Editorial: Is Trump administration disintegrating?



US President Donald Trump and his administration, barely six months in office, seem entangled in so many webs as to suggest it is on the verge of disintegrating or at the very least becoming increasingly dysfunctional and losing whatever remains of its credibility. The one issue that has put the president and his administration in the dock is the ongoing investigation into the Trump election campaign’s alleged ties to Russia, in the midst of further allegations of Russian attempts last year to influence the election in Trump’s favour. The latest developments in the matter concern the resignation of White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, ostensibly in protest at the appointment of Anthony Scaramucci as Communications Director. Similarly, a member of Trump’s legal team dealing with the investigation into his and his camp’s ties with Russia, Mark Corallo, has also resigned. This one-two punch has left the Trump administration looking like it is reeling. The reset in the White House team that Trump seems to have initiated reflects mounting pressure from a broadening investigation into the Russia connection, which could potentially include Trump and his family’s finances. In typically combative style, Trump has stumbled into potentially perilous legal territory by trying to draw a red line for Special Counsel Robert Mueller not to venture into areas beyond the scope of the original inquiry into the Russia connection. Analogies are being drawn between the present investigation and that conducted by independent counsel Kenneth W Starr into President Bill Clinton, which began by reviewing an Arkansas land deal and concluded several years later with the president’s impeachment over a lie about a sexual affair. This underlines the mandate of such special counsel to follow any leads that indicate grey areas or potentially wrong behaviour by incumbent presidents. The Clinton administration saw the investigation as a political witch-hunt and openly challenged Starr. Trump and his team seem to be treading the same path in seeking ‘conflicts of interest’ in Mueller and his team’s efforts. Alarmingly, if Trump’s daily barrage of tweets is anything to go by, the president seems indifferent to constitutional, legal and ethical boundaries, except if they serve his own interests.

Trump’s track record of six months in office has raised a great deal of alarm at home and abroad. His demeanour points to what has emerged as the pattern of Trump’s behaviour vis-à-vis real and imagined detractors, including hitherto known allies, backers and loyalists. What Trump seems to want is total personal loyalty, and anyone perceived not to be fully on board in this requirement soon earns either a sacking, supersession, or at the very least a verbal assault that makes the target’s position potentially fragile. What Trump in his inflated ego bubble seems unable to understand is that the US has long established constitutional, legal and ethical norms. For example, he seems unable to see clearly that officials in the US system swore allegiance to the constitution, not the person of the president whose team they are on. The separation of powers and checks and balances in the US constitutional construct do not spare even the high and the mighty. The US system has incrementally evolved away from tacitly turning a blind eye to presidents’ faults and not shrinking from impeaching incumbents if warranted. Examples of this from recent years are Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton. But Trump seems oblivious of this history, or if he is aware, trumps it by the calculations of what lies in his interest alone. Abroad and at home, critics are ruing the apparent loss of US leadership of the world, an established fact since WWII. Retreat from climate change agreements, unguarded, indiscreet and undiplomatic pronouncements about Nato, Europe and other allies, not to mention China, North Korea, Cuba, etc, paint Trump and his administration as whimsical, incompetent and positively dangerous for the peace and welfare of the globe. Trump may have been elected on the wave of the backlash and resentment against globalisation and other contemporary trends in the world, but the signs of even his diehard supporters starting to have doubts about his fitness for the most powerful office may be pointers to an ignominious end for President Donald Trump’s tenure.