While researching a new book on political economy and the events of 2016-17, I have been reluctant to voice opinions on the current state of economics and politics since the election of 2016. The sad event at Charlottesville and the subsequent media controversy over the President’s “fitness for office,” have forced my hand. Here is a small observation.
The President’s compulsive responses via Twitter or Q&A’s at his infrequent news conferences seem to create a continual fury that destabilizes any hope that thoughtful legislation can pass. Health Care reform has gone down already; legislation authorizing a large infrastructure program has not gotten off the ground; a well integrated tax reform is hinted at by the Secretary of the Treasury but has not been made public; immigration reform is either dead or in the courts for piecemeal remediation and foreign policy measures seem episodic or at best confused. Further, watching the President in his entertainment and recruitment mode during his various “rallies,” diverts attention from the essential leadership elements of a successful Presidency.
The clock is ticking on Debt Lift legislation and is now encumbered by Presidential threats that if there is no funding for the “Wall,” there will be a “shut down.” Bottom line, governance at the Presidential level is a shambles. This is not the first Leadership Deficit suffered by America, but it comes at a truly inopportune time. It does not seem as if the Trump Administration has made progress on “making America great again.”
The latest tempest is the story that Gary Cohn, the national economic advisor and often thought to be the next Chairman of the Federal Reserve, has publicly condemned the Trump administration by stating “This Administration can and must do better in consistently and unequivocally condemning these groups [neo-Nazi’s and white supremacists] and do everything we can to heal the deep divisions that exist in our communities.” Whether Cohn will resign or stay and whether he will be taken off the short list for the Chairmanship of the Fed are still open questions. Underlying all of this is a deeper question: Do the Twitter comments and the off the cuff remarks of the President tell us anything about any inherent bias he may have?
When you calmly think about the President’s first response to Charlottesville, it is hard not to notice the Presidential equivocation on responsibility. Why would a senior politician—let alone the President—seek to impose seeming “fairness” to both Neo-Nazi’s, KKK’ers and White Supremacists’ and the ‘Antifa’s who brawled with them at the University of Virginia?
The US repudiated slavery more than 150 years ago; we fought an expensive war against Nazism and expended billions of dollars in reviving a modern Germany that repudiated its own historical monstrosities; we have a more than 50 year history of trying to counter racial inequality through a host of Civil Rights legislation; and we have spent over a trillion dollars attempting to put down jihadist terrorism over very similar threats to freedom. Why then the sudden, unexpected attempt to equate two extreme sources of violence? It seemed to be such a simple line to draw in the sand. Does the President have a tin ear with regard to the vile conduct of racial bigots in the US?
There are two possible explanations for his extemporaneous attempt to apportion blame to both sides. One is a total misunderstanding of the likely reactions of both the media and the US population as a whole or an inherent bias that cannot be forgiven. The second one is that such a response plays to the Trump base. If the second reason is the case, and the two subsequent Trump rallies subsequent to Charlottesville hint at that explanation, then our future is grim. Stirring up that ‘witches brew,’ will cause continual legislative failures certainly until November of 2018 and a deeply divided country that desperately needs thoughtful and weighty Presidential leadership.
Congratulations to Gary Cohn for “doing the right thing” that could be very costly to any ambition he might have had to chair the Fed and congratulations to him as well for not resigning and staying the course of trying to achieve a more rational tax and expenditure policy as head of the National Economic Council. His courage was badly needed, but it highlights the enormous leadership deficit at the top level under which we continue to suffer.