Point de vue

Is Donald Trump Dangerous?

Trump est-il dangereux ? Nous avons interrogé deux intellectuels phares outre-Atlantique afin qu’ils nous éclairent sur cette question qui fait trembler l’Amérique comme le reste du monde. Le premier, Todd Gitlin, professeur sociologie à l’université de Columbia, analyse le caractère impulsif et amoral d’un président voué à appliquer un programme très libéral. Le second, Peter Dreier, professeur en sciences politiques à Los Angeles, dénonce le bellicisme, le sexisme et le racisme du locataire de la Maison Blanche, dont les paroles et les décisions risquent de marquer profondément le pays, malgré une opposition grandissante. Voici, en intégralité, et en anglais, les analyses percutantes et passionnantes de ces deux observateurs avisés de la vie publique américaine.

As president, Donald Trump holds enormous power. He commands the world’s largest military force. He heads the federal government’s executive branch that has two million civilian employees and considerable influence over the economy, the environment, education, health care, voting rights, criminal justice, and other facets of daily life. His relationships with the heads of other countries influence stock markets, global trade, and possibility of war or peace. His daily activities, Tweets, and comments command the attention of every media outlet in the nation and the world.

Trump has been a dysfunctional and incompetent president, which has limited his ability to inflict pain and harm in the U.S. and around the world. Seven months into his presidency, Trump has had no significant legislative accomplishments, even though his own Republican Party controls both houses of Congress. He’s been unable to get Congress to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), adopt a tax policy or an infrastructure plan, build a wall on the Mexican border, or defund Planned Parenthood (the private nonprofit family planning agency).

But despite his own ineptitude, and the growing opposition to his presidency by liberals and conservatives alike, Trump remains a dangerous figure in at least four aspects of his presidency.

The first is Trump’s impulsive war-mongering. With no understanding of geopolitics, Trump views the world entirely in personal terms. With his fear of humiliation and being seen as weak, Trump is loose cannon in matters of war and peace. In response to North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un’s threats, Trump -- without consulting his own top advisers or foreign allies -- threatened to unleash “fire and fury” while warning that America’s weapons are “locked and loaded.” Despite Trump’s public threats, the Joint Chiefs of Staff didn’t raise the ready-to-attack status of the military – an embarrassing rebuke to the president.

Trump avoided serving in the Vietnam War, but he appointed several generals to serve in his Cabinet and inner circle, and recently picked General John Kelly as his second chief-of-staff. Ironically, it is these military men who might be needed to stop Trump from putting the world on the brink of nuclear war.

The second danger is Trump’s ability to appointment justices to the Supreme Court. He has already appointed right-wing zealot Michael Gorsuch to the Supreme Court to replace the troglodyte Antonin Scalia. If Trump gets to name one more justice to the nine-member court, he can shift the balance to a strongly conservative majority that could last for decades and overturn rulings on abortion, same-sex marriage, voting rights, and press freedom, among other issues. Many Americans hope that the 84-year old liberal justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg and 81-year old moderate justice Anthony Kennedy don’t die or resign until a Democratic president can be elected in 2020 and appoint their replacements.

The third danger is Trump’s ability to make policy through executive order rather than through legislation. For example, by altering the focus of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, the Trump administration is deporting more undocumented immigrants who have no criminal or arrest record at all, which has made millions of immigrants and their families very fearful. In June, ignoring advice from several top aides and in opposition to concerns of many business leaders and environmentalists, Trump announced that the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris accord on global warming. In addition, business lobby groups have been working with Trump’s agency directors to weaken regulations on corporations that protect consumers, workers, public health, and the environment. For example, the Trump administration is repealing rules to protect workers from exposure to toxic chemicals that cause lung disease, to limit gas emissions from fossil fuel plants that generate electricity, to protect drinking water from pollutants, to require safety precautions for engineers on trains and truck drivers, and to protect miners from dangerous workplaces. More coal miners have already died this year than in all of 2016.

A final dangerous aspect of Trump’s presidency is his blatant racism, xenophobia, nativism, sexism, and misogyny, which has unleashed an upsurge of hate crimes and white supremacist activism. Trump’s racial resentments are deeply rooted. His father was arrested during a Ku Klux Klan rally in New York in 1927. During the 1970s, the Department of Justice found that Trump’s company was guilty of racial discrimination in his apartment buildings. In the 1980s, Trump took out full-page ads in newspapers to demand the death penalty for five Black and Latino teenagers accused of raping a white women jogging in Central Park. When it was discovered that they were innocent, Trump refused to apologize. Trump laid the groundwork for his presidential campaign by promoting a “birther” conspiracy that challenged President Barack Obama’s citizenship.

