Who Is The President Of The United States?
George W. Bush — in a comment that was roundly mocked at the time — proclaimed himself “the decider” in his administration. His proclamation echoed the salt-of-the-earth saying of Harry Truman who famously had a “the buck stops here” sign perched on the Theodore Roosevelt Desk in the White House.
Ultimately, the Presidency rests upon a single person — a single man (or woman) who makes the decisions that shape American diplomacy, policy, and law.
That person is clearly not Donald J. Trump.
Sure, Trump was elected. He was sworn in. He lives at 1600 Pennsylvania and the Marine Corps Band plays “Hail To The Chief” when he rounds the corner but it has become appallingly clear that the buck does not stop there and that Mr. Trump is not and never has been “the decider” in his administration.
In October Mr. Trump told Fox News that the United States would need to unilaterally wipe out debts of $75 billion owed by Puerto Rico to the worldwide investment community. The Puerto Rican bond market tanked, Wall Street panicked, and the Director of the Office of Management and Budget went on CNN to say “Puerto Rico’s going to have to figure out how to fix the errors that it’s made for the last generation on its own finances.”
Mr. Trump, it seems, did not speak for his own administration when appearing on Fox News.
In November, Mr. Trump traveled to China where he met with Chinese President Xi Jinping. While speaking with the Chinese President, Trump asked for and secured the release of three UCLA basketball players who were arrested for shoplifting. When the father of one of the players failed to display personal gratitude to Mr. Trump, the President tweeted that he “should have left them in jail.”
Now that the three basketball players are out of China and saved from years in jail, LaVar Ball, the father of LiAngelo, is unaccepting of what I did for his son and that shoplifting is no big deal. I should have left them in jail!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 19, 2017
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders walked the President’s written statement back in press conference the next day, stating that the President was being “rhetorical” and was “happy to intervene.”
Mr. Trump, it seems, did not speak for his White House when he authored his November 19, 2017 tweet.
Most recently, Mr. Trump said he would be willing to be interviewed under oath by special counsel Robert Mueller.
“I’m looking forward to it, actually. I would do it under oath.” — Donald J. Trump
But, just hours later, Mr. Trump’s lawyer, Ty Cobb, said that Trump “spoke hurriedly” and would only meet with special counsel (not testify) and would be “guided by the advice of his personal counsel.”
Mr. Trump, it seems, does not even speak for himself.
So Who Is The President?
So, if not Trump, who? Who speaks — or more significantly, decides — what the man who holds the title of “President” will say, what his White House means, and what the Administration does?
Because, while it is objectively terrifying that Donald Trump might decide any of those things, it is even more concerning that he might not.
Trump, quite plainly, speaks neither for his administration, his White House, nor himself. If the power of the Presidency lies in the making of hard decisions that shape the fate of a nation, who really holds that power?
Because it’s not Donald J. Trump.