Edward Rhodes: ''When it comes to U.S.-Russian relations, the president's views will be largely irrelevant''
Trump and Americans: when the war of the president with the media will end, what to do to the migrants-Muslims and with whom the new president can be compared
Edward Rhodes, Professor at George Mason University, tells about how the policy in the United States after the election of Trump will be developing, who will be in his team, whether he should be afraid of impeachment, whether Putin has had a hand in his victory, how the immigrants are living today in the United States and much more in the interview with Realnoe Vremya.
How do you think — is an impeachment of Trump possible?
Anything is possible, but unless President Trump does something – or has done something – clearly and seriously illegal, impeachment is very, very unlikely.
Removal of a president through an impeachment process is, under the American Constitution, a difficult process. No American president has ever been involuntarily removed from office, although one president, Richard Nixon, resigned – doing so at a time when it appeared the process to remove him from office was about to begin.
The process to remove a president involves two steps. First, by a majority vote the House of Representatives (the lower house of the U.S. Congress) must pass an indictment (what is called a Bill of Impeachment) that levels specific charges against the president. Second, after hearings, the U.S. Senate (the upper house) would have to find the president guilty of those charges.
As with so many things in the U.S. Constitution, there is some deliberate ambiguity about certain aspects of presidential impeachment. Specifically, the precise nature of the actions for which a president might be impeached has been deliberately left vague by the Constitution. The U.S. Constitution says that a president may be removed for «treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.» «Treason» and «bribery» are clear enough, and the phrase «high crimes» is usually interpreted as meaning serious felonies; but what constitutes a «misdemeanor» for which a president might be removed has always been debatable. Whether something the president has done constitutes an «impeachable offense» is thus always open to argument.
''No American president has ever been involuntarily removed from office, although one president, Richard Nixon, resigned – doing so at a time when it appeared the process to remove him from office was about to begin.'' Photo: usnews.com
Given that members of the president's party, the Republicans, currently control both the House and the Senate, it is likely, however, that «misdemeanors» would be construed narrowly. There would need to be strong, clear, public evidence that the president had committed treason, been bribed, or had engaged in activities for which Americans would typically be sent to jail before impeachment would seriously be considered by the current U.S. Congress.
More generally, the bottom line is that the involuntary removal of any president must be viewed as highly unlikely. Anything is possible, of course. But impeachment and involuntary removal from the presidency cannot and will not happen simply because a majority of the American people are unhappy with a president.
Will the negativity of the activists, Hollywood, journalists towards him subside?
Given President Trump's very public commitment to a number of highly visible policies that are strongly opposed by much of the American political and cultural elite – for example his immigration policies, his homeland security policies, his budget priorities, and many of his social policies — it seems unlikely that protests against his agenda will decline. Similarly, because the president enjoys being outspoken and stating his views in blunt, often confrontational fashion, it is unlikely that the personal quality of many of the interactions between the president and public figures will go away or that the public debate will grow more moderate in tone.
How will Trump's fight with the media end? Will Trump be able to undermine the status of media as the fourth estate?
President Trump's combative relationship with much of the media is unlikely to ever end, even after he eventually leaves the White House. At some level, the president enjoys this ongoing fight. And, frankly, the mainstream media outlets that are on the receiving end of the president's insults are benefiting from this hostile relationship as well – readership is up. They certainly have no incentive to back down.
Perhaps more importantly, though, we are witnessing some very profound changes in the structure of the media through which Americans get their news. These structural changes have nothing at all to do with who is president but do encourage increasingly polarized political discourse.
''At some level, the president enjoys this ongoing fight. And, frankly, the mainstream media outlets that are on the receiving end of the president's insults are benefiting from this hostile relationship as well – readership is up. They certainly have no incentive to back down.'' Photo: businessinsider.com
For most of the twentieth century, Americans got their national and international news from a fairly small and generally decreasing number of independent, competing sources – large urban newspapers, two or three independent «wire services» that provided journalistic content to other independent news outlets, and, in the television age, three major television networks. To survive in increasingly competitive markets, these outlets increasingly sought to reach across the ideological and partisan political lines, and competed to provide readers or viewers with the most accurate, most rigorously verified, most extensive national and international news. Given the costs of production, «niche» news providers with a clear, ideological slant or set of policy preferences were squeezed out by these large «supermarkets» of information.
The rise of e-media, however, has made it financially possible for niche outlets, with highly distinct – one might say «biased» – points of view to flourish, providing information to highly specific audiences who want to hear the news from a particular, narrow ideological or political perspective and who are unwilling to hear any information that would not be consistent with their existing ideological views.
