What a bizarre first two weeks we’ve had of the Trump “administration”. A blizzard of executive orders suggests that Trump is taking charge, but in reality there’s hardly anyone in the office, which is why the phones ring and ring. The normally bustling West Wing is eerily quiet with most of its offices empty. There is not much in the way of support staff because Trump hasn’t hired any. Meanwhile our new president reportedly retires around 6:30 p.m. Melania is in New York so he’s pretty much alone watching TV (mostly Fox News) or tweeting when the mood strikes. Outside the White House gates or on the mall there are often protesters. Spending the weekend at his resort in Florida brings more outside his gates there.
A more introspective president might take this as a clue that he’s unpopular. So far there’s no sign that Trump is becoming introspective. Any poll that suggests otherwise is faked. This would seem crazy but is not the least bit crazy if you consider that he has a classic case of narcissism. Convinced of his superiority and invincibility, the only possible explanations involve vast conspiracies, mostly by the media. So he is aggressively going after the media by not giving access to news outlets like CNN that he accuses of publishing fake news.
His administration is essentially winging it. Most of his cabinet nominees have yet to be approved. He’s fired most of the political appointees left over from the Obama Administration, who normally use their expertise to keep the lights on until the new guy takes over. This has led the White House to be disconnected from the agencies it is supposed to manage. With minimal staff at the White House it’s literally impossible to keep all communication channels open. Those many assistant and deputy assistant administrators in the White House simply aren’t there. Their role traditionally has been to listen, communicate relevant facts up the chain and work the human tree to make sure the president’s directives are followed. With one guy doing the work that would normally be distributed among ten or more staffers, stuff just isn’t happening. And with Trump’s White House staff still unclear about their roles, there’s a lot of musical chairs going on.
In fact, lots of weird stuff is going on. The many bizarre executive orders emanating from the White House have caused a true WTF reaction from the rest of government, the press and the public. Is there a lawyer on the staff? It’s popular to diss lawyers, but they exist for a reason. In the White House you hire lawyers to analyze existing law and regulation to keep you from doing stupid stuff. The Trump White House is doing all sorts of stupid stuff because most of these orders are not being vetted, sometimes not even with the cabinet members already confirmed. Most of these executive orders seem to be coming from Steve Bannon, the president’s policy adviser and apparently the Racist in Chief.
It seems that Trump is not bothering to read the orders he is signing or cannot retain the knowledge in them. It’s reported he was upset to learn that Steve Bannon was now on his National Security Council, and his Homeland Security chief and Defense department chief weren’t. They were demoted to mere advisers. Like Lt. Col Henry Blake on M*A*S*H, he’ll sign anything Radar puts in front of him. There is nothing illegal about doing this — the NSC is a pure executive branch thing — but it seems weird and bizarre when it comes to something as critical as managing our national security competently. Trump senses he did something wrong but with his narcissism and cognitive dissonance can’t seem to amend any of his mistakes. Maybe he figures it makes him look weak.
It’s a winging it presidency that is underway, driven by people who think that government should be run like a business, which in the business world is generally by edict of the CEO or board of directors. Wags tried to tell Trump that business and government were completely different spheres, but he seems to have not read the memo, probably because he rarely reads anything. The result is a government that seems more in paralysis than functioning. Moreover, it’s abundantly clear that Trump and most of those working for him have little idea about how our system of government functions. That a court can block his power seems to surprise him. That Congress may not roll over for his every request seems surreal. When he promotes ideas like maybe Putin is our friend, he can’t figure out why it upsets people.
With dogmatism, curiosity ebbs. With dysfunction comes the opportunity to take advantage of it. One of the most amazing things about the last two weeks has been the reaction from protesters. The Women’s March on Washington was a huge success. It is engaging women on all levels, including my wife who is typically disengaged. She has joined a local women’s club to figure out how to move the political needle. Scientists are planning a march on Washington. Democrats in the minority might just be able to block the nomination of the wholly unqualified nominee to run our Education department, Betsy DeVos. Wherever Trump goes protesters follow. This will probably be a persistent issue during his presidency.
Moreover, Trump looks like hell. He looks tired and hassled, like he is getting an endless high colonic. He looks like he’s added another twenty pounds. Maybe all those free White House chocolate chip cookies are too good to pass up. On some level he probably understands he is in way over his head, but it is on a very submerged level. Campaigning for president is fun; actually being president is rarely fun. You may live in a gilded cage, but a cage it is. Every action generates reaction. So many balls are in there air, but there is literally no way to catch them all. So things are done haphazardly when they are done at all. It is government by chaos and miscommunication.
Perhaps Trump will master all this in time, but the odds are he won’t. It’s hard to exercise the levels of power when you don’t know where the levers are. The result is more anarchy than government. Maybe anarchy is preferable to the reality he would unleash if he could actually manage change. However, it leaves the rest of us with a deep pit in our stomach, worried and waiting to see how this house of cards collapses. It is likely to be sooner rather than later.