After three weeks of Donald Trump’s presidency it seems clear that what many people have hoped for is not going to happen. Trump is not going to be contained by the famous American system of checks and balances. In the long run he will either be brought down by it, or fundamentally change it.
The Congress, courts, media, NGOs and other institutions which aim to monitor and limit presidential powers will not make Trump to suddenly alter his agenda, move towards the political centre and take into account his opponent’s views. This is not to say that none of the ill-prepared, unjust or illegal actions taken by the president will be stopped. The already infamous ban on immigration from seven, predominantly Muslim countries – now put on hold by the unanimous decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals – is a good example of how the president can be defied. There are many courageous and independent judges, journalists and activists who will use every legal measure to oppose what they deem unjust actions by the new administration. Sometimes they will succeed and Trump will be forced to review his plans.
However, no amount of social pressure and criticism is ever going to change president’s attitude and demeanour. Again the travel ban – the first major failure on Trump’s part – serves as a good example. Although the president’s executive order has been criticized in terms of its legality, effectiveness and political consequences he refuses to back down. Instead, he has already announced – on Twitter, of course – his intention to challenge the Court of Appeals’ verdict.
At the same time a dramatic surge in raids against illegal immigrants has resulted in hundreds of arrests. And although one may convincingly argue the US needs to toughen its migration policy, we see no coherent plan behind these particular actions, which serve primarily to validate Trump’s image as a tough man who always gets what he wants. This should hardly be surprising given what we have learnt about the president during the course of his campaign.
One of the most important articles on Trump published over last months is an extensive interview with Trump’s biographer, Tony Schwartz, which appeared in the New Yorker. Schwartz, who is the author of Trump’s extremely successful autobiography (sic!) ‘The Art of the Deal’ – now shaken with remorse, admits the image of Trump he presented in the book has nothing to do with reality. ‘I put a lipstick on a pig,’ he says and paints a disturbing picture of a man consumed by an insatiable desire for publicity. Schwartz dismisses any hopes that the persona we have seen so far is only a creation for the purpose of the campaign, and that somewhere beneath it is the real man, better-suited to serve as the US President. ‘There’s no other Donald Trump and he is driven entirely by a need for public attention.’
This obsession with the media is corroborated by another Trump biographer, Michael D’ Antonio, who handed hours of his biographical interviews with the billionaire over to the American media. From these we learn that Trump can still remember the first time his name ever appeared in a newspaper and that ‘by the time he was an established businessman’ he ‘hired a service to compile the swelling number of references to him in the media, which he then reviewed.’ Other journalists report that he still stacks hundreds of magazines which put his name on the cover. Being ignored seems to be Mr Trump’s worst nightmare and he is prepared to go to great lengths to attract attention.
‘Lying is a second nature to him,’ says Schwartz. ‘More than anyone else I’ve ever met, Trump has the ability to convince himself that whatever he’s saying at any given moment is true, or sort of true, or at least ought to be true.’ The incessant flow of contradictions or outright lies we’ve heard from the president during and after the campaign is not a part of political strategy – it’s the essence of the president’s nature. His casual attitude towards the truth combined with unusual boastfulness also serves to protect him from a public defeat – another thing he truly fears.
Given these characteristics – combined with Mr Trump’s reluctance to read and his virtual ‘lack of attention span’ – it is naïve to hope a 70 year-old-man suddenly transforms to better serve the office he was elected to. Trump may lose one legal battle after the other but he will not change his ways and recognise the limits the American constitution puts on the President.
It is one thing to make sure Americans recognise this fact. It’s quite another to make sure they still care.
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