The Beginning of the End?

Alan Zendell, November 2, 2017

Immediately after Robert Mueller announced the guilty plea of George Papadopoulos and the indictments of Paul Manafort and Richard Gates, I received an email asking (rhetorically) if this was the beginning of the end. The end of what, I wondered. The end of the Trump Presidency? Possibly, but I wouldn’t bet my mortgage on it.

More likely, it could mark the beginning of a protracted period in which the president’s ability to get anything done is greatly reduced. That same morning, a quick Gallup poll reported that the president’s approval rating went from an all-time low of 38% to a shocking 33%, which suggests that no one outside his hard core base still supports him, and that base might even be shrinking.

Combined with recent leaks and reports that most of his support in Congress is based on a temporary alignment to pass tax reform, rather than real support or approval of the president himself, that bodes ill for the future success of the administration. A president with such a low approval rating does not inspire confidence either at home or internationally.

What incentive does a sitting member of Congress, especially one who is not up for re-election next year, have to go along with the president when he or she disagrees with him? The president may act as if the country is behind him in spite of the polls, but the reality is that they leave him with little leverage to twist arms. Unfortunately, we’ve become used to a Congress that can’t get out of its own way, so people may not be overly alarmed if Trump’s problems cause that to continue. But the situation may be far more serious with respect to diplomacy.

When other countries, be they allies or adversaries, perceive that an American president is politically wounded, his influence is greatly diminished. Europe, especially Germany has indicated that they understand the need to look out for their own interests. Even if Trump were dealing from strength, his repeated statements that America always comes first assures that.

But what happens when we try to enlist their support for a united effort to rebuild the parts of Syria and Iraq that were destroyed by ISIS? What happens when we need their support for a unified front against North Korea or Iran? The reality is that even if foreign leaders take Trump at his word, their confidence in his ability to convince Congress to go along with him has been undermined.

So if the question is: “Is this the beginning of the end,” it’s reasonable to suggest that it may be the beginning of the end of America as a dominant voice on the world stage. We may still have the most powerful armed forces in the world, but as our most prominent military leaders have repeatedly stated, diplomacy must come first. And a strong military does not by itself assure successful diplomacy when long-term efforts to avoid war are at stake.

To those who would like to see the president impeached, I say be careful what you wish for. If you think the president is weakened now, the chaos that would accompany an impeachment, whether or not it was successful, would emasculate our ability to function either at home or internationally, for at least a year. I agree with those who say that when the president fails the country fails along with him.

And don’t forget that impeachment is a political process, and the House of Representatives will be controlled by the Republicans at least through the end of 2018.  It’s conceivable that a majority of Republicans, especially those who are seriously committed to the party’s legislative agenda might think they would be more successful with Mike Pence in the Oval Office. Surely, there would be less divisiveness and turmoil, and Pence has far more respect among Congress than the president does. But if the performance of Congress in 2017 is any indication, it’s hard to imagine a movement to exchange Trump for Pence taking root, much less building momentum and succeeding.

Unless the Russia investigation finds evidence of treason that it can trace to the president himself, we’d do best to forget the idea of impeachment. If this is the beginning of the end of anything, it’s probably the era in which America is revered and respected by the rest of the world. And that is tragic.

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