Almost four months into the new administration, the Trump White House is spinning stories like an old washing machine jitterbugging across the basement floor. Leaping from one crisis to another leaves little room for actual policy-making between golf outings. Is this truly what the great institution of the American Presidency has become…just another episode of a weekly reality show?
As President Trump and his advisors showboat replacements for fired F.B.I. director James Comey, the same short-listed sixth-grade vocabulary crawls beneath morning shows around the nation. From the beginning of Trump’s campaign, everyone invited to his inner circle or nominated to a government post has been described with less creativity and assurance than a typical 16-year-old can muster for their favorite teacher.
During a recent interview, Trump fumbled to reassure America that all of the possible Comey replacements are clear choices because each has “been vetted over their lifetime.” The renewed focus on “well-known” nominees and “really talented” appointees has highlighted a singular flaw in the “great” office of president: Who vetted Donald J. Trump?
Presidential nominees are required to file FEC Form 2 — Statement of Candidacy — with the Federal Election Commission. In addition, a clause in the constitution mandates that a candidate for president must “…have attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.” Filing Form 2 allows those like Donald J. Trump (Rep.-N.Y.), Dan Vacek (Legal Marijuana Now Party-Minn.), and “Joe Exotic” Maldonado (Ind.-Okla.) to officially become candidates for president.
No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.
Article II, Section 1, Clause 5
There are other financial forms required by the FEC, but none of them inquires if Mr. Trump is mentally capable of occupying the office of president; if Mr. Vacek will be the executive under the influence; or whether “Joe Exotic” graduated high school. In other words, there simply is no vetting besides public opinion for the highest office in the land.
When it boils down to it, the American presidency is a reality show. It is a once every four years popularity contest that has obvious flaws vis-à-vis popularity, but even more serious weakness concerning vetting. However, in tribute to the wisdom of the founding fathers, the flaws are also the reason for the system of checks and balances. Without the educated and responsible oversight of the legislative and judicial branches, a poorly vetted candidate — regardless of greatness and talent — could turn the country to chaos.
This is the lesson in politics that eludes the new administration on a daily basis. When “Morning Joe” and other news outlets begin running North Korea nukes back-to-back with mentions of Trump meltdowns, it highlights the mounting frustration in the White House. Threats to withdraw press briefings, attacks on the media, and civil and human rights policy rollbacks are serious dangers to the American way of life.
Even the former director of national intelligence, James Clapper, accused Trump this week of assaulting America’s democratic institutions. The more Trump realizes his ego cannot rule a nation, the more he dismissively threatens the rules of democracy. As tensions mount, the country and its responsible leaders must ask where the eventual threat will come from— a rogue nation’s missile or a nuclear scale meltdown closer to home.