Like all demagogues, Trump resorts to scapegoating to divert attention from his own failings. During his presidential campaign, Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric about Muslims, Mexicans, Jews, women, gays and lesbians, immigrants, African Americans, and people with physical disabilities triggered a dramatic increase in hate crimes. Within 10 days of Trump’s election in November, the Southern Poverty Law Center (a human rights group) tracked 900 bias-related incidents against minorities. That plague has worsened since Trump took office. The number anti-Muslim groups has skyrocketed. Racist and neo-Nazi groups have been emboldened. It was on deadly display in the gathering of neo-Nazis and other racists and anti-Semites in Charlottesville, Virginia earlier this month. As Roxane Gay observed in a recent New York Times column: “It is 2017 and white supremacists no longer feel the need to wear hoods to hide their racism and anti-Semitism.”

Trump’s unwillingness to strongly condemn racist vigilantes has encouraged hate groups to escalate their violent marches and acts of intimidation. This is likely to persist even after Trump leaves office.

Indeed, just when Trump will exit the White House is a matter of growing discussion. Many pundits now believe that Trump won’t survive his first time, which ends in 2020, due to impeachment or resignation.

Trump’s biggest accomplishment so far has been to galvanize a growing “resistance” movement. It began on January 21, the day after his inauguration, when five million people – the largest one-day protest in American history – participated in women’s marches and rallies in over 600 cities. This was followed by coordinated nationwide protests around climate change, science, immigrant rights, and Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns. Many of the people marching in the streets had never been to a protest before.  

In January, Trump issued an executive order limiting travel from six predominately Muslim countries. Immediately, a coalition of religious, immigrant-rights, and labor groups led a campaign to fight back. They protested at airports, filed lawsuits, and persuaded dozens of universities and churches, mayors of big cities and California’s political leaders, to resist cooperation with the federal crackdown. Several federal courts blocked Trump ban, stopping the president from carrying out one of his top campaign promises.

Soon after Trump announced the nation’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, mayors of major cities and the governor of California, the largest state, pledged to resist Trump’s efforts to reverse environmental progress

The resistance movement involves many existing liberal groups, including labor unions, environmental and civil rights organizations, women’s and LBGT groups, as well as an amazing number of newly-formed activist groups. The most successful is called Indivisible, started by three former Congressional staff persons. Their goal was to thwart the Trump agenda. They initially posted a “how to” guide for neophyte activists on a website. Within a month, their manual had spawned about 6,000 local groups around the country in all 435 Congressional districts. They’ve organized protests against Republican politicians and are working to elect liberal Democrats in next year’s Congressional elections.

“I can’t overstate how unprecedented the grassroots energy of this resistance is,” said Anna Galland, executive director of MoveOn, a progressive organization.

Part of the effort to neutralize Trump involves undermining key pillars of his support while resisting efforts to “normalize” the man and his policies.

Throughout his campaign and since taking office, Trump declared war on the mainstream media, criticizing its reporting as “fake news” whenever it revealed Trump’s own blunders and lies, such as his claim that the crowd at his inauguration was the largest in history. Partly in response to this upsurge of activism, Trump’s mistakes in dealing with foreign leaders, and his disregard for science and facts, the mainstream American media have changed the way they report and frame the president and his advisors. They have begun using the word “lie” in headlines and news stories to describe many Trump statements – an unprecedented shift in journalistic norms. For example, on January 23, following Trump’s false claim that he would have won the popular vote over Hillary Clinton if three million people hadn’t voted illegally, the New York Times ran this front-page headline: “Trump Repeats Lie About Popular Vote in Meeting With Lawmakers.”

Trump has become the butt of jokes and ridicule by popular late-night TV talk-show hosts and comedians. Stephen Colbert, Samantha Bee, Trevor Noah, John Oliver, Alec Baldwin, and Melissa McCarthy mock Trump on television on a regular basis, especially his love affair with Vladimir Putin, his firing of FBI director James Comey (who was investigating Trump’s Russian ties), and his impulsive and bizarre daily tweets. Actress Meryl Streep spent six minutes condemning Trump at the Golden Globes award ceremony without mentioning his name, which nevertheless triggered one of Trump’s Twitter tantrums.

Opposition to Trump has come from some surprising corners. Members of the nation’s two championship teams – the New England Patriots football team and the Golden State Warriors basketball team -- announced they’d refuse to meet with Trump at the White House. In protest against his racism, several major charitable organizations – including the Salvation Army and the American Red Cross – recently canceled plans to hold fundraising events at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.

Trump has alienated many other constituencies who might otherwise have been his natural allies.

This January’s Super Bowl football championship game – the biggest televised sports event of the year -- featured commercials for Coca Cola, Budweiser, and other sponsors that promoted diversity and tolerance—a not-very-subtle dig at Trump’s attacks on immigrants, Muslims, and others. In one ad, a hair-products company warned viewers that we’re “in for four years of awful hair.”