As a result, what we are increasingly observing in America is a society in which individuals who may live side by side and who are experiencing precisely the same reality are nonetheless hearing entirely different versions of what is going on around them and are entirely insulated from reporting that might make them begin to doubt their presumptions. This, of course, creates increasing polarization in public discourse. It is not simply that Americans disagree with each other. Thanks to the fact that they are hearing very different news, increasingly Americans find it difficult to believe that other Americans of good faith could possibly have differing views.
Whatever the problems this creates for civil political discourse, it does not suggest any threat to the media or to its role as the fourth estate. Indeed, the sort of angry, highly partisan exchanges we are witnessing in the media today are very much like those Americans experienced at the time of their independence, in the late 1700s and early 1800s.
With whom would you compare Trump? Who else of the American presidents was perceived negatively?
It is difficult to find any American president to whom one could very seriously compare President Trump. As his supporters and his political opponents agree, he is unique. Certainly no prior president entered the White House with so little preparation in government or public affairs. For better or for worse, President Trump is also more thin-skinned than any president in modern memory, and perhaps than any president in history. He has extraordinarily little impulse control – as demonstrated by his tendency to tweet first and check facts later, if at all. Perhaps reflective of this background and this temperament, the disjuncture between his policy proposals and existing analyses of problems is unusually wide.
''President Trump appears to enjoy being compared with President Andrew Jackson (1829-1837), a polarizing, populist figure who campaigned against the dominant East Coast elite which had, up to that time, dominated American politics.'' Photo: wikipedia.org
This said, President Trump appears to enjoy being compared with President Andrew Jackson (1829-1837), a polarizing, populist figure who campaigned against the dominant East Coast elite which had, up to that time, dominated American politics. Opponents decried Jackson as «King Andrew I,» but he retained substantial support from the back-country and rural masses, and he laid the foundation of the populist Democratic Party. Jackson's policies typically aimed at decreasing the power of the federal government, in favor of either less government or more localized state government.
Given the tensions between the president and the Republicans in Congress, however, more pessimistic observers are concerned that President Trump may become a modern-day President John Tyler (1841-1845). Tyler blocked much of his own Whig Party's platform, becoming so objectionable to his own Whig colleagues in Congress that they threw him out of the Whig Party. The opposition party, the Democrats, would not have him either. Tyler's term in office is typically regarded as disastrous.
One of the favorite topics for discussion, judging by talk shows and jokes of presenters, is jokes about the role of Putin in Trump's election. Has it subsided? Do you believe in the role of Putin?
Unfortunately, a substantial amount of very clear evidence has been presented to the American Congress, to the Executive branch, and to the American public, making it entirely evident that the Russian government, or individuals and institutions intimately associated with Russian government, did, in fact, engage in a variety of hacking and other activities designed to influence the outcome of the American election. For all we know, the Russian government may have routinely done this in the past. Quite possibly, other governments may very well carry on similar activities. Be that as it may, what is quite certain is that there were Russian attempts to influence the American election.
Note that there seems to be little evidence that these activities by the Russian government actually succeeded in influencing the outcome of the election. But, again, of the fact that they occurred, there is no serious doubt.
The real problem is that President Trump's denial of the obvious facts of Russian activities has generated suspicion, even within his own political party and among his political supporters, that he might in some way be complicit. These concerns are heightened not only by Trump's apparent «softness» on sanctions against Russia but also by his rhetorical statements during the campaign, encouraging the Russian government to go ahead with its hacking; by claims that Russian intelligence agencies may possess material that would embarrass Trump if disclosed; and by the fact that a number of Trump's advisors have been employed by various institutions or individuals in Russia. Taken together, this has led to serious concerns, even among senior figures in the Republican Party, that there might, in fact, be some substance to the speculation that the president is hiding something.
Given the failure of the Trump administration to dispose of these questions quickly and convincingly when they were first raised, the «Putin issue» will now not go away quickly. A Congressional inquiry will be necessary, and if the president continues to make claims that members of Congress find implausible, there may even be the need for an independent investigation.
''Given the failure of the Trump administration to dispose of these questions quickly and convincingly when they were first raised, the «Putin issue» will now not go away quickly.'' Photo: kremlin.ru
Who will be in Trump's team? Who will be the key members?
No one, presumably not even the president himself, has any idea.
The problem is that President Trump's campaign rhetoric and campaign pledges brought him into sharp conflict with the Republican Party policy elites, as well, of course, as with the Democratic Party policy elites. Academics, professionals, business leaders, financial leaders, and others who have served in past Republican administrations or who seemed logical choices to serve in the next Republican administration nearly all campaigned openly against Trump. Even were they willing to swallow hard and serve in a Trump administration (and some have, ultimately, been willing to do so), the president has made it clear that he is not willing to forgive and forget. As a consequence, he and his political advisors are finding it difficult to find even qualified individuals that are not, in their view, tainted by past opposition to the president.
