US institutions outweigh personalities


The score so far in the contest between the US establishment and President Donald Trump is a clear 2-0.

The republic has been built on the foundation of checks and balances. The Founding Fathers wanted to avoid the consequences of an all-powerful president who would be accountable to no one.

Donald Trump began his term with a clear wish to ignore all the rules of the game and the institutions that had lasted many years. For example, no one could have imagined that the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and the head of the country’s intelligence services would not sit on the “holy” National Security Council and would be replaced by an extremist political counselor.

Very soon, however, we saw the pushback from the institutions and the deep state that had never functioned on the basis of political party criteria. The court rulings against the ban on citizens from seven countries was the first major blow. One of the federal judges who took the first crucial decision had been proposed by President George W. Bush and was confirmed unanimously by the Senate. No one could accuse him of playing political games. The judiciary functioned as it should.

Then came the case of Michael Flynn, with the controversial retired general having to resign the key post of national security adviser. Many presidents have had to sack their chiefs of staff or national security advisers. But no one had to do this so early or under such circumstances.

President Trump must be in a state of shock. It is clear that he is not in control and that his team does not know how to play the game. Already, he appears to be backing away from extreme campaign positions with regard to China and NATO. His more experienced aides and powerful economic interests are bringing him down to earth.

There is always the danger of an accident. Leaders like Russian President Vladimir Putin may want to test Trump during a period of instability and chaos in key decision-making centers. Some aides may even propose the familiar playbook by which a president goes to war in order to escape the dead ends that he faces and to show that he is a steady hand in a crisis.

Everything is possible. The only thing that is certain is that so far the institutions appear to be winning the game, showing that they are more important than personalities.