Trump is back from Europe. First up on his agenda: rearranging the Titanic’s deck chairs, or what amounts to the same thing. From press reports Trump will be doing some staff reorganization and probably creating a “war room” with the mission of managing the White House message on this Russian thing.
It’s not hard to guess that Trump will have a hard time finding staff to fill his war room. In fact, staff may be forced to work there, which will give them additional incentive to resign. Some people will go willingly. Trump’s lawyer will happily bill $500/hour on this fruitless mission. If he’s doing his job he won’t so much be managing the message as trying to keep Trump from getting investigated and indicted for crimes like obstructing justice.
Yes, because safely back in the White House again, Trump has resumed his Twitter habit and that means he is busy destroying the message of the day like he has in the past. It turns out that Trump is his worst enemy. Much of what we know about Trump’s dubious behavior came right out of his own mouth or placed into his Twitter feed on his own stubby fingers. He lacks the ability to stop making things worse for him. His lawyers are doubtlessly suggesting he just shut up and have staff do all his Twitter posting, as Obama did. Now there’s some real message control, but don’t expect this to be part of Trump’s war room strategy. Staff has already tried many times to get his hands off his smartphone, but he won’t let it go.
Speaking of letting go, the most important person to fire is his son-in-law Jared Kushner, to who Trump has delegated the “actually trying to get stuff done” part of governing. And Jared’s been busy, such as meeting with the Russians last December to try to set up a “private channel” for communicating with the Kremlin. This may result in criminal charges but the good news for Russia is they don’t really need a back channel. Trump is happily doing their bidding. In Europe he was busy not affirming the United States’ traditional commitment to NATO, which is #1 on the Kremlin’s list of things they would most like to see happen. They have been trying to get rid of NATO since the start of the Cold War. That’s because it works. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has put two and two together: the United States is no longer a reliable partner, so Europe has to go it alone. It will be a lot harder of course without U.S. resources and maybe impossible. What really upsets Trump is not NATO. What upset him is that Germany has a trade surplus with the United States. WTF?
As for Kushner, like Trump he has zero governmental experience as is true of much of Trump’s administration and boy does it show. Trying to create a back channel with Russia was so weird and bizarre even the Russian government blanched. Kushner has become Trump’s wrecking ball, convinced that this means he is somehow smarter than anyone else. Essentially you have an administration refusing to play by the rules and in fact adhere to the law much of the time. Ethics mean nothing to them.
In my previous life I was a civil servant. We got ethics training and every year ethics retraining. I was a dutiful civil servant but some of it seemed very weird. For example, I needed my boss’s approval to do adjunct teaching. And while I worked at the U.S. Geological Survey, to prevent a conflict of interest I was required by law not to own any energy stocks and certain energy-related mutual funds, even though I was not a geologist and could offer no insight into where hidden deposits of oil and minerals might be. Once a month we had to deal with the credit card Nazis who poured through use of our government credit cards dotting all the I’s and crossing all the T’s. As a supervisor I had to sign off on my employees’ expenses and make sure every damn line item was charged to the appropriate account and was a legitimate government expense. My failure to do so was not only a bad idea; it could put me in prison.
None of this seems to bother the White House. Send guests to stay at Trump hotels? Sure, who cares about this Emolument Clause thing? To protect Trump, the Secret Service has already spent $35,000 renting golf carts at his Mar-a-lago resort. They are paying whatever his managers decide to charge them. The signal this sends the rest of the government is appalling: graft is okay now. The reason the civil service was set up was to get rid of the cronyism, and yet Trump appoints his family to senior positions despite lack of qualifications. He does this without a care in the world about how unethical this is and how bad of an example this sets to the rest of the civil service. He’s definitely running the government like a business, as if it’s his business, so why not use the government to enrich himself? Some other businessman would do the same thing, he figures.
Then there is the more dicey issue of Trump’s mental health. It’s already been noted that he’s become a simpleton. In interviews ten or twenty years ago he used complex words and sentences and had a long vocabulary. This seems beyond him now. His sentences don’t quite qualify as sentences and amount to a run-on stream of consciousness. He’s losing his marbles. So it’s not weird in the least that he tweeted yesterday that he wants to spend a lot more on health care when his own presidential budget proposes to drastically cut healthcare spending, mostly for the poor. He has obviously not read his own budget because he can’t read anything in depth. He hasn’t absorbed even the few bullet points staff gave him on his budget. This is not the usual political cognitive dissonance. This is something worse: he’s too bored, incurious and uninterested and obviously largely unable to deal with the nuance and complexity of running the government. So we get budgets that look like it came from the House Tea Party caucus.
This is dysfunction on a massive scale. It’s incredibly dangerous to our country and the longer Trump stays in power, the worse it is likely to get. He is emboldening our enemies if not actively collaborating with them. This is not a train teetering on the rails. His government is entirely off the rails and the engineer and his staff are all clearly drunk in the locomotive.