Donald Trump rules like a bumbling emperor

By Harlan Ullman, Arnaud de Borchgrave Distinguished Columnist
Donald Trump runs his government as if he were reigning and not ruling. Pool Photo by Alex Wong/UPI
Donald Trump runs his government as if he were reigning and not ruling. Pool Photo by Alex Wong/UPI | License Photo

Conventional wisdom holds that President Donald J. Trump is a non-politician who brought a disruptive and largely business-based approach to elected office. As a result, Trump has largely surrounded himself with Cabinet officers and senior staff who have succeeded in business. And the president bragged how easy governing would be and how great he would make America because of his business triumphs and experience.

But consider a non-conventional alternative assessment. Trump may be better understood as a prince, king or emperor. He sees himself if not vested with a divine right to rule, then certainly in that realm. As a monarch, he believes his word is the absolute truth and must be taken as such even when he changes what that truth is on a frequent basis.


He surrounds himself not so much with a cabinet as with a court. His courtiers must not merely flatter the prince, king or emperor. They must show abject loyalty. The display last month of the Cabinet meeting where all but one or two offered absurd amounts of praise describing the "honor" of serving on his team was worse than bad taste. It was an offensive display of excessive obsequiousness.


Clearly, the mantel of royalty extends to the Trump family. Daughter Ivanka is more than primus inter pares among advisers. She was "acting" president, assuming his chair at the G-20 meeting when Trump excused himself. No president would have ever have dreamed of emulating that stunt.

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Son-in-law Jared Kushner is the sorcerer's apprentice being able to work magic across his vast portfolio from bringing peace to the Middle East to revitalizing the nation's infrastructure. And it may be no Freudian slip that the youngest Trump son is named Barron.

One of the crown princes, Junior Trump, appears more clown prince, not knowing or ignoring the law in accepting a meeting with representatives of the Russian government armed with damaging information on presidential rival Hillary Clinton. The other son, Eric, has remained below the radar so far. But when the family travels, it does so as a court and at huge government expense for security and the large entourage of courtiers.

While the president does not have residences quite as regal or numerous as, say Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, he is pretty well off. His palaces are in Palm Beach's Mar-a-Lago, New York's Trump Tower, and Trump golf courses in Bedminster, N.J., where the women's U.S. Open was just played, and in northern Virginia and are monuments to opulence. In fact, the official presidential Maryland retreat, Camp David, is a bit too rustic for the regal president's liking.


Moreover, he runs his government as if he were reigning and not ruling. His demands and ukases are reminiscent of another king, Canute, who ordered the seas to recede. The president was going to build a wall. Mexico was to pay for it. Healthcare would be the best, cheapest and most accessible to all. The president called the nuclear Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran "the worst" agreement ever made. Yet his administration has reported to Congress again that Iran is in compliance. And what passes for his rule is done through royal decrees and not laws of the land.

The founding fathers considered making George Washington king. Washington immediately dismissed the notion out of hand. In fact, the idea of royalty and noble rank was explicitly rejected despite its established roots in Britain. Had this president that option, it is interesting what his reaction would have been.

Finally, in his three trips abroad, the president acted more in the role of emperor dispensing his favors. Saudi Arabia was granted a certain status by the visit and offered tribute in the form of purchasing many tens of billion of dollars of U.S. arms. NATO was snubbed the first time around by the president's premeditated decision not to mention Article 5, the centerpiece of the alliance. Later, the president would restate the Article 5 commitment in Warsaw perhaps because the alliance had "succumbed" to his order to spend more on defense in which "billions are rolling in."


The royal analogy may seem a bridge too far. The Oval Office has a certain cache. Air Force One with its huge supporting cadre when the president flies is impressive and even regal. But presidential tweets in a sense are akin to royal diktats and proclamations that are issued on a daily basis.

Obviously, the president is not a prince or an emperor. There is however one king who might prove relevant: Britain's Edward VIII. Edward abdicated in 1936, choosing to give up the crown for the woman he loved. Trump will not give up his crown on that basis. However, as his administration continues to stumble, make ill-considered and perhaps harmful decisions and learns that governing is not easy, the president's attitude about the job may change. Over time it is not inconceivable, no matter how unlikely, that Trump might indeed choose to forfeit his crown for the life he once loved and was able to command as if he were a real monarch.

Harlan Ullman has served on the Senior Advisory Group for Supreme Allied Commander Europe (2004-16) and is a senior adviser at Washington D.C.'s Atlantic Council, chairman of two private companies and principal author of the doctrine of shock and awe. A former naval person, he commanded a destroyer in the Persian Gulf and led over 150 missions and operations in Vietnam as a Swift boat skipper. His next book, "Anatomy of Failure: Why America Loses Every War It Starts," will be published in the fall. Follow him on Twitter @harlankullman.


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