Is President Trump hitting the administration’s reset button?

If Donald Trump thinks that humiliation and intimidation is a winning style of leadership, he should think again.

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President Trump speaks before NY Police Association

WASHINGTON, July 28, 2017 – The White House has, it seems, formed a circular firing squad.  This week, under attack were the Attorney General, the Chief of Staff, and, according to the newly appointed Communications Director, almost the entire presidential staff.

In a profanity-laden interview with The New Yorker, Anthony Scaramucci aimed his harshest obscenities at two of President Trump’s closest aides, Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon. No one can remember a White House representative using such language in public.  Now, even Republicans in Congress who have tried to overlook or ignore the bizarre behavior coming from the White House are beginning to pay attention.

Now, even Republicans in Congress who have tried to overlook or ignore the bizarre behavior coming from the White House are beginning to pay attention.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whose only fault seems to obeying the law and recusing himself from the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, has been under attack from the President. Only his former colleagues in the Senate have rallied to his defense and have expressed incredulity that President Trump would treat one of his earliest supporters in this manner.


Senator Charles Grassley (R-IOWA), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he would not hold hearings on a replacement if Trump dismissed Sessions.  Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC), discussing the treatment of Sessions and threats to dismiss special counsel Robert Mueller, declared:

“Some of the suggestions the president is making go way beyond what’s acceptable in a rule-of-law nation, this is not draining the swamp.  What he’s interjecting is turning democracy upside down.”  Sen Ben Sasse (R-NE) said, “If you’re thinking of making a recess appointment to push out the attorney general, forget about it. The presidency isn’t a bull, and this country isn’t a china shop.”

Discussing the manner in which Trump has turned on Sessions, conservative columnist and Fox News commentator Charles Krauthammer provided this assessment:

“Trump…reveals a deeply repellent vindictiveness in the service of a pathological need to display dominance. Yet the Sessions affair is more than just a study in character.  it carries political implications.  it has caused the first creak in Trump’s base. For many conservatives, Sessions’ early endorsement of Trump served as an ideological touchstone.  And Sessions has remained stalwart in carrying out Trump’s policies. That Trump could, out of personal pique, treat him so rudely now suggests to those conservatives how cynically expedient was Trump’s adoption of Sessions’ideas in the first place.”

Humiliating Republicans is, of course, nothing new for President Trump. Everyone remembers “Little Marco” and “Lying Ted,” and the charge that Cruz’s father was involved in the JFK assassination.  Trump outdid himself in saying that John McCain was not a war

Trump outdid himself in saying that John McCain was not a war hero, and that he preferred those who “weren’t captured.”

This practice of humiliation and intimidation continues. At his boorish talk to the Boy Scouts, for which the Boy Scouts have apologized to their members and families, he told Tom Price, Secretary of Health and Human Services, and an Eagle Scout, what would happen to him if he didn’t round up enough votes for the health care vote.

Pointing to Price, a former six-term congressman from Georgia and a medical doctor, he said:

“By the way, are you going to get the votes?  You better get the votes.  Otherwise, I’ll say, ‘Tom, you’re fired.'”

In another example of intimidation, in retaliation against Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) for her initial vote on health care, Trump had Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke call both Murkowski and Sen Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) to warn that long-awaited Alaska projects, such as the potentially life-saving King Cove road and oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, could be scrapped as a result of Murkowski’s health care vote.

Senator Sullivan called the call “troubling” and Sen. Murkowski pointed out that her job was to represent the interests of the people of Alaska, not the White House.

Republicans are also concerned about President Trump’s continued embrace of Vladimir Putin. Congress has now passed legislation imposing sweeping new sanctions on Russia and sharply limiting the president’s ability to suspend new and existing ones. The Senate approved it by a 98-2 vote, following a 419-3 vote in the House.

The bill would impose credit and other restrictions on companies engaged in Russian energy projects, on foreign financial institutions that facilitate such projects and on suppliers of arms to Syria.

The President must notify Congress before making changes to Russian sanctions policy and lawmakers can then block such changes. The President opposed this legislation, but almost all Republicans supported it.

Republicans are also resisting the president’s tweet banning transgender Americans from the military. Senators Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) issued statements saying Trump went too far in banning transgender service members.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis) refused to back the ban, saying he would await a Defense Department review. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said he would take no action until he heard from.the Secretary of Defense, who was on vacation at the time of the Trump tweet and had not been consulted about it.

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said he would take no action until he heard from the Secretary of Defense, who was on vacation at the time of the Trump tweet and had not been consulted about it.

Discussing Trump’s speech to the Boy Scouts, John McClaughlin, who was deputy director of the CIA from 2000 to 2004 and is now at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, declares,

“President Trump’s Boy Scout Jamboree speech gave me the creeps, and I don’t think I’m alone; the jarring spectacle of the kids cheering and applauding as Trump blasted through a speech full of derision toward others, self-obsession, political spin and incoherent rambling about cocktail parties and high finance in New York City. And when many of them go on a school trip to Washington, will they be looking for what Trump calls the ‘swamp,’ the ‘cesspool’ or the sewer’ in the town that bears the first president’s name?  How many of the best and brightest would want to work there or devote their lives to public service?”

More and more Republicans and conservatives are coming to the realization that Donald Trump represents a whole series of values which they abhor. In his soon to be published book, “Conscience of a Conservative,” Sen Jeff Flake (R-AZ) asks:

“Is it conservative to praise dictators as ‘strong leaders,’ to speak fondly of countries that crush dissent and murder political opponents?  Is it conservative to be an ethnic-nationalist?  Is it conservative to embrace as fact things that are demonstrably untrue?”

If Donald Trump thinks that humiliation and intimidation is a winning style of leadership, he should think again. And it is possible with the appointment of General John Kelly as the adult in the Oval Office, that the President is hitting the reset button.

Let’s hope it’s not too late.

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Allan C. Brownfeld
Received B.A. from the College of William and Mary, J.D. from the Marshall-Wythe School of Law of the College of William and Mary, and M.A. from the University of Maryland. Served as a member of the faculties of St. Stephen's Episcopal School, Alexandria, Virginia and the University College of the University of Maryland. The recipient of a Wall Street Journal Foundation Award, he has written for such newspapers as The Houston Press, The Washington Evening Star, The Richmond Times Dispatch, and The Cincinnati Enquirer. His column appeared for many years in Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. His articles have appeared in The Yale Review, The Texas Quarterly, Orbis, Modern Age, The Michigan Quarterly, The Commonweal and The Christian Century. His essays have been reprinted in a number of text books for university courses in Government and Politics. For many years, his column appeared several times a week in papers such as The Washington Times, The Phoenix Gazette and the Orange County Register. He served as a member of the staff of the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, as Assistant to the research director of the House Republican Conference and as a consultant to members of the U.S. Congress and to the Vice President. He is the author of five books and currently serves as Contributing Editor of The St. Croix Review, Associate Editor of The Lincoln Review and editor of Issues.