At no point in my life have I ever felt as alienated from politics as I do now. Three weeks into the Trump administration, I find much to agree with — proposed tax cuts, deregulation, good Cabinet choices — but even more that makes me uncomfortable, indeed fearful. Despite the apocalyptic rhetoric of the election, the United States is in relatively good shape. We have an economy that is growing, albeit sluggishly; a crime rate that is historically low, though it has ticked up over the past year or so; the strongest military in the world and perhaps the most experienced, if overtasked, service members in our history; and the most educated population we've ever had.
With one party in control of the executive and legislative branches of government, the nation is poised to make progress on several vexing problems, including reforming health care and improving our immigration system. But much of my optimism that it is possible to get important things done is tempered by a White House that seems more interested in settling scores than in moving forward to improve the lives of all who live here.
In a span of a few days, President Donald Trump nominated a Supreme Court justice of stellar caliber, U.S. Circuit Judge Neil Gorsuch, and then undid the goodwill generated by his action by launching a broadside against the American judicial system. When a judge in Seattle issued a temporary restraining order against the president's temporary ban on people entering the U.S. from seven majority-Muslim countries, Trump referred to the judge as a "so-called judge" and then set the stage to blame the judge for future terror attacks. "If something happens blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad!" Trump tweeted.
Trump's tirades didn't stop there but continued next against the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which heard a government request to stay the lower court order. Demeaning both his own Justice Department lawyers and the plaintiffs' attorneys, he described the arguments before the appellate court as "disgraceful." He told a group of sheriffs and police chiefs: "I think it's sad. I think it's a sad day. I think our security is at risk today." The appellate court issued a ruling Thursday, upholding the lower court's restraining order, a defeat for the government and Trump.
It is impossible to brush aside Trump's impulsive behavior. It undermines the very agenda that he hopes to accomplish. The fight to confirm Gorsuch was never going to be easy. Democrats are still smarting from the refusal of the GOP-controlled Senate to give Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee, a hearing to fill the seat of deceased Justice Antonin Scalia. The Senate is closely divided in partisan terms, with 52 Republicans, 46 Democrats and two independents who caucus with the Democrats. That means that to avoid a filibuster, either some Democrats must support Gorsuch or Republicans must suspend Senate rules to allow a simple majority vote for confirmation. Trump has urged the Republicans to do the latter — to exercise the "nuclear option," as it is often referred to — but that would do lasting damage to the process going forward, further polarizing an already deeply divided body.
One wonders why there is no one in President Trump's circle who can stand up to him and say, "Your behavior is threatening your legacy and the stability of our system." I will give the president the benefit of the doubt that he wants to make things better for Americans. But he can't do so with threats and bullying. Insulting those who disagree with him won't persuade them. Ignoring administrative procedures and the traditional vetting process won't improve the quality of his directives. Watching cable TV for hours, as he has admitted to doing, won't inform him about complicated issues, nor will excluding from national security meetings some of the very people on whom he should be relying for advice. Surrounding himself with yes men and yes women who tell him what he wants to hear will eventually undo him. He needs open, honest debate from people who actually understand policy and government to present him with the best options. Getting things done quickly isn't so important as getting them done well and properly.
I want the Trump administration to succeed. But I fear that the president is laying the groundwork for his own destruction. It's not too late to get on track, but if things don't change soon, it will be. And only Donald Trump can save himself — by putting aside petty grievances.
Linda Chavez is chairwoman of the Center for Equal Opportunity, a nonprofit public policy research organization in Falls Church, Va.; a syndicated columnist; and a political analyst. Her latest book is "Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics." For more of her reports, Go Here Now.