There are so may different takes on the Trump presidency after four months in office that it’s hard to put a finger on the defining characteristics of his administration.
Trump fans see boldness in word and deed. Trump detractors see incompetence and narcissism. Almost everyone sees center-stage showmanship. Then there is the omnipresent overhang of the Trump family business interests that create at least the appearance of overriding conflicts of interest.
To my mind, though, the hallmark of the Trump presidency to date is the divisiveness. In a very short period of time, our president has managed to alienate, antagonize or anger huge swaths of society here and abroad.
He goes looking for fights, and that’s a sure-fire recipe for finding them. Last week, the Germans were ”bad” over car exports to the U. S. from Mexico. And, he portrayed our European allies in NATO as welshers on their financial commitments.
Both are legitimate issues that require toughness to resolve. But they are also complex issues that require a certain level of diplomacy and mutual respect to work out. Their solutions require scalpels more than blunt instruments, which is how Mr. Trump’s simplistic words often come out.
The result: Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, our staunch ally of 70 years, has started the thought process of detaching her country from our trans-Atlantic alliance. How can separation from NATO be good for this country?
As readers of this blog know, I was an outright critic of Trump’s candidacy, citing 104 reasons why not to vote for him. Among those reasons were many that pointed to his hostile approach to dealing with issues and opponents, but I didn’t foresee then the degree of divisiveness that he would engender.
Because of my stance and to acknowledge his electoral victory, I have mostly held off on comments during his shakedown cruise. I have tried to keep an open mind and have been watching his feet, his performance.
A few of his decisions make sense to me, but, more importantly, the pattern of his leadership has come clear. This man is not a uniter in any way, shape or form.
He showed contempt on the campaign trail for Hillary Clinton and his predecessor, Barack Obama. The rough and tumble of a campaign usually wanes after the election is over. Not so with Mr. Trump. The expressions of distain continue. In return, he gets almost no Democratic votes in Congress.
He flat-out insulted most of his Republican opponents in the primary, so they aren’t quick to rally to his support or defense. The GOP has deep divisions that he has failed to bridge. That factiousness has torpedoed his priorities: health care and tax reform legislation.
He has declared war on the press. But every action has a reaction. News people, even as they try to remain somewhat objective, will cut him no slack. Their mutual war of words will be waged as long as he is in office. This rupture cannot be fixed.
He has alienated the country’s intelligence agencies. It is hard to see how mutual trust can be restored with the intelligence community, here and with our allies. How can that be good for our country?
His blunt ban on Muslim immigration has driven a wedge between followers of that religion and his administration. He has undoubtedly cut off sources of intelligence on Islamic terrorism. Tighter immigration policies could have been adopted without the divisiveness.
We do have a mid-size trade deficit with our neighbor to the south, but the President’s style and words have infuriated Mexican leaders. They don’t appreciate being his whipping boy when much larger deficits with China draw less of his sharp rhetoric. Quiet adjustments will be made to NAFTA, but the bad blood with our neighbor to the south will not go away any time soon.
Mr. Trump, who made contentious litigation a standard practice in his business career, has singled out judges for criticism when he didn’t like their decisions. So, the entire judiciary will have its guard up when reviewing issues created by his decisions. Judges may even look for ways to assert their independence as a branch of government.
His latest fracture with other players is his decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord. We are now out of step with most of the other countries in the world. He says he will come at the issue another way, though completely unarticulated.
It has been my management experience that divisiveness and unhealthy politics flourish when leadership is muddled, when communication from the top is garbled or absent, when an organizational strategy lacks clarity.
Words, messages and directions from the Trump Administration are extraordinarily hard to follow. They change overnight. To use an old cliché, it’s like nailing Jell-O to a wall.
To fathom the making of policy in this administration is to play with Silly Putty.
The lack of clarity will breed confusion and more divisiveness. It can be seen at the very top, in the White House itself, where leaks and internecine warfare produce a daily soap opera.