By YOUSUF ALI, Opinions Editor
Whatever one thinks of President Trump, the first month of his administration certainly has not been uneventful. Already, there is a major scandal forming regarding the former National Security Advisor General, Michael Flynn, and his pre-inauguration conversations with the Russian ambassador regarding sanctions. Many are already asking, “What did the President know, and when did he know it?” a question originally posed by Senator Howard Baker (R-Tenn.) about President Richard Nixon’s involvement in the Watergate scandal. That does not even take into account the nature of the cabinet appointments, the President’s tweets, and his executive orders. One would be hard pressed to find any precedent for such a tumultuous start of any administration. With that, I’d like to predict the future of the current administration in two possible scenarios, one of which is far better than the other.
Events unfold as they are currently unfolding without any major change to the current disruptive nature of the presidency.
The current trajectory of the administration is simply unsustainable for the length of a four-year term. Already, we are seeing reports that the President had knowledge of the contents of General Flynn’s conversation and was thus complicit in misleading Vice President Pence, and by extension the American public. True or not, a narrative about the President misleading the Vice President making him appear a victim has come into existence. This is clearly setting up a scenario in which President Trump will be investigated by Congress, leading to impeachment hearings and culminating in either forcible removal from office or resignation. The only potential impediment to this scenario would be if Congress is unwilling to act against the President for partisan purposes.
Although Trump is officially a Republican, it would be a mistake to consider him to be just another Republican president. Rather, most traditional Republicans consider him to be a RINO (Republican in-name only). This includes the Republican-controlled Congress. They are currently cooperating with the President because they want him to implement as much of their agenda as possible. The proof for them lies in the antipathy many expressed in relation to the President back when he was a candidate. It’s highly unlikely that their views of him have made a 180 degree turn, simply because he was elected. The same cannot be said of Mike Pence. He has a solid track record as a conservative Republican on almost every issue. As such, it is clear that the Republicans would far prefer him as President over Trump.
With that, I’d like to make a prediction given the current trajectory of the administration. President Trump will be out, one way or another, within 18 months. The current situation cannot last for four years and will most likely end with his resignation or removal from office through the impeachment process. I would not be thrilled with a Pence administration, but I would much rather have nuclear codes in his hands over the current occupant of the Oval Office. He would essentially be like President Bush, whose presidency we survived. That said, this last year and a half has taught me not to assume any scenario, no matter how likely, is inevitable. There is one scenario which could save the Trump presidency, and lead to a very dark future for the United States.
There is a major 9/11-style attack against the United States.
Without a doubt, this would be a worst-case scenario for the country. Although such a scenario is unlikely, the consequences are all too predictable. Naturally, when people feel threatened and vulnerable, the are likely to rally around the leader and listen to whatever they say. We saw this happen after 9/11. All of a sudden, a president who came to power under incredibly dubious circumstances became a national hero. Virtually all Republicans and the majority of Democrats went along with President Bush’s policies including the Iraq War and the US Patriot Act, leading to disastrous consequences for this country and the world. We can expect a similar reaction with a Trump presidency, which could include immeasurably worse consequences.
Many commentators have already written about the authoritarian tendencies the President Trump has already displayed, and the elimination of any resistance will make it all too easy for him realize these aspirations. A 9/11-style attack would certainly validate the President’s repeated claims that the judiciary system is undermining the security of this nation. Furthermore, the President has already flirted with the idea of a Japanese Internment response. Some may counter that our system of checks and balances would prevent such a horrifying scenario, but I am afraid this is wishful thinking. Our judicial and legislative institutions proved all too fickle in the face of public opinion and the fear that war instills when the court upheld the constitutionality of the internment camps in Korematsu v. United States. With the backing of public opinion and the failure of our institutions to provide an adequate check, President Trump could become more powerful than any of his predecessors.
The way America deals with its current president will reveal much about the character of the nation. There are definitely encouraging signs with massive popular mobilization and the judiciary system exercising its authority in checking overreaches by the President. That’s not to mention the fact that members of his own party seem to be turning against him concerning the scandal with Michael Flynn and his attacks on the media; however, that could all change after the shock of a 9/11-style catastrophe. Should the population, united around the Commander-in-Chief and our other institutions fail to stop abuses of power, we may no longer recognize the country that many of us have come to know and love.