Ivanka Trump’s White House Role Is a Symbol of Democratic Decline

By: Anne Applebaum
The Washington Post
April 27, 2017

I’ve no doubt she thinks she is qualified. Politics is not really all that different from advertising, right? You promote handbags; you promote nice causes. Women entrepreneurs, friendship between nations, edgy earrings — whatever. These are all part of a lifestyle that everybody wants, and it’s a lifestyle that Ivanka Trump has been selling, for profit, for most of her life.
But when Trump appeared on a stage in Berlin this week, purportedly to discuss women in the workforce, she did not seem qualified. On the contrary, she provided a shocking reminder of the damage that the Trump lifestyle brand will do (and has already done) not just to America’s “image” but to America’s reputation as a serious country, even to America’s reputation as a democracy.
Why was she there at all? The other panelists — the Canadian foreign minister, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund and German Chancellor Angela Merkel — raised no eyebrows because their official functions explain themselves. But Trump was there as “first daughter,” a notion that the moderator of the panel — another impressive woman, the editor of a business magazine — at one point asked her to explain. “The German audience is not that familiar with the concept,” she said. “ Who are you representing, your father as president of the United States, the American people or your business?”

Trump has enough media training to know what to deny. “Certainly not the latter,” she said quickly (only to contradict herself, a few moments later, by saying, as she is no doubt accustomed, “Speaking as an entrepreneur ...”). But the question never got a real answer. As everyone in the room knew perfectly well, Trump was not on the panel because she is an entrepreneur, or because she represents the American people or even because she speaks for her father, which is far from clear. She was on the panel because Merkel, ever the pragmatist, realizes President Trump is not interested in history, ideas, policy or any of the other things that have long tied the United States to Germany. To maintain its deep political and economic relationship with this American administration, Germany therefore needs to be solicitous of Trump’s daughter.

There are sinister precedents here. Daughters have long been used cynically to “humanize” thuggish men. The president’s strategically meaningless but politically useful bombing raid on Syria was justified on the grounds that Ivanka Trump had seen pictures of dying children and prevailed upon his softened heart, as in a fairy tale, to do something. Sarah Kendzior has laid out the remarkable similarities between Trump and Gulnara Karimova, the Uzbek dictator’s daughter, a “cosmopolitan socialite who married into a powerful business family” before making her mark as a fashion designer. Like Trump, Karimova also masks “brutal practices under the pretext of a soft ‘feminism’” and styles herself an ideal modern woman.

But the real problem with Trump is not what she and her husband, Jared Kushner, contribute to the president’s “image,” but what their presence says about the culture of this White House. One of the things that distinguishes rule-of-law democracies from personalized dictatorships is their reliance on procedures, not individual whims, and on officials — experienced people, subject to public scrutiny and ethics laws — not the unsackable relatives of the leader. That distinction is now fading.
No ordinary public official would be allowed to dine with the leader of China, as Trump did, on the same day that China granted valuable trademarks to her company. No civil servant would be able to profit from the jewelry she advertises by wearing it on public occasions. Only in kleptocracies are sons-in-law with broad international business interests allowed to make foreign policy.
Yes, sure, “the Clintons did it” — and look how that turned out. First lady Hillary Clinton’s attempt to craft a health-care policy ended in fiasco largely because her mixed roles created hostility. Even though she acquired genuine legitimacy by being elected senator and serving as secretary of state, that hostility remained. The suspicion of nepotism haunted her throughout her career, and it probably cost her the presidency.

For all I know, Trump might really care about the lives of working women, though she has never demonstrated much interest in how they are treated at the factories that produce her products in China (so much for “America first”). But it makes no difference. When she plays with the role of public official as if she were trying on a new hat, she demeans the public servants who take their jobs seriously, who acquire them through expertise and competition, who work for salaries and obey ethics laws. The presence of Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner in the White House, particularly in a White House that has failed to nominate hundreds of senior officials, is a glaring symbol of democratic decline, and around the world it is already recognized as such.

 NOTE:  Applebaum is right.  We are witnessing something in this Presidency that has never happened before.  And it's not only with Ivanka. Seems to me that it's the Trump Family Presidency that's ruling the country now.   Who knows where it will end up?

Trump Has Already Started Building a Legacy. It’s Highly Negative.

