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24 Jul 2017 0:37
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  •   Home > News > International

    Donald Trump's biggest weakness is the power he has given his family

    The current White House is run more like a family business than a proper government, that's why its CEO, Donald Trump, is in really serious trouble, writes Bruce Wolpe.


    The White House under this president is run more like a family business than a proper government.

    His children are unpaid senior advisors with massive power.

    Dealings with other governments are tinged with commercial ties with the Trump organisation — from patents granted by the Chinese to discussions of real estate deals in other countries to Ivanka's shoe manufacturing operations.

    Donald Trump Jr may well be a "high quality" individual; he certainly is in his father's eyes. But both men, and more in the Trump family, are in a heap of trouble with the investigations into any ties between the Trump presidential campaign and the Russian Government and its agents.

    This drama, with its echoes of Watergate, will go on for some time — at least until the special counsel, Robert Mueller, renders his verdict on what transpired in the 2016 presidential election; the Russian interference and any collusion by the Trump organisation and the Russians.

    We will know that the Mueller process is nearing pay dirt if he interviews the principals under oath. And we will know that his process is nearing a conclusion if the President is interviewed under oath.

    Trump family front and centre on world stage

    Trump's family adds a special dimension to his presidency that adds an extra degree of difficulty to his struggle to function effectively.

    Dealings at the government-to-government level are also tinged with family connections. Son-in-law Jared Kushner has an immense portfolio, from China to the Middle East to Mexico to reinventing government technology operations.

    He would not have that job but for his marriage to the President's daughter.

    Ivanka Trump took the President's seat at a session of the G20 meeting in Hamburg. No other relatives of other presidents have acted in this way, with its patina of monarchy.

    Indeed, when John F Kennedy's brother wielded immense official authority, often ruthlessly, he was a member of the cabinet as attorney-general, duly confirmed by the Senate.

    Those foreign leaders who effusively court this president — Xi of China, King Salman of Saudi Arabia, Israel's Netanyahu — are rewarded.

    Those who challenge him on bread-and-butter policy — Merkel of Germany, Macron of France, Trudeau of Canada — can get the cold shoulder.

    Trump revels in transactional business with some leaders, but struggles in transactional diplomacy with others.

    Trump is CEO in his Oval Office

    The underlying issue is two-fold: unlike all his 44 predecessors, Trump has never held political office or military rank.

    He is not a creature of government — and that is one of his great appeals and popular assets.

    But he is not conversant in the culture of government — and that is one of his greatest weaknesses.

    Neither Trump nor his immediate family have any idea what it takes to pass major legislation, such as repealing Obamacare, or any strategic sense of how to do it.

    As just one example, former president Barack Obama in 2009 strongly supported the landmark health reform legislation as it emerged in the House after months of hearings and amendments in committee; when it ran into trouble in town hall meetings across the country (not unlike what Republicans are experiencing today) he convened a joint session of Congress as part of a larger campaign to win approval of the bill.

    Compare that to Trump tweeting his posture and preferences (the House bill is "mean"; the Senate bill to emerge next week will be "beautiful"), but there are no rallies, no soaring speeches of what is in his legislation, no road map he is following on how a bill becomes a law.

    Although he has interacted for years with political leaders to advance his business interests, Trump has no appreciation of the connective tissue of American democracy.

    How else can he be so blasé and dismissive, if not unconcerned, about the findings of the intelligence community that Russia interfered in the US electoral process to assist the Trump campaign?

    Fake news! A hoax!

    His attitude and reactions to the investigation of the 2016 presidential campaign (for example, his firing of the FBI director conducting the Russia probe) betrays only a tepid fidelity, at best, to fundamental American political values.

    Trump is CEO in his Oval Office. His bloodlines exercise ministerial power. And while he is enraged in being so enmeshed in a growing stain of scandal that threatens his very presidency, he appears stubbornly incapable of appreciating the office of the presidency and the norms that must be followed to safeguard its integrity if a president is to succeed.

    The White House is not a business. As long as he treats it that way, he will keep making mistakes. That's why CEO Trump is in really serious trouble.

    Bruce Wolpe was on the Democratic staff in Congress in Barack Obama's first term as president. He was chief of staff to former prime minister Julia Gillard.

    © 2017 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved


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