President Donald Trump gave up on health care legislation last week when it became clear the bill he backed could not make it through the House of Representatives his party controls.
Trump surely understands that he suffered a serious setback and is in politically perilous waters. His reaction shouldn’t be surprising, but it is dangerous: Trump is blaming others for his own failure and threatening to let ObamaCare “explode” in order to create a political opportunity for himself.
Let’s remember that health care makes up one-sixth of the U.S. economy. Trump has no problem with blowing it up if it could work to his political benefit — the millions of jobs and lives that could be affected apparently don’t concern him.
This is not an isolated incident. Trump and top adviser Steve Bannon have made clear that they see damage and upheaval in the United States as politically useful. Bannon reportedly declared that “I’m a Leninist” because “Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down and destroy all of today’s establishment.”
Trump and Bannon are clearly willing to undermine America’s strengths in order to advance their political agenda.
That statement is astonishing on its own, but it has been borne out by the administration’s actions so far. Trump and Bannon are clearly willing to undermine America’s strengths in order to advance their political agenda. Consider: Their xenophobic policies are harming tourism to the United States as well as foreign applications to U.S. colleges and universities. That means money taken out of the U.S. economy, which makes all of us less financially secure.
Furthermore, the Trump administration’s isolationist policies weaken NATO and undermine longstanding relationships with close U.S. allies. This makes Americans (and our allies) less geopolitically secure.
Trump rolls back Obama climate policies(1:57)
President Donald Trump signed an executive order that begins the process of reversing climate change policies put in place by President Barack Obama, including his predecessor's Clean Power Plan. WSJ's Shelby Holliday has the details. Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press
There is nothing conservative about any of this. Rather, such policies are dangerously radical. It is unprecedented for a presidential administration to give away American assets and, indeed, to actively undermine national and global stability, in the hopes of gaining political ground.
What does this mean for the U.S. as a country, and what can concerned Americans do?
It’s clear what this means for the United States: uncertainty; threats to financial markets, a less-stable world. For individual Americans, it means anxiety. As one observer put it after Trump said that ObamaCare could destruct, to his political benefit: “They’re setting it up to fail, which is irresponsible and unforgiveable.”
Trump and Bannon may thrive on chaos and uncertainty and even cultivate it. This is deeply irresponsible. But what can anyone do?
As last week’s derailment of Trump’s health care bill showed, the U.S. is still a constitutional democracy — as long as Congress is willing to stand up to Trump’s bullying.
Just as Republicans in Congress stopped Trump’s health care legislation last week, they can stand against his efforts to spread uncertainty and confusion. They can insist on economic policies that strengthen the United States rather than give away hard-earned assets. They can make clear that the U.S. will honor its treaty obligations and stand with European allies against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s authoritarianism. Lawmakers can work to fix existing problems with the Affordable Care Act rather than actively seeking ways to make it collapse.
Trump has made clear that he’d like everyone to rely on him — “I alone can fix it,” he has said — even when the problems are of his own making.
It is a conventional authoritarian tactic to create a crisis that provides a leader with the opportunity to consolidate power. Trump appears to be adhering to such a strategy — and all of us consequently are at risk. We have the tools to stop this — by speaking up, contacting our elected representatives, and insisting on sanity instead of disorder.
Chris Edelson is an assistant professor of government in American University’s School of Public Affairs. His latest book, Power Without Constraint: The Post 9/11 Presidency and National Security , was published in 2016 by the University of Wisconsin Press.