America’s business leaders were never comfortable with Trump, but they supported him because they thought he would weaken regulations and reduce taxes on business. But in response to the president’s erratic behavior and his recent failure to forcefully condemn neo-Nazi protesters, the CEOs of major American corporations have distanced themselves from Trump and withdrawn from his advisory committees.

Many of the nation’s leading conservative columnists – including William Kristol, Charles Sykes, Peggy Noonan, George Will, David Frum, and Charles Krauthammer – have joined the anti-Trump opposition. They want to cleanse the conservative “brand” against its association with Trump.   Only the right-wing Fox News network shows unrepentant loyalty to Trump.

Trump has alienated many Republicans in Congress – including Senate leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan – by blaming them for his own failures to persuade the public to support his policy agenda. Slowly, painfully, and without much principle or courage, Republicans are abandoning Trump. Many are worried that their association with Trump will hurt their re-election chances. Some are simply appalled at his ineptitude, overt racism and sexism, and erratic behavior. For example, last week Senator Bob Corker, a conservative Republican from Tennessee, raised questions about Trump’s “competence” and “stability.”

Trump was elected last November without a mandate. Out of 136 million votes cast, Clinton had three million more votes. Had she won 77,000 more votes in three states – Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania – she would have won the White House. But a recent poll shows that one-fifth of the people who voted for Trump in those three states do not approve of Trump’s performance as president. These defections exceed the size of Trump’s margin of victory in those key states.

Trump’s overall support is unraveling. An August poll revealed that only 35% of Americans give him a positive rating – the lowest approval rating of any president at this point in his presidency. His job performance rating has fallen even among the most loyal Republicans.

Whether Trump’s most zealous political base – white fundamentalist Christians and white supremacists -- stick with him after he fired his chief strategist, white supremacist Stephen Bannon remains to be seen. Bannon has returned to his post as head of the “alt-right” website Breitbart News, which now might now turn against the president.

There is a growing consensus among political analysts across the ideological spectrum that Trump is psychologically and emotionally unfit to be president. He is poorly informed about public policy, indifferent to the workings of government, values loyalty over expertise among his inner circle, and is unable to think strategically. He is also impulsive, thin-skinned, addicted to flattery, a megalomaniac, a narcissist, and lacks basic empathy or a social conscience.

Given his business background, many Americans thought that Trump would be an effective executive. Despite his boasts, Trump actually ran a relatively small, family-owned real estate and Trump-branding business (like the phony “Trump University”) that was in constant legal and financial trouble, including multiple bankruptcies. Trump exercised dictatorial control over his company. He had no experience with collaboration and compromise, or being held accountable by a board of directors.

So it turns out that Trump has no management skills. Since taking office, his administration has been in chaos. Trump’s White House has been a cesspool of infighting among key staffers, who leak nasty things about each other and about Trump to the media. In the first seven months, he’s fired his chief of staff, national security advisor, communications director, and, most recently, Bannon.

In May, over Trump’s objections, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate Trump’s ties to Russia and his private business dealings. Although it isn’t known when Mueller will complete his inquiry, he has the authority to indict or prosecute Trump, even while he’s still president. Once Mueller releases his findings, reluctant Republicans in Congress will be under pressure to initiate an impeachment trial that could lead to Trump’s ouster before his first term ends in 2020.

Trump’s unpopularity, and growing disenchantment of Republicans, could allow the Democrats to win back a majority in the House of Representatives in November 2018. They currently hold 194 out of 435 seats and need to gain 24 more to take control of that chamber. A few months ago, that seemed impossible but now it is increasingly likely. If that occurs, Trump will not only be neutralized politically, he’ll be on the defensive. The Democrats will hold real hearings on Russia-gate, Trump’s business entanglements, his taxes, and how he used the White House to enrich himself and his family.

Under those circumstances, Trump could resign before his term is over. This doesn’t protect him from prosecution unless he pardons himself before he resigns – a legal question now subject to much debate.

If Trump resigns or is impeached Vice President Mike Pence will become president. Many Americans will feel a sense of relief, thinking that Pence – a former Senator and governor of Indiana -- is, compared with Trump, "normal." True, he's not as psychologically deranged as Trump. But Pence may be even more dangerous, because he's more ideologically right wing, has a better working relationship with Congress, is more disciplined, and will probably manage the White House in a less chaotic way. If Trump leaves office after the Democrats control the House, however, they will be able to thwart Pence from advancing his fierce right-wing views.

Yes, Trump is dangerous – a deranged autocrat with neo-fascist tendencies. But so far America’s democracy, however imperfect, has hamstrung Trump’s success agenda. As the resistance grows, Americans are demonstrating that they are more decent than he is.

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