The end of reassuring stories

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at:


The final story, which continues on both the left and right, is that Trump and his team are inexperienced buffoons who will quickly make fools of themselves, and will be brought to heel by the checks and balances of the US constitutional system. Its too early to tell, but the signs so far do not look good. Take the holocaust statement. According to this story, leaving out any mention of Jews or anti-Semitism from the Holocaust Day statement was perhaps an oversight that would get corrected later. But it was not, but instead intentional and purposeful.

A far more plausible explanation of what is going on is that it is part of a strategy, not only to firm up Trump’s base but also to test those checks and balances. Telling border agency staff to ignore court orders is not confusion but deliberate, to see how far they can go. Initial reports that the top state department officials had resigned were perhaps deliberate misinformation: they were all fired by the White House, with no replacements in sight. What this looks like is a concentration of power at the very centre. The lack of consultation about the immigration order was not inexperienced oversight but the shape of things to come.

The trouble with checks and balances are that they are designed to work on the margin, stopping small acts of overreach by different parts of a normal government. Whether they can cope with a determined and fast moving small team in the White House we have yet to see. These checks and balances are often slow. For example Trump has become president with his business affairs hardly altered. The travel ban excluded the four countries in the area in which Trump has business interests. “This isn’t the way the presidency has worked since Congress passed the Ethics in Government Act in 1978,” said the director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, but what is anyone going to do about it?

Given all this, for Prime Minister May to celebrate a “new era of American renewal” after meeting Trump represents either craven grovelling or a complete misreading of what is going on, or both. As Simon Schama tweets:

“Nothing is being renewed in USA except hatred. Nothing is being renewed in USA except ignorance and the dissolving of distinction between lies and truth. Nothing is being renewed in USA but much is being destroyed: equity under law, the climate, civil decency, public education, public health.”

If you think that quote, and this post more generally, are overreactions of the type often found in the worst kind of left-wing hyperbole, here is Charles Koch, scourge of the American Left: “We have a tremendous danger because we can go the authoritarian route ….”.