Donald Trump sounds convincing - like the guy you see at the party who seems to know everyone, even you, and people who regularly have three or four drinks before dinner find him . . . interesting.
But the speeches he gives are mostly about himself with policy positions painted with the broadest strokes possible. The most oft repeated being, "We're gonna make America great again." He gives little detail about how he would accomplish that, but he makes the claim anyway, leaving plenty of space for listeners to fill in the blanks.
Giving Trump the benefit of the doubt, and reading past his sparse comments on policy, he sounds like a CEO addressing shareholders or employees at an annual gathering. And that might be expected. After all, he's spent a lifetime leading a number of companies. But as attractive as the CEO model might be, the presidency is not a CEO position and the government is not a business corporation. This is a critical point because if he wins the presidency in the general election, the differences between corporate CEO and president of the United States will become a major stumbling block as he confronts one of his most important official duties - proposing the next year's federal budget.
After years of government shutdowns and debt-limit grandstanding, almost none of which had any noticeable effect on the individual lives of private citizens, the federal budget might seem like merely a document. It is, in fact, quite the opposite.
The federal budget lies at the heart of an administration's plan for governing. The budgetary process - the process by which each year's allocation of funding is determined - becomes the battle ground upon which dreams and political rhetoric collide with the enduring enemy of all attempts at government reform - the narrow-minded but often powerful congressional constituencies in both parties who protect and defend billions of dollars in federal pork aimed at projects in their home districts.
The CEO of a private corporation could address company budget problems by simply deleting from that budget those items he thought were unnecessary - a power often referred to in government as the line-item veto. However, the president of the United States does not hold line-item veto power. The president can approve a budget and sign it into law in its entirety, or he can veto the budget in its entirety and send the document back to congress. But he can't strike from the budget those individual items he does not wish to fund. Approval or disapproval of the budget is an all or nothing matter.
In addition, most of the items the president will want to cut from the budget have their own congressional constituency - congressional members, even from within the president's own party, who are determined to retain some measure of federal largess for voters back home. As a result, a first-term Trump will watch as his administration becomes bogged down in relentless congressional arguments over each and every item he wishes to strike.
And then consider this . . .
To alleviate his frustration, a President Trump will do what he has already done when confronted by Republican Party hierarchy and the Republican Establishment - he will look beyond congress and the legislative process and rally the American people to his cause. Using the same empty and vacuous, but oh so entertaining, rhetoric that won him the office, he will make a very public argument for why he should have greater budgetary control. In speech after speech he will chide Congress for its failure to govern and exhort the American people with promises that he can easily fix most of the government's problems, if only he had the power to strike individual appropriations from the budget.
His argument will seem appealing and opinion polls will show voter sentiment strongly in favor of Trump's request. A Republican controlled Congress, facing the prospect of voter anger in their home districts, will give him the line-item power he seeks - by constitutional amendment if necessary.
Using his newly acquired power, Trump will dramatically shrink the federal budget. Deficits will become a thing of the past. Key government programs wiped out with the stroke of a pen. The American economy, almost instantly devoid of excess federal spending, will descend into a depression far more devastating than the Great Depression of 1929. Millions will be out of work. Voter anger once again will rise.
Rather than addressing the truth - that his federal budget policy withdrew trillions of economic activity from the national economy - Trump will turn again to the rhetoric that holds the key to his power and divert public attention to illegal immigrants as the source of the nation's economic trouble. Illegal immigrants, he will say, as he already has, are the ones who stole our jobs and destroyed our economy.
With that rhetoric as his tool, he will convince Americans that the economic crisis is really an immigration crisis, one that requires the deployment of federal troops in a massive roundup of some fifteen million allegedly illegal immigrants. A Republican controlled congress, eager to retain their office and its paycheck, will rubber stamp all of his proposals.
Sporadic resistance will create poorly organized disruptions, but those attempts at resistance will attract national media attention and provide the illusion of widespread unrest. In the midst of that, he will declare martial law and, as his second term approaches its end, he will declare a national emergency, temporarily suspending federal elections, leaving himself in office indefinitely.
And so . . .
If you think this is nothing more than the overactive musings of a fiction writer, you should read the history of Germany from 1920 to 1945. This is precisely how Hitler shredded through centuries of German law, tradition, and practice to become first chancellor, then Fuehrer - an absolute ruler with absolute and unrestrained power.
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