Things are not looking good for President Trump these days, and virtually all of his wounds are self inflicted.
Last week his Defense Secretary Jim Mattis resigned and wrote a scathing resignation letter. Secretary Mattis, in a break from most resignations, stated clearly that he holds a different world view than the President. He offered to stay until the end of February, but when Mr. Trump saw the reaction his letter was getting, he ordered him to leave by next week. When Mr. Trump was inaugurated nearly two years ago he appointed a group of retired service members he called “my generals.” They included Michael Flynn as National Security Advisor; H.R. McMaster as Mr. Flynn’s successor; and John Kelly, first as Secretary of Homeland Security, then as Chief of Staff. Now they are all gone, and Mr. Trump can’t avoid the view that he does not want advice, he wants yes men.
Mr. Trump moved into the White House during a bull market (ie, the stock market is going up) and has claimed credit for its ongoing rise. As I write this the Dow Jones Industrial average is 23,138. At the beginning of the year it was 24,824. The last week or so has been particularly volatile but we’re probably due to experience a recession in 2019. The Great Recession of 2008-2009 didn’t become another Great Depression in large part because President Obama slammed the brakes on it by working with the Federal Reserve and pouring money into the economy. President Trump lacks even a basic understanding of how the Fed works and if we do slip into another recession I fear he won’t know what to do.
Finally, we are on day 6 of a partial government shutdown over his promise to build a wall along the entire US/Mexico border. He’s broken several promises before (e.g. promising to jail Hillary Clinton) and his supporters haven’t seemed to mind. It’s often said that they take him seriously but not literally. The border wall appears to be different. Last week he appeared to be willing to defer funding for the wall to avoid a government shutdown. But he turned on Fox and Friends and saw that he was being criticized for backing down. He’s not a man who does well with criticism, but it goes deeper. I think he recognizes that if he doesn’t build the wall he will lose support from his base. The partial shutdown can’t go on forever, but he’s really trapped. Next week the Democrats take control of the House and there is no way he will get wall funding once that happens.
Unfortunately he is no longer hosting a reality TV show. His missteps have real consequences, for him and for us.