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The Rule of Law Under Trump

William Galston, a Brookings Institution senior fellow, said that “we are a government of men and not law.” It has no force until people enforce it. That is the underlying theme of Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig’s A Very Stable Genius: Donald J. Trump’s Testing of America. The test is how far can one person, in this case a self-declared stable genius who is the president of the world’s longest running democracy, repeatedly stretch or ignore the legal norms of a democratic government before a breaking point is reached? The current Republican controlled Senate Trial of President Donald J. Trump will answer that question.

Rucker and Leonnig interviewed more than 200 sources — most on condition of anonymity. Trump turned down their request to be interviewed. Their chronological account of his first term in office is an insider’s view of what they describe as his “vain glorious pursuit of power…”

The universal value of the Trump administration was loyalty…” According to the authors, not to the country or its laws but to him personally. Among multiple examples, one that stood out for me was his attack on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. This law does not allow US companies, like real estate developers, such as himself, to bribe foreign governments to secure special services for their business. He asked Secretary of State Rex Tillerson “to get rid of that law”. Tillerson said he’d have to work with Congress. Unsatisfied, Trump turned to his senior policy advisor, Stephen Miller, to draft an Executive Order repealing the law.

Trump besides demanding loyalty, he delighted in abusing those whom he felt resisted to his proposals. For instance, he ridiculed national security advisor General H.R. McMaster’s work performance in front others White House staff for delivering boring briefings with too much detailed paperwork. McMaster’s aid said, “The president doesn’t fire people, he just tortures them until they’re willing to quit.” Both Tillerson and General McMaster were finally pushed out.

Trump wants loyalty to extended to his staff and federal executive agencies, like the Justice Department, which he referred to as “my” Trump Justice Department. He couldn’t understand why it would not release a pro-Trump memo to help him, saying “They are supposed to be my people.”

Trump is revealed to not understand or care how government works and is suspicious of all agencies as being part of the anti-Trump Deep State if they don’t agree with him. The authors show how Russia’s autocrat President Putin manipulated Trump by telling him that his ideas were brilliant warned that he couldn’t trust anyone in his administration to execute them. When the Justice Department indicted twelve Russian intelligence officers for hacking Democratic emails, Trump came to Russia’s defense after Putin personally told him that they didn’t.

Trump admires how other leaders can control their governments, like North Korea’s autocrat Kim Jong Un who got his people to “sit up at attention” when he spoke. Trump called Kim “very talented,” and “very smart,” and that Kim “felt very badly” about Otto Warmbier, the twenty-two year-old US college student who died following seventeen months in a Korean prison. Kim told Trump he didn’t know about Warmbier. Trump’s response, “I take him at his word.”

This book should be read by students in business management. It illustrates how a new company CEO with prior successes brings ideas that worked elsewhere but were not matched to the new one. Like Trump telling his generals, “We need to make a profit…” on US troops stationed around the world.

While Trump rightly boasted he was a megastar in the real estate and entertainment businesses, the authors declare that Trump is a chaotic, inconsistent and ignorant manager over this nation’s federal government. Some of his staff recognized these weaknesses and provided him ways that would limit his impulsive decisions, so laws were not broken. A Very Stable Genius repeatedly shows how these professionals were worn down by what they considered the inanity, impropriety and illegality of his ideas and directives.

One of his longtime friends defends Trump, saying that he “has genius characteristics… Like all savants he has edges… he has a kind of brilliance and charisma that is unique, rare and captivating, although at times misunderstood.” That would explain how he attracts new acolytes to replace those he tortured and then summarily dismissed.

Would this book’s possible wide circulation, which sketches out a damning portrait of Trump’s personal flaws, impact his reelection bid? Will the voters care? If not, then it provides a glimpse of what to expect in the next four years.

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