Front Porch | A compelling argument for Cabinet government: Donald Trump
Donald Trump is a vulgarian, a racist and a misogynist who has debased the presidency of the United States of America. He has proven temperamentally and intellectually unfit to head the world’s leading superpower.
The new book, “Fear: Trump in the White House”, by veteran journalist Bob Woodward, who famously reported on the Watergate affair for The Washington Post, and the anonymous op-ed by a senior-level Trump administration insider entitled “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration”, sound the alarm on the shambolic and dangerous president, who is putting his country and the world at risk.
These accounts are a part of a broader chorus of accounts and warnings of the dire dysfunctionality of a regime severely testing the American democracy.
But what makes the op-ed and the new book particularly compelling is that these accounts of Trump’s characterological and governing deficiencies are not coming from the Democratic Party or other ideological and external critics.
The anonymous writer and the numerous individuals who spoke in chilling detail to Woodward are insiders, mostly Republicans, people chosen by Trump as senior officials, as well as other senior government officials who loyally, and presumably admirably, served successive administrations.
The high-placed anonymous insider captures the views of many within the administration, likely including those who were sources for the Woodward book.
The op-ed writer’s observations are startling: “The dilemma – which he [Trump] does not fully grasp – is that many of the senior officials in his own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.
“The root of the problem is the president’s amorality. Anyone who works with him knows he is not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making…
“From the White House to executive branch departments and agencies, senior officials will privately admit their daily disbelief at the commander in chief’s comments and actions. Most are working to insulate their operations from his whims.”
The insider warns: “Meetings with him veer off topic and off the rails, he engages in repetitive rants, and his impulsiveness results in half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions that have to be walked back.
“‘There is literally no telling whether he might change his mind from one minute to the next,’ a top official complained to me recently, exasperated by an Oval Office meeting at which the president flip-flopped on a major policy decision he’d made only a week earlier.”
For those at home who continue to fetishize, often out of ignorance, the U.S. system of government, the Trump presidency is a compelling argument for Cabinet government and parliamentary democracy, which provide greater checks on executive authority, including that of a head of government.
In the U.S., Cabinet secretaries are only advisers to the president, who alone makes a final decision on a given matter, from the bombing of a foreign country to the imposition of certain tariffs to other matters of domestic and foreign policy.
As noted in previous columns: in our system the prime minister is not, as President George W. Bush put it, “the decider”. The Cabinet collectively are “the deciders”.
Heads of government in Cabinet governments do not solely possess the authority to make certain momentous decisions. In such a system, the Cabinet reaches a consensus on matters of policy and the programs of the government.
In a system of collective responsibility, Donald Trump would have greater checks on his power, including his temptation to and abuses of power, such as ending the security clearances of those who publicly disagree with his policies.
His Cabinet would be able to mitigate certain inclinations, and to block certain decisions or actions by an impetuous, peevish and petulant egomaniac and narcissist who often explodes with volcanic temper tantrums.
Instead, from the accounts provided in the Woodward book and in the op-ed piece, unelected officials are scurrying around surreptitiously trying to scuttle various decisions and unchecked impulses, including, reportedly, stealing papers off Trump’s desk.
In the U.K., Barbados, Canada, Australia, The Bahamas, New Zealand, Jamaica and in other systems of Cabinet government, the nightmare of the Donald Trump presidency would likely be over.
Hardly any democratic Cabinet government in the world would countenance the head of government cozying up to and soft-pedalling relations with a national foe such as Trump is doing with Vladimir Putin’s Russia, which likely has all manner of compromising information on the U.S. president, including his business dealings over decades.
But there is no check on Trump by his Cabinet nor by the Republican-led Congress, which is failing miserably at its constitutional duty to provide necessary checks on the administration out of fear of a backlash by a Republican base still mesmerized by Trump the Entertainer-in-Chief, who regularly debases democratic conventions.
Under Republicans in the age of Trump, so much for the vaunted American system of “checks and balances”.
Unlike in parliamentary democracies where heads of government may be deposed through votes of no-confidence, or persuaded by colleagues to step down, the U.S. must endure a cumbersome impeachment process or by employing the 25th amendment of the U.S. constitution, which has never been utilized in the more than two centuries of the American republic.
The process for utilizing the amendment is complex, and parts of the amendment are open to interpretation.
A vote of no-confidence provides for a speedier resolution of a given matter and does not interminably tie the country up in knots such as in the U.S. impeachment processes.
In our system, the party in power or the House of Assembly may act swiftly to remove a leader who is deemed either unfit for office or who no longer commands the support of the majority of his party. Our system is quicker and more flexible.
In Cabinet governments, the prime minister is the most important member of Cabinet. That is why we call him or her prime (or first), and he or she has important constitutional powers including certain powers of appointment.
Still, executive authority under our constitution is vested in the Queen (article 71) and is exercised by her representative the governor general. That is why no legislation by Parliament becomes law until it is signed by the governor general.
Further, the constitution gives responsibility for the general direction and control of the government to the Cabinet (article 72), not the prime minister. That is what collective responsibility means.
A commentary published by the FNM described Cabinet government: “The heart of Cabinet government is the ability of ministers to reach a consensus on critical matters and collaborate on and direct government policy.”
The commentary further noted: “Ministers who cannot in principle accept a particular policy are honor-bound to resign. Ministers should not publicly promote independent agendas at the expense of colleagues. Ministers should advise their colleagues in advance about actions which may affect their ministries.”
In the op-ed, “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration”, the writer banged the alarum with this dire warning: “I work for the president but like-minded colleagues and I have vowed to thwart parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations… We believe our first duty is to this country, and the president continues to act in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our republic.”
If the U.S. enjoyed our system, there would be a clearer and easier route to remove someone like Donald Trump, instead of unelected officials leading an internal resistance.
In the United Kingdom, British Prime Minister Theresa May is expending extraordinary energy trying to reach a consensus on Britain’s exit from the European Union. This is as it should be in a Cabinet and parliamentary system requiring consensus and collective responsibility.
Meanwhile, in the U.S., an impulsive, intemperate and mostly ill-informed president is causing havoc at home and around the world, because his power is often institutionally unchecked, including by a Cabinet, which, unlike in The Bahamas, is mostly powerless in forming and enforcing a consensus around the table, which may be in the better national interest.