Friday, 20 January 2017

The Trump Transition. A Triumph and a Failure of the Democratic Process

For all of the consternation and anger Donald Trump's election has produced, something remarkable and admirable will happen in Washington DC today just as it happened in Britain last July and will likewise happen in capitals across Europe over the course of this year. The peaceful transition of power is democracy in action. We may not always like the results. We may loathe the winners. But it is incumbent upon us all to respect the result and accept the right of the victor to govern. We may criticise their actions and policies when they do. That is another vital feature of democracy. But Donald Trump is the legally elected President of the United States.

At 10.30 this morning local time, Barack Obama will leave the White House for the last time and be driven to his successor's inauguration. Within a minute of the Obamas leaving the White House staff will begin the process of removing the final traces of their occupancy and moving in the effects of the Trumps, although typically for Trump this will not be quite so straightforward a process since Mrs Trump is going to be staying in New York for the next few months at least and the president himself may well go back there at weekends. Later in the day the new Commander in Chief will arrive and he will begin the process of governing with various executive actions. He will also likely repeal many measures of the Obama presidency. That is democracy for you.

Contrast this mature and time honoured tradition however with what is going on in Gambia at the moment where the outgoing president is refusing to outgo. Having lost his election last month, President Yahya Jammeh rescinded his initial gracious acceptance of defeat to Adama Barrow, a man it is constitutionally incumbent upon us to describe as an Arsenal fan and former Argos security guard. Jammeh has declared a state of emergency where none exists and is seeking to prolong his already 22 year corrupt and murderous tenure. Neighbouring countries, including Senegal and Nigeria are threatening to get involved in removing Jammeh from power.

So let us be grateful that, though America is a bitterly divided country, its new president will come to power with the grudging acceptance of his nation.

In truth though nobody really knows what to expect, although Trump's behaviour to date has not been encouraging. His picks for his Cabinet are a peculiar mixture of the highly respected and competent to the utterly incompetent, inexperienced and eccentric. At the confirmation hearings held over the last couple of weeks, some of his soon to be Cabinet have given answers that contradict the stated positions of the new president. Others, like Betsy DeVos, the prospective new Secretary of Education betrayed a troubling lack of knowledge of education basics and at one point refused to say that guns in schools are a bad thing because they might be necessary to shoot bears. No, really.

Rick Perry, the Trump choice for Energy Secretary, once said that he thought that the department should be completely abolished. During his confirmation process however he had to admit that when he said this he hadn't actually realised what the department does.

The problem seems to be that Trump has done what he does in business and surrounded himself with people he likes and who are willing to be ingratiating towards him. His is a government of cronies and patsies. The consequence is that he has a woefully inexperienced administration working behind a president who has never been in government before and whose style has always been very much as the PR man, larger than life brand leader rather than a proper bona fide businessman at all. Trump likes to play the role of businessman and international jetsetter and sybarite. Its hard to see how this will work well in his new role.

Its a role that always ages and has an impact on its incumbents. Even the fit and youthful Barack Obama has been visibly aged by the stresses and strains of the job. How much of an impact will it have on a man who is 70, overweight and on the cusp of obesity and who clearly gets very little sleep? Given his tendency to lose his temper at any and all slights, real or imagined, how long will it take him to get into a big crisis? How well will he cope with crises? They come along and, though there is plenty of advice and guidance on offer, Trump is not always good at seeking out advice and taking it.

The biggest problem with Trump is we simply do not know what to expect. Much as I started this post lauding the democratic process it failed this time. It failed not because Trump was elected but because he was elected and managed to avoid serious scrutiny of his ideas, his policies, his past, his personality, his finances, his taxes, his health, his suitability. He gamed the system and won. He is the president, although I remain of the opinion that he will end up being impeached. But what do I know? I said, like most people who claimed to know, that he could never get elected.

Now the world watches and waits.

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