Editorial, March 25, 2018: Trump Pursues an Emboldened Agenda

Trump, emboldened. (MediaMatters)

A week ago, we learned that Trump now feels emboldened to ignore his advisors and follow his instincts.  This week we saw the results of the new approach, a trifecta where Trump may place his Presidency above the law, crash the world economy and lead the United States into war.  It will not end well either for the country or for Trump. 

One of Trump’s existing lawyers, John Dowd, prayed for Acting Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to terminate Special Counsel Robert Mueller.  Apparently, that did not go far enough, as Trump decided to hire a new attorney, Joseph E. diGenova, to take a more confrontational approach with Mueller.   While the latest news says Trump will not hire diGenova due to conflicts of interest, Trump’s push for a more aggressive approach will not subside.

If the President fires Mueller it will create a constitutional crisis.  The Republicans in Congress are refusing to consider legislation that would protect Mueller.  They are too afraid of Trump’s retaliation and its effect on their reelection campaigns.  If the Republicans will not do that, it is difficult to imagine that they will demand a new special counsel if Trump fires Mueller — nor will the Republican-majority House impeach Trump.  We will have situation where a sitting President has ended an investigation into his own wrongdoing and placed himself above the law. 

Of course, if the Democrats take control of the House in the 2018 elections, starting in January 2019 they will begin further investigations into Trump campaign collusion with the Russians.  The Democratic House may well impeach.  The question is whether the Senate would convict.  Conviction requires 60 votes and the Democrats would need Republicans votes for conviction even if the Democrats manage to narrowly win a majority of the Senate in the 2018 elections. 

Even if he is fired, Special Counsel Mueller may have a number of sealed indictments filed with the federal court.  Those could include indictments against Trump.  If Mueller is terminated, those indictments might be opened.  It might be politically impossible for Trump to prevent the Department of Justice from pursuing those indictments.  Still, Trump may be able to make a successful argument that criminal charges cannot be pursued against a sitting President but must wait until after the occupant leaves office.  Yet, if Trump fires Mueller and delays criminal prosecutions against himself, it is likely to turn most Americans other than his base against Trump for the 2020 presidential elections.  Trump lost the popular vote in 2016 by three million votes, and only won by about 70,000 votes total in three states via the mechanism of the Electoral College. 

This week Trump also imposed massive tariffs against Chinese imports, causing large falls in the stock markets.  There is no question that China competes unfairly both by refusing to prosecute Chinese companies that steal U.S. technology and by forcing U.S. companies to surrender technology as the price of doing business in China.  The tariffs against China, though, do not address that problem and the Chinese have already said they will retaliate.  Unless Trump backs off a trade war is likely to result that will damage both the U.S. and Chinese economies, the two largest economies in the world. 

A trade war will hurt those who work in manufacturing in the U.S., many of whom are Trump supporters.  Many Chinese imports are parts that are used in U.S. manufacturing.  If those U.S. factories have to pay higher prices for their parts, their prices will have to rise and they will lose market share against other foreign competitors, leading to losses of U.S. jobs.  Even Trump’s base will rebel against that. 

And then Trump replaced his National Security Advisor, H.R. McMaster, with war hawk John Bolton.  Bolton advocates a U.S. military first strike against North Korea and bombing Iran rather than letting the current agreement continue that prevents Iran from further developing nuclear weapons.  Earlier, even the Republicans would not confirm Bolton to the post of U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.  George W. Bush had to use a recess appointment to shove Bolton into that position for a year. 

North Korea has nuclear weapons and at least short-range missiles capable of delivering them.  If the U.S. launches a military strike against North Korea, North Korea may use nuclear weapons on at least South Korea.  Even if North Korea were to respond only with conventional weapons, it has many artillery pieces in tunnels along the border with South Korea.  Seoul, with millions of South Korean inhabitants, is just across that border within easy range, as are U.S. troops are stationed there.  China has already said that it will not respond militarily if North Korea strikes first – but it will if the U.S. does.  If another Korean war begins, Trump rightly will be blamed.

As for Iran, despite Trump’s complaints that the agreement with Iran is the worst deal in history, it has been quite successful.  Iran had been developing nuclear weapons, with Israel and U.S. ally Saudi Arabia being most threatened.  In return for the lifting of sanctions, Iran agreed to stop development.  Inspections have shown that Iran is complying.  If that agreement is terminated, Iran will resume its nuclear weapons march.  Although Bolton wants to bomb Iran to stop this, Iran’s nuclear facilities are built into mountains.  Most of those facilities would survive even a nuclear attack.  If Iran resumed its nuclear program, Trump would have an excuse to use U.S. troops already in Syria and Iraq to fight Iranian-backed militias there.  Iran could respond by massively funding and arming those militias, leading to substantial U.S. casualties.  That would likely cause further drops in Trump’s popularity, given Americans’ understandable fatigue with U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

Trump can do great damage to the country and he seems set on several courses that accomplish just that.  Vladimir Putin must be ecstatic. 

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