September 8, 2019
One of the challenges of writing about President Trump is that it is hard to avoid slipping into a Billy Joel-esque “We Didn’t Start the Fire” litany of the many, many outrages that have come to define this Presidency. I would like to argue, however, that over time the dumpster fire that is the Trump Presidency may be best defined not by its actions but by its inactions.
This is not about the fact that the President spends an astonishing amount of time watching cable news shows, tweeting and golfing (i.e., doing essentially nothing), but rather that when called to defend the interest of the nation he leads Trump has refused to act time and time again.
Our Declaration of Independence proclaims that we are endowed by our creator “with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” and that the function of government is to secure these rights. Our liberty depends on the proper functioning of our democratic system and yet when the intelligence community and Robert Mueller’s investigation confirms that the Russian government has and is continuing to interfere in our political process, President Trump’s response is to call it a hoax and jokingly ask Russian President Putin not to interfere in the upcoming elections.
When it comes to protecting American lives and security, Trump is also absent. Trump has done nothing about Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea, which has caused great alarm to Ukraine and our European allies. Even worse, Trump has cut off military aid intended to bolster Ukraine against Russia and, instead, transferred it to fund his vanity border wall.
Trump also has allowed Kim Jong-un to advance North Korea’s nuclear program and develop missiles capable of striking Japan and our bases in the region. As South Korea and Japan increasingly express concern, Trump minimizes the threat and does nothing because Kim writes “beautiful” letters to him playing to his vanity and Trump cannot concede that he has been played.
When foreign dictators wound or kill an American citizen or American journalist, Trump will take their word that nothing improper happened despite all evidence to the contrary as he did in the case of Otto Warmbier and Jamal Khashoggi.
Trump’s status as President Zero is most evident when confronted with the threats presented by climate change. His own Pentagon declared that climate change was a serious threat that puts at risk many U.S. bases, but Trump’s response was simply that his generals were wrong. The Pentagon also has long held that climate change presents a national security challenge as a “threat multiplier for instability in some of the most volatile regions of the world,” as this would trigger mass migrations and refugee crises like we have never seen before. Yet at the latest meeting amongst G7 leaders, Trump simply blew off the meeting on climate change.
Yet this is not a case of a passionate President sticking to his guns on a core belief. Trump knows full well the consequences of inaction on climate change and has sought approval from Irish authorities for a giant seawall to protect his golf course there from a climate-induced sea-level rise prior to taking office.
The same is true in investing in new climate-friendly technologies. Throughout our history, the United States government has helped the country lead the major transitions in the global economy from automobiles, aviation, space and the internet. Trump, however, is content in letting other countries take the lead in the rapidly advancing post-petroleum economy which promises many high paying jobs, choosing instead to make jokes about windmills.
In terms of dealing with our own crumbling infrastructure, Trump promised to be the “builder President”. Unfortunately, Trump approached the issue like the grifter businessman he is and offered to only contribute one-fourth of what the federal government would normally provide to states for such projects and then abandoned the issue altogether. The problem is that our crumbling infrastructure not only hurts our economy with delays, impairs mobility for national security but it puts people’s lives at risk as we have seen in bridge collapses and with contaminated water systems in Flint and Newark.
There comes a point in every presidency, in which the president must rise to the occasion and face head-on the challenges of his time and do what is right for the nation even though it may not have the full support of his base. That is what leadership is about. Trump has shown no such inclination. He is perfectly comfortable doing nothing despite the many pressing challenges of our time.
Sending a misspelled tweet (“covfefe”) is excusable. Doing nothing when leadership and action are required is not. For that, Donald J. Trump should forever be known as #PresidentZero.