This in part explains the surprising number of military officers now being appointed to foreign policy or national security positions. Military officers do not, traditionally, express views during elections. As a consequence, these individuals are unlikely to have spoken out, during the campaign, against the president's foreign policy agenda, despite the fact that they, in fact, do disagree with it.
How will the relationship with Russia be developing? Tell us about possible scenarios.
Sadly, unless the Russian government reverses itself regarding the occupation and annexation of Crimea, ceases to provide military support to separatists in Ukraine, stops frightening the states of the Baltic basin (now including neutral Sweden, which has returned to conscription in the face of what it regards as Russian threats), and moves away from domestic authoritarianism – all of which Americans think are unlikely – there is really only one possible scenario.
There is deep, strong, firm bipartisan agreement in both houses of Congress that until Russia reverses its policies vis a vis Ukraine and ceases to alarm the nations of northern Europe, there is no possibility of improved U.S.-Russian relations. And there is deep, strong sentiment in the American public that until there is a liberalization of Russian politics, there can and should be no real friendship between the two governments.
When it comes to U.S.-Russian relations, the president's views — whatever they turn out to be — will be largely irrelevant. Neither the Congress, which has the ability to frustrate any policy initiatives the president attempts, nor the American public trust the current Russian leadership or regard it as a responsible player in international politics.
''In fact, the current concern among economists is that the economy may be growing a little bit too fast, and that inflation is picking up a bit too much. America's independent central bank, the Federal Reserve Bank, will almost certainly be acting over the course of this year to raise interest rates, cool off the economy a little, and reduce the danger of inflation.'' Photo: chicagofed.org
Tell us about the current structure of the society in the US. What share of the population is living in prosperity? What share is experiencing financial hardships? Whose interests are being respected most of all? What are the urgent problems for the average American? What are they aiming?
Despite the president's sometimes dire statements, the American economy, overall, is actually doing very, very well, having recovered from the real estate crash of 2008. Unemployment is down to historically very low levels. Economic output is up, and continuing to grow at brisk pace. In fact, the current concern among economists is that the economy may be growing a little bit too fast, and that inflation is picking up a bit too much. America's independent central bank, the Federal Reserve Bank, will almost certainly be acting over the course of this year to raise interest rates, cool off the economy a little, and reduce the danger of inflation.
What economists and policymakers realize is that America's economic challenges are structural in nature. Continued improvements in computerization, robotics, manufacturing technology have meant that the demand for «blue collar» (that is, non-managerial, non-professional) labor outside of the service sectors has declined substantially and will continue to decline. Americans who worked in manufacturing jobs, or in relatively low-skill mining or agricultural jobs, have found it harder and harder to find employment and are seeing their wages stagnating or declining. Many of these workers put the blame on foreign competition – on «globalization» – as indeed the Trump administration tends to do. In fact, however, the real problem is that as technology becomes cheaper, employers find ways to substitute technology for labor.
The result has been the gradual emergence over the last few decades of an increasingly «two-humped» economy in America. College-educated workers have tended to find their life-style improving at least marginally — and very highly educated workers have found their life-style improving very nicely indeed. For those with less than a college education, however, the long-term prospects have been increasingly bleak.
The social problems created by this decline in demand for low-skill manufacturing labor have been exacerbated by the fact that Americans have been taught to expect that each generation will be more prosperous than the preceding one, and that children can expect an easier or more comfortable lifestyle than their parents, as well as by geographic issues. Good jobs in the «new» economy tend to be located in large urban areas, particularly along the Atlantic and Pacific seaboards. Small towns and small cities outside these urban areas tend to feel abandoned and see their way of life collapsing.
It is dangerous to oversimplify, or point to similarities between two situations that in fact have some significant differences. But in some ways, some less-well-educated Americans see themselves as experiencing some of the same difficulties that many Russian workers, especially in less-modern industrial plants or in less globally competitive agricultural sectors, found themselves experiencing when the Soviet Union was disbanded and Russia opened itself to market forces.
''At the present time, the American economy continues to have substantial labor shortages at both ends of the education spectrum. The economy's needs for highly educated immigrants are most obvious in the engineering fields, but in general well-educated immigrants with strong English language skills tend to do quite well across the employment spectrum.'' Photo: dalvisa.com
In the long run, it is clear that the American economy will produce plenty of jobs, and there are reasons to be hopeful that wage disparities will moderate. But in the short-run, this transition to what Americans call a «post-modern» economy is of course painful.
President Trump's base of political support is largely among Americans who feel that the economic growth and prosperity that the nation as a whole is experiencing is passing them by. That is, his support tends to be among those who look to the future with despair rather than optimism. Unfortunately, the policies being advanced by the president, though providing symbolic support to this constituency, are likely to increase the economic and social pain in these communities as they pass through the necessary transition.