By Francis Kukuyama
The Washington Post
April 30 2017

Francis Fukuyama is a senior fellow at Stanford University and Mosbacher Director of Stanford’s Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law.
President Trump’s election provoked extraordinary fears that he would become an American strongman in the mold of authoritarian leaders he admires such as Vladimir Putin of Russia or Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey. Unlike those countries, however, the United States has a very robust set of institutional checks and balances that are supposed to prevent any one individual from acquiring excessive power. The empirical question, then, is whether that system would successfully contain a president who displayed little respect for legal or ethical constraints.

At the 100-day mark, it seems clear that the system is working properly and that Trump is more likely to go down in history as a weak and ineffective president than as an American tyrant. Apart from the appointment of Neil M. Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, he has failed to carry through on any of his major campaign promises such as stopping Muslim immigration or building his “big, beautiful” wall. His most abject failure was the effort to replace Obamacare with the American Health Care Act, which had to be withdrawn for lack of votes. This absence of winning (is it called “losing”?) unfolded even as the Republican Party controls both houses of Congress and the presidency.
There are multiple sources of this weakness. Most immediate is Trump’s own ignorance of the workings of the U.S. government and the inexperience of the advisers he chose to surround himself with. He seems to have come into office believing he could run the country the way he ran his family business, through executive orders. But the American system puts Congress in the driver’s seat for any major initiatives, and presidents are powerful only to the extent that they can build legislative coalitions. Trump failed to do this on health care, and he is no more likely to succeed with tax reform or infrastructure.

Trump’s second weakness is structural. To be a powerful president, he would have had to reach out beyond the narrow base that brought him victory in the electoral college, just as President Ronald Reagan succeeded in doing. Trump has sought the opposite, doubling down on his core supporters while doing everything possible to undermine trust on the part of Democrats and independents. In theory, he could create a bipartisan coalition on an issue popular with Democrats such as infrastructure, but at this point they are unlikely to want to rescue what looks like a failing presidency.

This does not mean, however, that Trump will be an inconsequential president. His main legacy will be a highly negative one: the first president to undermine a whole series of informal norms about American government. He and his family have not even pretended to avoid conflicts of interest after taking office. Meanwhile, the administration is rolling back transparency laws as it loads its staff with former lobbyists, despite its “drain the swamp” slogan.

The second negative legacy has to do with government service. The Trump administration has done nothing but express contempt for the public servants who run the government. Administration officials have shown no particular urgency in appointing the hundreds of mid-level officials needed to run the government, declared a hiring freeze and pay cap, and solicited ideas for which government agencies to eliminate entirely. The administration seems not to realize that the federal government actually has fewer full-time workers than it did in the 1960s, despite the fact that it is processing five times the amount of money (the gap being made up by contractors). What bright young person is going to want to go to work for the State Department when the secretary of state has abetted its marginalization?

Third, Trump is the first president in living memory who has not paid even lip service to the importance of democracy or human rights around the world. His embrace of Abdel Fatah al-Sissi of Egypt and his congratulations to Erdogan after the Turkish strongman consolidated his presidential powers send powerful signals that the world’s leading democracy no longer cares about democracy elsewhere.
The one area in which the president has authority to act on his own is foreign policy. While recent moves regarding Syria, China and Russia suggest he is moving back into the Washington foreign policy mainstream, the more important legacy may be the administration’s uncanny ability to undermine its own credibility. The recent miscue on whether the USS Carl Vinson was sailing toward North Korea is only the latest example.

Is a presidential tweet the same thing as U.S. policy? Neither our friends nor our enemies know, and credibility is the coin of the realm in foreign policy. How this legacy will play out in the real crises we face in Asia, Europe and the Middle East is unknowable at this juncture, but the danger that the United States will abate rather than enhance global stability is all too real.

NOTE: What you won't see in this morning's New York Times any mention of the size of yesterday's Climate Protests here in D.C..  The Washington Post estimates  that here in D.C. the crowd was 200,000.  That's a fair-sized crowd especially given that yesterday's temps reached 91 degrees, the hottest April 29th on record here in DC.  And, it's been the hottest April in Washington ever.  Regarding the weather, that is, not the Resistance Protests to the Trump Presidency.

100 Days.  Where Does It Go From Here?   


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