A Disturbing ConclusionPosted: March 16, 2017
Another day, another Trump story dominating the news. I will eventually again write about something other than our president, but it is hard to ignore the elephant in the room when every morning there is some new statement by the president or his staff that is cringe worthy. Be it wire tapping (with or without “quotation marks” — this is what we have come down to — or misspellings) or microwaves as cameras, every day there is something. We as citizens need to look past the daily “guess what they just said” comments and try to discern what is really going on.
Avoiding a discussion on the Trump Administration policies for the moment, which is hard to do, there is a different picture I am trying to understand. And believe me, trying to ignore his proposals is difficult, be it the American Health Care Act (or Trumpcare — no, no, it’s Ryancare — no, no Trumpcare) or the president’s budget proposals that gut many essential programs and departments. Those proposals, as good or as bad as they may be depending on one’s political views, are just that, proposals. The Congress ultimately will pass, or not, the AHCA and any president’s budget proposals are more of a wish list and indicator of their administration’s priorities rather than the actual budget, which is also the purview of the Congress.
I am focused for the moment on trying to figure out exactly what is going on with those things that the president actually controls and what they may portend. To some degree, it is necessary to get down in the weeds to see where things are headed. There are several troubling indicators of how President Trump intends to run his administration.
At first I could not figure out if the nonsensical and illogical tweets, statements, and press briefings were the sign of an administration in disarray, trying to find its bearings or something else. I have come to believe it is something else. Many pundits have already commented on the fact that every time the media or the public focuses on some inane action or statement from the president or his staff, some new, head line grabbing tweet or statement comes out. Some call President Trump the Distractor-in-Chief (DIC?). That may be part of it, but I think there is a larger more insidious goal. President Trump continually calls any reporting he does not like “fake news.” Beyond that he and his staff continually attack the media and put out statements that are proven to be untruthful, yet they double down and insist that it is true by pointing to some off-the-wall media source as the “proof” of their statements. This is deliberate — not flaky, or anti-PC, or any other excuse attributed to the activity. I say again, it is deliberate. The White House staff is deliberately and systematically trying to undermine the credibility of the serious news outlets in the United States. Coupled with the stated disdain of the intelligence community so often reiterated by the president and his advisers, there is a very deliberate effort to create an atmosphere of distrust where nothing is ground truth. Once such an atmosphere exists, the administration can say and do anything that they want to do and they will then claim black is white and only they know what is going on. Trust them. How many times has Senior Adviser Kelly Anne Conway (and others) gone on a news show and defended some outrageous statement from the president? When pressed for evidence that such statements are true, how many times has she said words to the effect that “well, the president has access to information that I do not have so he must know what he is talking about?” No proof. No logic. Only that if the president said it, it has to be true, no matter how outrageous. And how many times when personally pressed does the president decline to give proof to defend a statement and only says something along the lines of “more information will be coming out in about two weeks. It will be amazing. You won’t believe what is going on. It will surprise you. Believe me.” Have you noticed that it is always in two weeks? And then two weeks, months, years, pass and nothing more comes out.
This approach seriously undermines the credibility of the president. If anyone were to pay attention. Seemingly most Americans shrug it off as that’s “Trump being Trump” or as the “mainstream media” trying to undermine his presidency. Never mind that the media merely plays what the president or his advisers actually say and then for some strange reason ask them to provide the basis for the statement. How unfair!
You can take it to the bank that our friends and enemies are paying attention.
That is why I am so troubled. Either the president does not care that his credibility suffers, credibility that will be crucial when a real crisis hits our country, or he is risking his credibility in order to undermine the veracity of any source of information outside the White House so that only his version of the truth is available. A harsh assessment, I admit, but increasingly I am unable to come up with any other explanation for the way that he and his staff conduct business. What began as mildly amusing behavior morphed to incredulity to concerns about sanity to fear that it is intentional.
And there is more.
There are some good people working in the Trump administration. Secretary Mattis is one, Lt General McMaster is another, and others, who while I may disagree with their policy views, I respect their integrity and willingness to try to do the right thing. Many of them signed up with this administration with the caveat that they be able to pick their own people and not be micro-managed by the White House. So far, that is not happening.
