A political system in crisis
As the first year of the Trump presidency approaches its end, American democracy finds itself in peril, not only at the White House but at Capitol Hill as well, with both major political parties in chaos.
Donald Trump is at the core of both circumstances. At the Oval Office, presidential Chief of Staff John F. Kelly strives to preserve order under an impulsive and uncontrollable boss served by cabinet functionaries equally inexperienced in top-level governance.
In Congress, Trump has likewise reduced its Republican leaders of the Senate and House to similar yes-men. They demonstrated their servility in their mass pilgrimage to the White House lawn after passing his massive tax reform bill, already deeply contentious with much of the public.
On the Hill, the Democratic Party as well as the Republican seems at sea about how to cope with the political music man who has come to town with his captivating song and dance that promises to “make America great again.”
The Democrats, in their futile denial of even a single vote for the new tax reform law, hope that their resistance may translate into elections of enough Dems to retake the Senate and/or House in next November’s midterm congressional elections. But the odds seem against them right now, unless the burgeoning “?MeToo” movement of female protesters against male sexual harassment tips the scales in their favor.
While both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan stood at Trump’s elbow basking in his self-celebration on the lawn the other day, a significant segment of the old GOP establishment, as represented by Mitt Romney, remains in inept and silent misery outside the Trump tent.
At the same time, the Democratic leadership in the hands of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi resides somewhat restively as the party struggles to recover from the hangover of the Hillary Clinton disaster.
Both parties and their leaders find themselves obliged to await the necessary if painfully deliberate Justice Department investigation into the Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and the possible collusion of the Trump campaign.
The president stoutly and repeatedly denies his campaign colluded, while political allies seek to discredit the investigation by citing a pair of FBI agents with anti-Trump sentiments. They were quickly removed by special counsel Robert Mueller when discovered, which Mueller supporters say confirms his fairness.
Trump himself has lately insisted he has no intention of firing Mueller after repeatedly calling his investigation a “hoax” and “fake news.” It appears that Trump defenders have warned him that doing so could ignite more calls for his impeachment. A call for impeachment has already has been gaining steam in a heavily financed television ad campaign by a California billionaire businessman and philanthropist, Tom Steyer.
All this turmoil threatens to continue paralyzing the workings of the American system. It is still striving to recover from the nationwide shock of the election of a political novice from the world of real estate who successfully used his brash salesmanship skills and spiel to capture the presidency and the major voice in world leadership that goes with it.
In doing so, Trump now seems to be taking on the worrisome attempt to create a partnership with his new friend Russian President Vladimir Putin, with consequences that could undermine the entire Western alliance.
Such a development would be far more disruptive to American democracy and its stabilizing influences abroad than any of the other vague pie-in-the-sky promises by Trump to make this already great country greater.
If for this reason alone, it is imperative that the Mueller investigation go forward no matter how long it takes, under direction of the legal expert widely acknowledged to be the best qualified by experience and temperament to conclude this task.
Jules Witcover’s latest book is “The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power,” published by Smithsonian Books. You can respond to this column at firstname.lastname@example.org.