We’re about to see the staggering combination of venality and incompetence. The real feature of authoritarian (as opposed to totalitarian) states isn’t that they are thorough; it is that they are fundamentally lazy.
Yesterday, after a weekend in which I think many of us tried to escape the news by drinking heavily with the one we loved (or at least that’s what I did), the big news was that, incredibly, Donald Trump has no idea what it means to be President.
A source told NBC News that Trump asked President Barack Obama during their Thursday meeting how many White House staffers he could replace. And when the sitting president responded that Trump gets to staff just about the entire White House, the president-elect was surprised, NBC’s source said.
Leadership! Very smart leadership!
That’s not all though. We already knew he had no idea what the President really did, and last week’s meeting with an actual serious and responsible adult who prepared himself, mentally and morally, for being the most powerful person in the world, confirmed that.
On his visit to the White House last week, Trump was surprised when Obama walked him through the considerable amount of work required to run the country, the Wall Street Journal reports (paywall) citing people familiar with the meeting.
Of course, some people were relieved when Trump hired as his Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, who is at least not an openly racist white supremacist whose main goal is to link the US with far-right parties across the globe. But Matt Yglesias reminds us that Reince himself is not exactly prepared for the job. He’s always been a political operative, and has no experience in governing.
But Trump is really going to have to run the federal government. A lot of people would like to get the president’s attention on any given day, for example. You can’t just let the president exclusively meet with the people he likes, or you might miss a major crisis. But you can’t just let any agency head who claims to have a major crisis barge into the Oval Office. Nor can you simply delegate authority. Agencies need to work together. Dispute need to be resolved.
Under the circumstances, it would be extremely helpful to have a chief of staff who has worked in a previous White House and seen how a previous chief of staff did the job.
(Read the whole piece; it is a great breakdown of what is needed to even lay the foundations for a successful Presidency. As he says, no one in the inner circle has any experience at all actually running a government.)
More to the point though, it should be pretty obvious that Reince Priebus has no ability whatsoever to stand up to Donald Trump, or to sway him in any reasonable direction. Trump was no different once he got the nomination and was officially in the palm of the RNC; why is he going to be more malleable when he won? When he is now the most powerful, and more important to him, most paid-attention-to man in the world? If anyone thinks that Reince is going to set the agenda, well, I have something to sell to you. It doesn’t matter what. You’re dumb enough to just throw money at me.
This is troubling. I think there was some nervous titters yesterday as this all came out, that maybe it wouldn’t be so bad, because they don’t know what they’re doing. And the truth is, on a policy level, that’s possible. Maybe it’ll be too chaotic to get much of anything done. But there is another level where this is far more troubling, and that’s the fabric of liberal democracy which electing a know-nothing psuedo-strongman has already so clearly threatened.
The problem is that democracy is hard. It’s a difficult series of balances, or negotiations, of listening to other parties, of trying to understand different points of view and incorporating them into your own. That was never Trump’s strong suit, and never will be. The incompetence isn’t a bug in this; it’s a feature.
The real feature of authoritarian (as opposed to totalitarian) states isn’t that they are thorough; it is that they are fundamentally lazy. They take shortcuts to policy, circumvent established norms, go over the heads of anyone who might slow them down, and plug their ears to any idea that isn’t a reflection of their own egos. They are uninterested in governance and only interested in power.
Sound familiar? You bet it does. It’s what happens when you have a small circle (especially when that circle is composed of men who are equal parts petty tyrant and groveling sycophant, like Rudy and Newt and the lunatic Michael Flynn). And that circle is going to get even smaller. Just read this.
The president-elect has begun asking how he could secure high level clearances for Ivanka, Eric and Donald Jr., his three adult children with first wife Ivana, as well as for Ivanka’s husband Jared Kushner, according to CNNand CBS. All four family members are members of his transition team, though Trump has said his children won’t serve formal roles in his administration but instead will run the family business while he runs the country.
Just think of how insane that is. It is already incredible enough to think that he truly believes his children–who until he decided to run his vanity campaign had never shown a single shred of interest in government, public policy, or god knows public service–somehow should be privy to our most important secrets, just because he knocked up their mom (and because one of them married into the family). That’s the lunatic sign of a tyrant right there.
It’s that he thinks they should be given this clearance even though they aren’t part of the government, and indeed are running his vast and still-undisclosed business empire. This doesn’t even come close to resembling a government as we know it. It is nothing more than a government that is an extension of one man’s private wishes.
It’s a stumbling, chaotic, insane, venal, greedy, and lazy way to do things. It’s the hallmark of a banana republic. Donald Trump may not believe “l’état, c’est moi” but he certainly believe the state is one of his casinos, and now he has no reason to see it as anything but a nation of marks.