The Boston Globe — Written by Matt Viser – Image courtesy of Evan Vucci/Associated Press
Some presidents have been accused of leading the country in the wrong direction. At least one has been accused of leading from behind.
Now many critics have an even more profound concern: a president who often doesn’t seem interested in leading at all.
Even his would-be Republican allies are agog, as President Trump lurches from one crisis to the next, impulsively tweeting, lacking a coherent message, and warring with the media. He has shown limited ability to harness support for policy initiatives in Congress, even though it is controlled by his own party. He’s done little to provide the public with a vision for what he wants to do.
He’s given just one prime-time speech to the nation since his inauguration, a joint address to Congress back in February.
Neither is national leadership coming from outside the White House. Top Republicans in Congress have shown an inability to use the power of majority control to get big things done and an unwillingness to challenge a dysfunctional White House for control of the Washington agenda. And Democrats? Bless their bleeding hearts. They have almost as little influence at the moment as cable television hosts.
With the country confronting profound domestic and international problems, Washington is experiencing a void of leadership unlike in any period in modern history, according to scholars and political specialists. In its first six months, Trump’s presidency has created an extraordinary power vacuum that is leaving the nation and the globe uneasy.
There is, meanwhile, plenty to get done. Subway systems in major American cities are in disrepair, while roads and bridges are crumbling. Health insurers are pulling out of key marketplaces, spooked by uncertainty surrounding former president Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act and the failure of Republicans to pass their long-promised repeal-and-replace law. An opioid epidemic is sweeping large swaths of the country.
Everyone agrees the tax code is too complicated, but prospects for an overhaul seem dim. There’s bipartisan agreement that immigration rules need reform, yet no one is wagering the GOP can use its control of Washington to pass anything or strike a compromise with Democrats.
Trump showed contempt for government when he ran for office, and he vowed to break down and disrupt the Washington establishment. That he is well on the way to doing, and the free-wheeling, proudly pugilistic style of the candidate has held true for his presidency.
Trump has also given almost no major policy addresses, prime vehicles for a leader to advance his agenda or help the nation make sense of challenges, foreign or domestic.
Trump has even ceded the most crucial aspect of foreign policy — how many American lives to risk in overseas security operations. He has left the decision of how many additional ground troops to send to Afghanistan to Defense Secretary James Mattis.
And while one of Trump’s frequent campaign claims was that he could win people over and cut deals, his tactics so far have seemed to have the opposite effect. What may have worked in the world of New York real estate and tabloid media has not translated well to Washington.