David A. Graham: America has no president
The president is not to blame for all these problems, though in many cases he has exacerbated them. But in that same RNC speech, Trump also assured the nation, “I alone can fix it.” It is now clear not only that the problems are larger than one man, but also that Trump is at a loss for how to use the powers he does have to solve them.
Law and order was not just a major theme of the convention speech. Throughout the campaign, and again during his inaugural address, Trump vowed that he would bring safety to the streets of the nation. The Obama years had seen extensive protests: in St. Louis, New York, Baltimore, and other cities. They had seen many mass shootings, the most horrifying in Newtown, Connecticut. Though violent crime overall continued its decades-long decline during the Obama presidency, Trump was able to capitalize on fears in the populace, in part by simply lying about crime numbers.
The power of the presidency to actually solve all these problems is strictly limited, as Barack Obama had found. He was stymied in his attempts to enact stricter gun controls, and though the Justice Department embarked on some attempts to control police violence, its authority was limited. This is the reality of the presidency: The chief executive has to work with Congress and within the bounds of what courts will allow.
Trump insisted that “nobody knows the system better than me,” and adopted a strongman vision of an all-powerful presidency, apparently influenced by his career in business, wherein he could do nearly anything he wanted as head of the Trump Organization. But from the start of his presidency, his naïveté about the system has been on display. His attempts at unilateral moves—such as his Muslim travel ban—quickly ran into resistance from courts. Even a unified Republican Congress wouldn’t give him funding for his border wall.
Now, after nearly four years, the shortcomings of Trump’s approach are clear. The country is painfully divided. Police continue to kill black men and women. Mass shootings continue.
Not only did Trump fail to promote law and order, but he failed to improve even the perception of law and order. Crime rates haven’t gone up—in fact, they continue to fall—but fear is rising. Gallup found that 37 percent of Americans were afraid to walk alone at night in their neighborhood in 2019, up from 30 percent in 2017. A small majority, 52 percent, told Gallup they think crime is a serious problem, up from 48 in 2018. That was all before the demonstrations of the past few days.
“My plan will begin with safety at home—which means safe neighborhoods, secure borders, and protection from terrorism. There can be no prosperity without law and order,” Trump said in Cleveland. “The first task for our new administration will be to liberate our citizens from the crime and terrorism and lawlessness that threatens their communities.”