls “a swamp that has been working against the president.” And in times of crisis such as the pandemic, the effects of its strategy have been devastating, having politicized and reduced credibility to organizations that are supposed to be independent.

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