President Donald Trump wants to leave behind a legacy, and he actually believes that he can be remembered as one of the greatest American presidents, alongside his idol, the late President Ronald Reagan.
The problem, however, lies in Trump’s skin-deep intellect. He has little knowledge of the principles of the Age of Entitlement, on which the American and French revolutions modeled themselves. He is not familiar with the philosophy of governance, or the thinking and debate among America’s founding fathers.
Trump does not understand that liberty -- that is, the freedom of the individual -- often clashes with the government’s central authority, and that the judiciary have been often invited to demarcate the role of the state versus citizens. How much speech is free speech? Unless someone is instigating to kill, or walks into a crowded theatre and shouts “fire!” thus causing death through stampede, all speech is free and guaranteed by the U.S. constitution, according to the country’s Supreme Court.
Trump confuses the “rule of the majority” with the “tyranny of the majority.” The rule of the majority means a majority of the population can decide policies for a defined period of time. The tyranny of the majority, on the other hand, is when a majority tries to alter the founding principles of the state. Hence, constitutional amendments are usually arduous and require more than simple majorities.
The U.S. president seems alien to issues on government as well. He grew up in a world where might is right, where business deals are more about bluffing and strong-arming rather than building coalitions and using state resources in the best interest of the people. In Trump’s mind, the world is always a zero-sum game with winners and losers, with no compromises or win-win situations.
Because Trump does not understand the basics of government, he has managed his administration the same way he ran his business organization: Principles are for wimps, fairness means weakness, and loyalty trumps meritocracy. Like a good businessman, Trump has also mastered the art of spin. No matter how failing a policy is, he never admits to failure, but blames others and tries to make his accusations stick through mockery and name-calling.
The problem with the Trump’s presidency is not about U.S. domestic affairs, the economy or foreign policy. The problem is that Trump occupies an office that was designed to defend the principles of Enlightenment, but runs it as a bargain shop. By doing so, the U.S. president threatens the very foundations of the American democracy.
Americans have always prided themselves for having the oldest democracy. Since its foundation in 1776, America has elected a president every four years, despite world wars, civil wars, and terrorist attacks. Americans have long prided themselves for what they describe as the strength of their system in protecting itself. If any of the presidents goes rogue and tries to change the structure of government, other institutions can stop him from doing so; or so the argument goes…
Yet, despite all its might, the American system seems ill-prepared to deal with presidents like Trump. For a starter, the Electoral College that let Trump win, despite losing the popular election by over two percent, was designed to keep demagogues and populists away from the White House. It turns out that the very mechanism designed to prevent the election of demagogues like Trump resulted in his election.
Next comes the Congress, the legislative branch that theoretically checks the power of the executive power, that is the president. Trump has exploited extreme partisanship, which has divided America deeply into two camps -- Liberals and Conservatives -- to his advantage. Instead of the Congress curbing Trump’s excesses, the U.S. president has fed tangential fights -- over issues of identity, sexuality, and immigration -- that kept the Congress busy fighting over irrelevant issues.
Trump has also gone after the U.S. bureaucracy, such as diplomats at the State Department and law-enforcement agents at the FBI. In his budgets, Trump has starved the State Department while persistently eroding public confidence in law-enforcement agencies. With the most powerful man in America taking jabs against the state itself, the system weakens, and curbing presidential excesses becomes harder.
Instead of a state based on justice and liberty, Trump wants America based on the rules of the street, and the U.S. system has no safeguards against that.
During his electoral campaign, Trump repeatedly warned that he might not recognize the result if he lost. Imagine Trump, now a president, refusing to recognize his possible defeat in 2020 and insists to remain in the White House. The U.S. constitution never thought of such an eventuality.
Trump’s anti-democratic impulses have been on full display since before he became president. As a candidate, he wanted his opponent jailed. As president, he wanted to censor the U.S. media. When he chitchatted with one of his favorite U.S. media figures -- after having just returned from his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jun Un -- Trump said that all of Un’s people listened to him when he spoke. Trump wants people in the U.S. to do the same.
For some reason, President Trump seems unable to fathom the difference between law and order, on the one hand, and strong non-elected world leaders, on the other. He perceives of non-democratic leaders as strongmen that he likes, while viewing democratic sovereigns as weak leaders who are leeching off of the American strength.
When the U.S. led the world toward the creation of the current order, it envisioned a globe where all countries would be built in the image of the U.S.: stable and prosperous democracies. Non-democratic models, especially communism, threatened not only the people it governed, but the whole democratic model, and thus threatened the American sphere of influence, world trade and international stability.
Mr. Trump never seems aware of the perks of the world order as America designed it. Instead, he enjoys strong-arming friends, while sweet-talking enemies. Perhaps in his mind, President Trump likes to befriend, and model his presidency, after strong non-democratic leaders rather than democratic ones.
With Trump, the American political landscape, along with America’s image and standing in the world, have been changing drastically. The U.S. as the guardian of liberty, where citizens are equal individuals rather than privileged and non-privileged ethnic groups, cannot be taken for granted anymore.
America is changing, and with it the world, and there are no guarantees that the American democracy will survive Trump. With its retreat, the American democracy might bring down democracies elsewhere in the world, and open the way for the rise of non-democratic systems. The world after Trump will probably be much more different than the world before him, and not in a good way.* Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency.