Leadership: Trump and the Three Branches

A President in Training

It’s often been said that there is no real training for presidents, they learn how to do the job by doing it, a fact that can have messy consequences, at least in the early stages.

Being a successful president clearly requires a broad range of skills including having a vision and the ability to communicate it, as well as winning supporters to your cause.

If Pennsylvania avenue is a scale of power with the White House at one end and the Capitol at the other, the scale tips based on many factors including the opportunity for one side or the other to fill a perceived vacuum of power or to protect their institutional interests.

In the campaign stages we like our candidates to appear strong, forceful and commanding, the very traits not likely to win them much success in our tripartite government.

Time and again presidents and their observers have  expressed the need for comity, conciliation and compromise as key attributes for successful leadership.

In the opening weeks of his presidency, Trump has not only shown a complete lack of those attributes but has gone on to insult members of the judiciary and legislative branches as a sitting president.

We shouldn’t be surprised, it’s who he is:  a brash businessman used to having his way and saying what he wants.

The problem for him is that our government is not a business with a CEO.

The worst possible outcome for Trump is if, by his words and actions, he emboldens the other branches to assert their power to protect their interests.

That is exactly what he is doing.

He has abused the federal judiciary repeatedly and to the point that his Supreme Court nominee is taking the side of the impugned judges.

His impolitic conversation with the Prime Minister of Australia caused Republican US Senator John McCain, in an extraordinary move, to call the Australian ambassador here to assure them of our support.

McCain may be a maverick at this point but he is a maverick with a formidable pedigree; he gives cover to his fellow senators who may be more faint of heart.

It’s even more amazing that McCain is of the president’s own party.

Three weeks in, Trump has positioned himself in exactly the wrong place to get things done: rather than building an executive/legislative coalition with the judiciary acting as enforcer, he has willfully alienated the other power centers to the extent that they feel the need to assert themselves in response to his harsh words and actions.

Every president has a learning curve, Trump’s is an abyss.




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