Summary: After 18 days, we can make a tentative evaluation of the Trump Administration. We have seen how and who he appoints to key offices. We have seen how he formulated and implemented 8 Executive Orders, 12 Presidential Memoranda, and 3 Presidential Proclamations. It gives us enough information to draw some tentative conclusions about the competence of Team Trump. They’re disturbing conclusions.
Some powerful observations by Paul Krugman in “Dude, Where’s My Policy?”
“…spare a bit of attention to what doesn’t seem to be happening. Has anyone heard anything, anything at all, about domestic policy development? Remember, after the election Wall Street decided that we were going to see a big push on infrastructure, tax cuts, etc.. Some analysts were warning that progressives should be ready for the possibility that Trump would engage in “reactionary Keynesianism.” Worrying parallels were drawn between Trumpism and autobahn construction under you-know-who.
“But if there’s a WH task force preparing an infrastructure plan, it’s very well hidden …Seriously, I’ve been saying for a while that there will be no significant public construction plan. Wall Street economists, at least, are starting to catch on. Meanwhile, that Obamacare replacement is still nowhere to be seen, with GOP Congresspeople literally running away when asked about it.
“Big tax cuts — and savage cuts to social programs — are still very much on the Congressional Republican agenda, and they could put it all together, hand it to Bannon, and have Trump sign it without reading. But I’m starting to wonder: surely they planned to unveil things during the Trump honeymoon, with the public prepared to believe that it was all done with the little guy’s interests in mind. Even pre 9-11 Bush could count on media goodwill and supine Democrats to ram through his tax cuts.
“But now? With massive public distrust, and media fully willing to do real reporting on the distribution of tax cuts, not “Democrats say that the rich are the big winners”? With the media infatuation on Serious, Honest Paul Ryan at least temporarily dented by his avid support for Muslim bans and all that? Maybe they’ll do it anyway, but it seems a lot less certain than it did in November.”
More details in the New York Times: “Trump and Staff Rethink Tactics After Stumbles“. It describes a White House on the edge of chaos, operating with plans or procedures, run by a president obsesses with polls and trivial. The article gets increasingly bizarre as it progresses.
Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.
“Aides confer in the dark because they cannot figure out how to operate the light switches in the cabinet room. Visitors conclude their meetings and then wander around, testing doorknobs until finding one that leads to an exit. In a darkened, mostly empty West Wing…
“During his first two dizzying weeks in office, Mr. Trump, an outsider president working with a surprisingly small crew of no more than a half-dozen empowered aides with virtually no familiarity with the workings of the White House or federal government, sent shock waves at home and overseas with a succession of executive orders designed to fulfill campaign promises and taunt foreign leaders. ”We are moving big and we are moving fast,’ Mr. Bannon said, when asked about the upheaval of the first two weeks. ‘We didn’t come here to do small things.’ But one thing has become apparent to both his allies and his opponents: When it comes to governing, speed does not always guarantee success.
“The bungled rollout of his executive order barring immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries, a flurry of other miscues and embarrassments, and an approval rating lower than that of any comparable first-term president in the history of polling have Mr. Trump and his top staff rethinking an improvisational approach to governing that mirrors his chaotic presidential campaign, administration officials and Trump insiders said.
“This account of the early days of the Trump White House is based on interviews with dozens of government officials, congressional aides, former staff members and other observers of the new administration, many of whom requested anonymity. At the center of the story, according to these sources, is a president determined to go big but increasingly frustrated by the efforts of his small team to contain the backlash.
“’What are we going to do about this?’ Mr. Trump pointedly asked an aide last week, a period of turmoil briefly interrupted by the successful rollout of his Supreme Court selection, Judge Neil M. Gorsuch. Chris Ruddy, the chief executive of Newsmax Media and an old friend of the president’s, said: ‘I think, in his mind, the success of this is going to be the poll numbers. If they continue to be weak or go lower, then somebody’s going to have to bear some responsibility for that.’
“…One former staff member likened the aggressive approach of the first two weeks to D-Day, but said the president’s team had stormed the beaches without any plan for a longer war. Clashes among staff are common in the opening days of every administration, but they have seldom been so public and so pronounced this early. This is a president who came to Washington vowing to shake up the establishment, and this is what it looks like.
“…Mr. Trump remains intensely focused on his brand, but the demands of the job mean he spends less time monitoring the news media …He often has to wait until the end of the workday before grinding through news clips with Mr. Spicer, marking the ones he does not like with a big arrow in black Sharpie — though he almost always makes time to monitor Mr. Spicer’s performance at the daily briefings, summoning him to offer praise or criticism, a West Wing aide said.
“Visitors to the Oval Office say Mr. Trump is obsessed with the décor — it is both a totem of a victory that validates him as a serious person and an image-burnishing backdrop — so he has told his staff to schedule as many televised events in the room as possible. To pass the time between meetings, Mr. Trump gives quick tours to visitors, highlighting little tweaks he has made after initially expecting he would have to pay for them himself.”
Trump is often delusionally wrong and refuses to learn.
Then there are his repeated statements that “the murder rate in our country is the highest it’s been in 47 years.” He blames the news media for not publicizing this. It is not just wrong, but the opposite of the truth. FBI statistics show it is near the lows for that period.
Closing his eyes to unpleasant facts. It’s the fast track to disaster.
About the cohesion of Team Trump
“‘I’ve been in this town for 26 years. I have never seen anything like this.’
— Eliot Cohen, a senior State Department official and a member of the National Security Council for Bush Sr. In the HuffPo.
“The leaks coming out of the Trump White House cast the president as a clueless child” writes Chris Cillizza, a columnist at the WaPo. He gives some telling examples.
Summary of Trump administration so far
No well-developed programs, such as the many right-wing think tanks have produced. Making complex policies without consulting the relevant agencies or outside experts, relying on ignorance and arrogance.
Inexperienced staff (e.g., propagandist Bannon as chief strategist). Slow staffing, in part due to inexperienced senior staff. Incompetence and disorganization, starting at the very top.
Perhaps most serious, Trump is systematically ignorant — relying on sources of misinformation such as Alex Jones’ Inforwars. Trump and America would be better off if he learned from watching Marx Brothers’ films.
Update: Daniel Engber at Slate shows that Team Trump has announced many bold and often weird initiatives affect Federal science-related agencies, then modified or cancelled them. He concludes with the usual mad leftist fantasizing: “An onslaught of clumsy and abortive strikes against the science establishment might serve as cover for more careful and strategic moves against the status quo.” A rational explanation: incompetence and disorganization.
Largely due to Clinton’s incompetence as a politician, Trump was able to win without building a large national organization. So we were unable to assess his ability as a manager (the six bankruptcies of his corporations do not inspire confidence).
What can we expect from Trump’s clownish behavior, ignorance, and disorganized team of neophytes? Mistakes. Many mistakes. Unworkable policies, disastrous policies, sound policies incompetently implemented. Unless he improves quickly, a loss of confidence by Washington elites and the public seems inevitable. We should prepare for public policies that damage America, and actions which have severe or even catastrophic consequences.
For More Information
See why Trump’s “Reactionary Keynesianism” won’t provide much stimulus to the economy, by Simon Wren-Lewis (prof economics, Oxford).
- Here’s the news about Team Trump. See the promises fade away.
- Trump assembles a Strategic and Policy Forum to better hear the 1%.
- As we start a new era, see the similarities between Obama and Trump.
- Listen to Trump’s inaugural speech: words that could overthrow the 1%.
- Trump writes an obviously good Executive Order. The Left attacks it.