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The Age of Incompetence

BERKELEY – On January 20, 2017, US President-elect Donald Trump will take office having received almost three million fewer votes than his opponent; and he will work with a Republican Senate majority whose members won 13 million fewer votes than their Democratic opponents. Only the Republican majority in the House of Representatives, led by Speaker Paul Ryan, has any claim to represent a numerical majority of the 55% of Americans who voted on Election Day 2016.

Trump will also begin his presidency with an approval rating below 50%. This is unprecedented – or “unpresidented,” as one of his semi-literate tweets put it (before he deleted it) – in the history of such ratings. The government of the world’s oldest democracy is, in fact, not democratic. Also unprecedented is the fact that so few members of the president-elect’s own party, and none of the Democratic opposition, consider him to be qualified for the duties of the presidency, apart from serving as Cheerleader-in-Chief.

Of course, the Trump phenomenon has been gestating for a long period. With the honorable exception of George H.W. Bush, who had the requisite knowledge, intelligence, temperament, and values to serve, the last time a fully qualified Republican was inaugurated was in 1957. No one denies that Richard Nixon had the knowledge and intelligence to be president; but most people will admit that his temperament and values left something to be desired.

Similarly, most people thought that Ronald Reagan lacked the requisite knowledge and intelligence for the office. According to the journalist Peter Jenkins, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher once said of Reagan, “Poor dear, there’s nothing between his ears.” And the qualifications that Reagan did have on Inauguration Day eroded over time, after he was wounded in a failed assassination attempt 69 days into his presidency, and, later, when he began to suffer from Alzheimer’s disease.