A problem with President Trump has been that he is entertaining, for people in a certain frame of mind. There is the question of how much money he is really worth and what's in his tax forms that he is keeping secret. There is the question of how much money he has gotten from Russian oligarchs or mobsters. There are the everyday Tweets that you have to ask, "Really? Does he seriously believe that? Does he expect us to believe it? Does he know that he just lied about something he said that is on video?" These questions and many other have supported a cottage industry of media reporters and commentators about what he will say next.
Our New Year's Resolution should be to ignore all this entertaining stuff, or at least treat it as entertainment by a professional clown or a village idiot. What matters is what Trump is doing to American democracy and the American goals and aspirations.
Historian Kathleen Hall Jamieson has argued that the Russian interference may well have decided the 2016 election in favor of Trump. A lot of information about the election is already public knowledge. Trump won in the Electoral College because of <100,000 votes in three states, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan while losing the popular vote. More information will be released when the Mueller investigation issues a report, which may be as soon as February. The question is not about the 100,000 votes, of course, but the fraction of votes cast for Trump that were influenced by social media ad campaigns. It is possible that will never be known. It also appears that Trump was a lucky recipient of the new methods that social media companies like Facebook perfected in order to target ads. The emotion-laden, one-sided ads were specifically targeted toward users with specific interests and intended to keep Facebook members online. Because the users weren't aware that they were the targets of these ads, they didn't know that they were hype and "fake news." An article by Mark Dunbar was just published in The Humanist magazine on this topic.
Having the election process compromised by a foreign government is clearly a threat to the democratic process. Another is Trump's willingness to shut down part of the government in order to get funding for his campaign talking point, the border wall. These issues get a lot of attention.
A problem that gets much less publicity is the sheer inattention that has been given to the routine, boring business of running the government. A recent book on this issue is The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis (whose books include Moneyball and The Big Short), reviewed by Fintan O'Toole in the New York Review of Books. The book indicates that Trump and his staff are woefully unprepared to run the government. As O'Toole writes, they had "deliberate chaos, willful ignorance, and strategic incompetence," which they viewed as virtues. The Republican policy since Ronald Reagan has stated that government can't be trusted. Trump has taken that to extremes, either through intent or sheer incompetence. He simply hasn't tried to manage the government. By doing such a bad job, and by appointing people who are incompetent to key positions, it is possible to make the case that the government really is useless. Add to that the fact that most Americans don't really understand what government agencies do or how much they rely on the agencies for their safety.
In spite of this lack of interest or competence in governing, and in spite of multiple investigations, it is not clear what the ending of the Trump Administration could be. He seems intent on running for reelection in 2020, and many in Congress seem resigned to coexisting with him. Is it possible that this president could occupy the office for 8 years? Lewis's book seems to indicate that many functions of the federal government could be degraded by then.
Could Trump actually resign, although he seems incapable of admitting that he ever did anything wrong? Any other president in history, if faced with this amount of scandal and incompetence, would have had enough honor to resign.
Or could Trump and Pence both be forced out by impeachment, leaving President Pelosi? It doesn't look like Republicans in the Senate would stand for that.
Or, most troubling for democracy, would Trump simply refuse to leave, and rely on his base of supporters (who include many owners of firearms) and members of the Senate to back him up, to remain a dictator for life?
How much more outrageous behavior can we expect from Trump? 2019 could be an interesting year.