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H.W. Brands, the University of Texas historian whose 25 books include a number of presidential biographies, notes that Trump's major accomplishments — the appointment of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch and passage of a sweeping tax code overhaul "have come through the standard channels."

Likewise, he has followed the model of Barack Obama and before him, George W. Bush, in resorting to executive orders to implement much of his policy vision. His most controversial was the travel ban aimed at Muslim-majority countries, a campaign promise he tried to deliver on at the end of his first week in office. When a federal judge struck down the ban a week later, Trump denounced him as a "so-called judge" and pre-emptively blamed him for future terrorist attacks on American soil.

In international matters, his actions have often been less dramatic than his rhetoric, though he's managed to alienate or at the least, rattle, even the closest allies. He just scrapped a visit to Britain, where his anti-Muslim tweets had made him a pariah.

"While his statements have caused American allies to question America's steadfastness, most foreign leaders seem to chalk these up to Trump and to be reserving judgment on whether they represent a permanent change in America's approach to the world," Brands said.

In short, he said, "Donald Trump hasn't changed the presidency, yet. He has introduced a new style in the White House — blunter, less filtered — but so far that's Trump, not the presidency."

One hard-to-miss feature of the Trump presidency is how unpopular he is. Other presidents have been hobbled by low approval ratings, but none so soon after winning office.

Even other presidents elected without winning the popular vote have enjoyed a honeymoon that eluded Trump.

The tax overhaul has been his only major legislative win, despite a Congress controlled by fellow Republicans.

"He's ineffective because he's unpopular," said Robert Dallek, a retired Columbia University historian who has written biographies of John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Harry Truman, Ronald Reagan and Franklin Roosevelt.

But he added, "we're mid-story. We don't know where this is going to end."

One of FDR's advisers quipped that Herbert Hoover, who had led the country into the Great Depression, was a good act to follow. Jimmy Carter's assurance that he would never lie to the country buoyed a public disheartened by Watergate. George W. Bush promised to "restore honor and dignity" to the Oval Office, a slap at an outgoing president, Bill Clinton, who had recently survived impeachment after an affair with an intern.

It's a recurring pattern — a new president offers an antidote to the old one. Historians fully expect the next president to represent the anti-Trump, just as the cerebral and aloof Obama gave way to a boastful and coarse successor.

"He could be a fluke," said James Pfiffner, a professor at George Mason University's School of Policy, Government, and International Affairs. But, he said, future candidates and presidents "aren't going to do that unless it works out for him."

To the establishment, the Trump model doesn't look like something to emulate — the staff turmoil, impulsive policy rollouts, friction with allies. To Trump fans, though, the president's ability to thrive amid chaos, to keep adversaries off balance, even the enmity he stirs among political elites are elements of his success.

Either way, said Pfiffner, "He has violated a whole lot of norms."

Potential for lasting impact

But there’s an alternate scenario.

Even if the next president is staid and polite, a seasoned Washington hand surrounded by loyal aides, there’s also the possibility that Trump has stretched the definition of acceptable behavior by a commander in chief.

In particular, scholars point to the way Trump has sown doubts about the institutions that serve as a check on presidential power: the news media, the independent judiciary and federal law enforcement.

It used to be big news if the president said something that was factually untrue. Now it’s routine.

“That’s astounding,” SMU's Engel said.

That and other traits, such as incivility, can’t be brushed off as idiosyncrasies, he argued, because presidents are role models — for future presidents and, in real time, for the American public.

“Think about the dollar as a concept. Economics 101 says paper money has no intrinsic value, just the value we think it has. The moment we start to doubt that value, it diminishes,” Engel said. “What Trump has done is diminish the credibility of the office and of America’s word around the world.”

The next president, and the one after that, can rebuild. But in this school of thought, Trump has punctured an aura that has long surrounded the presidency.

“Yes, the next president could come in and make a lot of political gain by saying, `I’m not going to tweet and I’m not going to be offensive.’ But we will be less aghast if he does,” said Engel.

To Trump’s defenders, the sniping stems from resentment that he’s unwilling to kowtow to the establishment.

“He is a political genius. ... Yes he’s unique. He’s a unique New Yorker. There’s no question. He is a character. But he is also very bright,” Matt Schlapp, president of the American Conservative Union, told NPR. “He is an outsider president, which we probably haven’t had since our founders.”

Many scholars do see a transformation underway. They’re just not sure if it’s reversible.

At American University, government professor Chris Edelson, whose latest book is titled >Power without Constraint: The Post 9/11 Presidency and National Security, argues strongly that Trump has already transformed the office.

“It’s not illegal for a president to call a judge a `so-called judge,’ or to suggest he should be held responsible if there’s a terrorist attack. It’s a violation of a norm, though, and it undermines faith in the justice system,” Edelson said. “The message he’s trying to send is, 'Don’t believe them, believe me.'”

Repeatedly, and as recently as this month, Trump has attacked the “deep state Justice Department,” alluding to a conspiracy theory about cabals secretly manipulating the U.S. government for nefarious purposes.

There’s a Nixonian paranoia to that, Edelson said, and it dovetails with an aim of discrediting the Russia collusion probe. Defanging the watchdogs is a path toward self-preservation.

“Donald Trump is not a dictator. But it is true that he has authoritarian tendencies. He’s doing things that suggest he doesn’t view himself as subject to rule of law. That’s dangerous,” Edelson said.

Dickey, the Texas Republican chair, argues that the country would have been better off if one president after another hadn’t let longtime FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover push them around, and he lauds Trump’s firm stand against law enforcement officials who overstep.

“Are people literally making the case that it’s worse for bureaucrats to be called out for usurping constitutional authority than it is for those bureaucrats to usurp their constitutional authority? That’s crazy on its face,” he said.

Source : https://www.dallasnews.com/news/politics/2018/01/14/shattered-norms-trump-changed-presidency-forever

Shattered norms: In just one year, has Donald Trump changed the presidency forever?
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