Donald Trump and the United Failed States of America
Donald Trump, the outsider candidate with no governmental experience, seems to have captured the Republican nomination for one reason and one reason only. For the past seven years, the Republican Party, even when in control of both houses of Congress, has done nothing but take cheap shots at Obama and do everything possible to thwart his agenda. The Republicans have not presented any programmatic alternatives. Under Ted Cruz’s leadership, it tried to shut down the government unless his religious views were reflected in the laws. So when Donald Trump started to surge in the primaries, the established office holders had no positive program or accomplishments to point to in order to persuade voters to give him or her their support.
However, Trump does not have the nomination yet. His very inexperience may yet be his undoing. The closer he gets to the nomination and the more he is forced to deal with the governmental, as opposed to the political, aspects of running for president, the more inept he will appear. Furthermore, his refusal to release his tax returns may have a simple explanation. He didn’t pay any and that would seriously damage his chances in November.
It reminded me of one of the little mentioned aspects of the Watergate scandal. While Nixon was being battered and hung on through all the allegations, what ultimate did him in was the fact that he paid virtually no federal income taxes while he was president due to the high valuations he gave to his Vice-presidential papers that he donated to the government. When Trump applied to the New Jersey Gaming Commission for a license to operate a casino he would open in Atlantic City in 1984, his 1978 and 1979 returns showed that Trump claimed a negative income of $3.8 million, meaning he paid no taxes. A few years earlier, Trump told the New York Times that he was worth $200 million.
As Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over ‘till it’s over.” Trump himself may even come to understand that either he can not win, or he can not do the job, or both, and let someone else be the Repblican nominee for the good of the country or because he doesn’t want to be held responsible for Hillary’s victory. Donald Trump is essentially a fringe candidate who has captured a major party nomination. This situation is not unprecedented. In 1986, two supporters of conservative Democrat Lyndon Larouche defeated the regular Democratic candidates for Lieutenant Governor and Secretary of State who had been chosen by gubernatorial candidate Adlai E. Stevenson, III. This created a conundrum for the scion of the famous political family, who was reluctant to mount a campaign in concert with Larouche’s followers.
In a closer analogy to the current situation with Trump, the 2002 French presidential election was upended when a splintered left opposition enabled Jean Marie Le Pen, the far right nationalist candidate, to squeak into second place past prime minister Lionel Jospin, the Socialist favorite, and win the right to face President Jacques Chirac in the run-off. In the event, Chirac refused to participate in the debate to which he had agreed when it appeared that Jospin would be his opponent and the entire French establishment supported him.
The rise of Trump and the failure of the Republican establishment to have an alternative program to stop him points to a more serious problem. I have been reading Pakistan and Bangladesh, Flirting with Failure in South Asia by William B. Milam who has been ambassador to both countries. He says that failed states arise when the politicians who win elections, once in power, fail to govern the country but devote all their energies to remaining in power, regardless of the consequences for the country. This is why a Trump victory would be a disaster for the nation. As is already evident, the Republican congress has been willing to shut down the government to thwart Obama. It is now crippling the Supreme Court by refusing to hold hearings on Obama’s nominee to fill the vacancy created by Anthony Scalia’s death. That’s two of the three branches of the federal government that are AWOL. Only the President now stands against complete paralysis and collapse.
Where Republicans have come to power in the states, they are rolling back the civil rights gains by instituting voter ID requirements and reducing voting opportunities designed to depress turnout among the young, minorities and the poor. And the deafening silence of every Republican toward the selection of George W. Bush after he lost the election in 2000 raises the question of whether the Republicans believe in democracy at all. Allowing the loser to take the office is the ultimate power grab at the expense of the national interest. Trump’s surge is the ultimate test, the revote of the 2000 election. Does the Republican establishment believe in democracy? Every Republican candidate is caught in an unhappy conundrum. To support Trump means supporting an outright racist and the consequences that would have for their future political ambitions. To not support Trump means disrespecting a plurality of her or his own party. It is a lose-lose situation politically.
All the country needs is a loudmouthed, draft dodging, deadbeat president with no program or governmental experience and the country could easily be at war or in a state of economic collapse and domestic disorder even before he takes the oath of office. If Obama and Clinton seem unappealing, at least they believe in government. If you think government is expensive, take a little trip to Pakistan, Bangladesh, Malyasia, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia or anyplace where civil rights and rule of law barely exist and you can be arrested and thrown into snake pit prisons for nothing. Hostage taking has always been an economic enterprise for desperately poor people. Now the Republicans are using hostage taking as a political tool in domestic American politics.
Too many people in the United States really believe in American exceptionalism, that the rules that apply to others just do not apply to them. I hope they’re right.
Return to Institute of Election Analysis Home Page