Secretary Mattis has yet to get a second in command, the Deputy Secretary of Defense. He tried three times so far to get three different people in place. All rejected by the White House. There are no other political appointees below the Secretary level at DOD thus far. One may claim that we need to “drain the swamp” but the reality is that the Secretary cannot do everything by himself. Skilled, knowledgeable people with expertise in everything from procurement to regional alliances need to be in place to make U.S. policy effective. Right now, nobody. Likewise, in the State Department. Secretary Tillison’s nominees for his subordinate political positions are zero for everyone. None has gotten past the White House. Just as troubling to those that understand how such things work, last week the Mexican Foreign Minister, the direct counter part to Secretary Tillerson was in Washington for talks and the State Department did not even know he was in town, much less participate in the discussions. Only the White House inner circle participated. National Security Adviser McMaster found out last week that, in fact, he cannot pick his own staff. He tried to have a Trump campaign supporter now in charge of national intelligence for the National Security Council moved to a different job so that NSA McMaster could put a more qualified and effective person in that slot. The staffer went to the president, on the advice of Mr. Steve Bannon, and NSA McMaster was overruled. There are a multitude of similar examples were one to peel away the layers and look inside the various departments and agencies in the Executive Branch.
Even if all that is true, who cares? So what? Why write about it except for sour grapes?
There are at least two reasons to take note. The most benign concern is that our nation’s defense and foreign policies, to name two, cannot be thoroughly vetted, reviewed and implemented without the right people (any people!) in place. No matter how good the Secretary may be, he or she is only one person and cannot do it all alone. The more serious concern is that the White House staff, the close inner circle to the president, may not want any effective push back from the Defense or State Departments or other agencies. They may want only the White House inner circle to promulgate and execute policy. The Cabinet’s job is merely to act as props (see almost every signing ceremony in the White House) or cheerleaders for the president.
President Trump’s style as a businessman was to have a small, totally loyal, inner circle that carried out his decisions. By all accounts describing his style, President Trump is not much for details and makes decisions by using his “gut instincts.” His close inner circle then carries on and implements what they understand to be his intent. This may work in a real estate business, but it does not work well in an undertaking as large as the United States government, especially when the current inner circle takes great pride in stating that they have no experience. When they also refuse, or limit, the input from those that do have knowledge and expertise, something is brewing. It is either a disaster waiting to happen, or something more sinister, such as a drift towards centralized, autocratic control of the nation.
When all of the pieces of the puzzle are together — and there are more including Mr. Bannon’s view of the world, his declaration to “dismantle the administrative state,” blaming “the deep state” for the failures of their policies, lashing out at the judiciary, claiming that former President Obama is running a shadow government with the aim of stopping the Trump administration, among others — it paints a troubling picture.
At first I thought that maybe they were just experiencing growing pains, not unusual for a new administration. Then I thought that maybe the staff was just trying to deal with a loose cannon in President Trump — which could be dangerous, but the experienced hands would eventually bring him back to reality. Now I am beginning to see that it is actually a plan. What I have not decided upon is whether President Trump is the visionary using his staff, or whether Mr. Bannon is the visionary using the president to fulfill his own view of re-ordering the world.
I absolutely have not given up on the ship of state being righted and put back on a steady course. There are positive signs such as the Congress (after only about 8 months!) investigating the impact of Russian meddling on our national election. Equally soothing is that more and more Representatives and Senators, of both parties, have nicely said that the president lied when he stated that President Obama had Trump Towers and the campaign “wire tapped.” The judicial system is working to check the executive over reach of some of the president’s Executive Orders. The system is working as intended, even if in fits and starts. It remains incumbent on all Americans to keep our eyes wide open and call “foul” when appropriate. Likewise, we need to give credit where it is due. All is not lost, not even close, but I still worry. If we see this seeming chaos from self-inflicted crises within the White House, one wonders what will happen when a real crisis erupts. History teaches us that one eventually will come along. And probably sooner than later.
When it happens, that will be the true test of this administration. My nightmare scenario is given the chaos and attempts to undermine anything that runs counter to White House wishes now, while in a period of relative calm with a strong economy and no direct existential threats to our well-being, what will happen in a major crisis? Will the administration draw upon the many talented and experienced resources our nation and our government has to solve the problem or will they draw even more inward in an attempt to use the crisis to consolidate more power and move further towards autocracy?
I have no crystal ball and have no idea how things will unfold. The signs thus far leave me greatly troubled about the future of our great nation, more so than at any point in my life.