Dean Baker
The Hankyoreh, May 28, 2017

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It must be very difficult for anyone outside of the United States to understand what is going on in Washington these days. Presidents of the United States have not always been great intellectuals, but usually it could be assumed that they would have at least some understanding of the major issues affecting the country and the world. Furthermore, regardless of political leanings, they would be sure to have people around them who were expert in the areas assigned and they would rely on these people to shape policy and their public statements.

The history here is not glorious. President George W. Bush’s experts took the U.S. into a needless and seemingly endless war in Iraq. The top economic advisers to Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush laid the groundwork for the housing bubble, the collapse of which gave us the worst economic crisis in seven decades, from which we still have not fully recovered.

But even with such horrendous mistakes, presidents did make an effort to be informed on major policy areas. This is not true with President Trump. He really is clueless in most areas of foreign and domestic policy. He knows remarkably little about basic policy issues for someone who has lived in this country for 70 years, and perhaps even more serious, he doesn’t care.

His incredible ignorance shows itself almost daily. Trump vigorously denounced China throughout his campaign as a world class currency manipulator. Yet he told everyone about his great relationship with China’s President Xi Jinping after their meeting last month. He said that he didn’t want to ruin the relationship by talking about currencies, and came away the meeting with the interesting tidbit that Korea used to be part of China.

His knowledge of domestic matters seems little better. In February, the month designated to highlight African American history, Trump referred to the great slavery abolitionist and civil rights activist Frederick Douglass as though he were still alive. (He’s been dead for 120 years.) He also suggested that people should examine the causes of the U.S. Civil War, an issue that is already the topic of an immense body of research.

He apparently does not even understand the Electoral College system whereby he managed to win the presidency even though lost the popular vote by almost 3 million votes. He routinely hands out maps of the 50 state electoral vote to reporters interviewing him, as though he is providing new information. All these reporters already know the map by memory.

It would be possible to go on at considerable length about President Trump’s ignorance and incompetence, but the real question is why do the Republicans stand behind a president who is embarrassingly unqualified for the job? The answer is they don’t care.

The Republican Party has become a vehicle for the rich to take as much as they possibly can as quickly as they possibly can. There is no ideology or philosophical commitment involved; this is simply a question of filling their pockets.

This is apparent in all of their actions. The centerpiece of their health care reform proposal is a tax cut of more than $600 billion over the next decade, which goes almost exclusively to the richest one percent in the country. As a bonus, they stand to pay less for their health care insurance, if they also happen to be in good health. (The plan is also likely to cost 24 million people their insurance.)The tax reform plan that Trump has outlined could give millions of dollars in tax savings each year to the country’s richest families and save their families billions when they die by eliminating the estate tax.

But it is not just on the tax side that Trump’s policies will make the rich even richer. Trump and the Republicans are fighting financial regulations that are designed to hold down the fees charged by the financial industry on everything from student loans and retirement accounts to credit card transactions. In addition to abandoning efforts to curtail greenhouse gas emissions, the Trump administration is also weakening environmental regulations that essentially require industry to clean up after itself.

A great example was Trump’s use of an executive order to overturn a regulation that required the mining industry to restore land after it engaged in mountain top mining. While this was sold as a measure to protect the jobs of mineworkers, it will likely have the opposite effect. Trump was making it cheaper for coal companies to replace labor intensive underground mining with mountain top mines that employ far fewer workers. His executive order was about coal industry profits and nothing more.

The Republicans in Congress, who have the power to remove a president that is clearly not qualified for the job, have no intention of taking any action as long as he can produce results for the very rich. These people care about being re-elected and when their career in Congress is over they look to a second career as an incredibly well-paid lobbyist.

The only way that Republicans will abandon Trump is if he actually becomes so much of a public embarrassment that he jeopardizes the re-election prospects of a substantial percentage of Republican senators and Representatives. We clearly have not reached this point, which means that Trump can keep being as crazy and corrupt as he wants.