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Saturday, January 21, 2017

Is Trump's honeymoon over already?

Some of the first acts of the Trump presidency were to remove all references to US Government policy on climate change and LGBT rights from the White House website. He also announced that he plans to stop funding the National Endowment for the Arts. The NEA budget is $148 million, Trump's inauguration cost $200 million.

Over at the Guardian, Richard Wolffe makes a strong case as to why it could be all downhill from now on for the Trump Presidency. Now he has to take responsibility for his ramblings on Twitter, for his relationship with Vladimir Putin and his corporate dealings, in a way that not only leaves him open to impeachment but also could affect his polls and his consequential influence as President.

If he is unpopular as President then it becomes harder, even with a Republican Congress and Senate to get things done. It also makes it more likely that mid-term elections in two years time could go against his party.

And we should not forget that he lost the popular vote by 3 million votes whilst his poll ratings on the eve of inauguration are at an historic low for a man in his position. The latest poll shows that 37 percent of Americans approve of Trump ahead of his inauguration, while 54 percent do not.

As Richard Wolffe says: This is the high-water mark of every president’s approval ratings – before they do the tough stuff of governing and encounter one of the many fast-moving crises that pass through the West Wing. At the height of his popularity, Donald Trump is polling as badly as George W Bush at the end of his doomed presidency, after the catastrophic collapse of the economy and the bloody disaster of the Iraq war.

A bumper crop of pre-inauguration polls tell the story of how deeply unpopular the 45th president is already. His personal popularity is as low as 32% compared to 61% favorability for President Obama.

Approval of his transition shows him trailing Obama by an even greater margin: just 40% like the way Trump has performed since November, compared to 84% for Obama’s transition eight years ago. Even George W Bush, elected after the extraordinary recount and legal coup in 2000, earned a 61% rating for his transition.

However, the nub of the article is that the greatest threat, both to his presidency and the republic, comes from Trump himself:

Somewhere near the top of the list is potential profiteering from the presidency through his continued ownership of the Trump Organization. It seems Trump will be in breach of the government lease on his new Washington hotel as soon as he is sworn into office today. His efforts to hold onto the lease – which specifically prohibits government officials from holding it – will reveal his true priorities in office.

According to his personal attorney, Trump has drawn an ethical line by appointing his own ethics officer inside his own company. This is a quaint arrangement favored by foxes guarding henhouses. The ethics of the Trump Organization are irrelevant; the ethics of the presidency, however, are governed by article one of the constitution, which prohibits gifts of any kind from foreign powers.

Even under his own sham scheme, the new president has already breached his so-called ethical standards. “President-elect Trump first ordered that all pending deals be terminated,” Trump’s attorney Sheri Dillon told the press last week. “The trust agreement as directed by President Trump imposes severe restrictions on new deals. No new foreign deals will be made whatsoever during the duration of President Trump’s presidency.”

This will come as news to the good people of Aberdeen who are about to witness the dramatic expansion of the Trump golf course in Scotland. That expansion, confirmed just this week, involves another 18 holes, a new 450-room hotel, a timeshare complex and a private housing estate.

Trump’s staff brush aside these niceties by saying the Scottish deal is just a wafer-thin mint of an expansion of an existing deal.

Sadly the constitution doesn’t distinguish between new and existing deals when it strictly prohibits the president from drawing any benefits from foreign powers. It just says they are all unconstitutional.

What kind of deals might breach the now famous emoluments clause? As ProPublica has detailed, there’s the Indian deal in Mumbai that involves the vice-president of the ruling BJP party, who is also an elected official. There’s a deal in Bali, Indonesia, with an Indonesian politician, who has partnered with state-owned companies from China and South Korea. And there’s a deal in Manila with a man recently named as an economic envoy to the US by the murderous President Duterte of the Philippines.

You don’t have to be a constitutional law professor to appreciate the legal and political jeopardy for Trump. President Clinton was impeached for lying under oath about sex, a supposedly high crime and misdemeanor that is not actually cited by the constitution. Unlike making money from foreign officials, which is.

Finally there’s the noose that’s tightening around Trump’s alleged Russian relationships. You know, the ones the new president said IN ALL CAPS absolutely don’t exist and never have, not ever, oh no.

The FBI and five other agencies are now investigating whether Russia covertly transferred cash to pay email hackers in the United States as part of a broader Kremlin plot to influence the presidential campaign in Trump’s favor.

We also know that counter-intelligence officials are investigating possible contacts and ties between Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and Russian officials.

Almost every scandal gets compared to Watergate, but very few genuinely deserve to be mentioned in the same breath. Of course, Watergate wasn’t potentially financed by our mortal enemies in Moscow, even if it did involve undermining a presidential election.

These are not matters that can be overcome in a late-night Twitter spat. They are serious matters that could overshadow Watergate and Iran-Contra in terms of their impact. And the really depressing news is that if Trump does go, he will be succeeded by Mike Pence, a former member of the Tea Party Caucus in Congress.
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