Many people in Russia consider the US a paradise, many dream to leave for permanent residence. Could you tell about the immigrant policy in today's America? How easy or difficult is it to occupy a decent position in the society? How difficult or easy is life for immigrants here today? Do you think Trump will accomplish his promises on the immigrants?
The American political and economic system has always offered enormous opportunities to entrepreneurial individuals and to those with special skills or advanced education. This has not changed and is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future.
At the present time, the American economy continues to have substantial labor shortages at both ends of the education spectrum. The economy's needs for highly educated immigrants are most obvious in the engineering fields, but in general well-educated immigrants with strong English language skills tend to do quite well across the employment spectrum. Obviously, in professional fields that require licensing – for example, medicine – many immigrants end up in lesser jobs than they might have had in their homeland – working as nurses, doctors' assistants, or in a laboratory, for example, rather than as a doctor. Nonetheless, many of these highly educated professionals find the opportunities in America to be relatively attractive.
The real question that Americans wrestle with is how many low-skilled immigrants to allow into the country. In reality, the American economy could beneficially welcome huge numbers. But the fears of American citizens trapped by the declining demand for industrial labor — that these new immigrants will drive wages lower — create political pressures to stem immigration.
Immigrants who come to the United States legally, especially if they have at least basic English language skills, find settling into American society relatively easy. For «green card» holders (that is, legal permanent residents), there are no constraints whatsoever on employment, and they are of course free to move, settle, and pursue careers wherever they wish in the United States. Most large urban areas in the United States have burgeoning communities of new immigrants, often building on better-established communities of earlier immigrants and taking advantage of the already established churches, mosques, synagogues, and temples and other social and cultural institutions.
''Sadly, it seems likely that Moslem immigrants to America will, in the next few years, find America on balance less welcoming than it has been in the past.'' Photo: thegreatmiddleeast.com
Life is more complicated, of course, for the millions of individuals who have entered the United States without legal permission or who overstayed a short-term visa. Under American law, these individuals could be deported, and these are the individuals toward whom the current president has proposed adopting a harder line. These «illegal immigrants» are generally productive members of the American economy and of the country's social institutions, though. Though it is sometimes politically attractive to pretend otherwise, there is in fact a general recognition that it would be impossible, unfair, and in some cases simply immoral, as well as economically very painful to try to force all the «illegal immigrants» in the United States to leave. On the other hand, there is concern that granting legal amnesty to all of these «illegal immigrants» and allowing all of them a pathway to American citizenship will simply encourage new waves of illegal immigration. Despite the clear and generally accepted need for some sort of overhaul of American immigration laws, the issues are sufficiently politically contentious that the prospects for comprehensive reform of immigration laws are not good at the present time.
In the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, there has also been an increase in some parts of American society of prejudice against individuals who are or «look» Islamic. In some cases, which have been extensively covered in the American press, this has resulted in violence against these individuals. Under American law, attacks on individuals based on ethnicity or religion are treated as «hate» crimes and subject to heavier punishment. Nonetheless, violence of this sort has occurred and is a matter of increasing concern for most Americans. Critics of the president feel that his rhetoric tends to encourage or legitimate such attacks.
Counterbalancing this, there are many communities, particularly along the two coasts and in urban areas, that have responded by working actively to protect immigrants against the danger of either violence or deportation, and to ensure the recent immigrants are welcomed into American society. Some American churches, for example, are reaching out to work with recent Moslem immigrants whom they see as potentially threatened.
Sadly, it seems likely that Moslem immigrants to America will, in the next few years, find America on balance less welcoming than it has been in the past. Similarly, lower-skilled immigrants who are in America without legal permission will be in greater danger of deportation in the next few years than they have been in the recent past. There is, however, no reason to expect that these are long-term trends or permanent situations. America's continuing demand for labor, and its traditions as an immigrant nation, are likely in the long run to ensure substantial continued immigration.
Edward Rhodes. Currently a professor on the faculty of Mason's Schar School of Policy and Government, Edward Rhodes studies American foreign and national security policy. Prior to joining Mason in 2010 as Dean of the School of Public Policy, Dr. Rhodes was on the faculty of Rutgers University, serving as founding Director of the Rutgers Center for Global Security and Democracy and as Dean of the Social and Behavioral Sciences. From 2007 to 2009, he was a visiting professor at Princeton University, and has held research appointments at Harvard, Stanford, and Cornell Universities. As a fellow of the Council on Foreign Relations, Dr. Rhodes served in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations in the Strategy and Concepts branch of the U.S. Navy Staff. From 2000 to 2001, he posted overseas as a Fulbright Fellow at the University of Latvia. From 2003 to 2009, Dr. Rhodes served on the State Department's Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation, the Congressionally-mandated body overseeing the preparation and release of the official record of American foreign policy. Dr. Rhodes received his A.B. from Harvard University and his M.P.A. and Ph.D. degrees from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University.