A clown car administration February 14, 2017Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
To lose a national security advisor, what is it, four, five weeks in… unfortunate for any administration. But for this one with its incessant self-boosterism and vainglorious boasting. Worse again. And over links with the Russians? It doesn’t validate any of the talk swirling about – not least in relation to the election itself, but it adds to an already potent mix. And then there’s stuff like this which is almost beyond parody.
But thinking back over the first month or so of Trump what is most notable is how incoherent it all is. There’s no structure, no clear policy direction (short of a bait the liberals line which is itself inchoate to the point of nonsensical), no government as such – as Fred Kaplan on Slate.com notes. Writing about the lack of second and third tier appointments, weeks in and due in no part to Democratic foot dragging:
…there are no officials who can do it. Nor can the Trump administration do much to form new policies, assess new trends, or address new threats. Usually, the National Security Council’s Deputies Committee does the staff work—sometimes the initial analysis—on these sorts of issues. But it can’t be done now, because there are no deputy or undersecretaries to fill a Deputies Committee. There are acting deputy and undersecretaries, but they’re holdovers from the Obama administration, and so, they can’t pretend—or be trusted—to speak for the new crowd. They tend to be junior hangovers, at that, since most of Obama’s midlevel officials left on Inauguration Day, either by their own choice or at Team Trump’s insistence.
All the bombast, all the whining, the sore winner-in-chief stuff, and this is what the shape of a Trump administration is at its outset.
I mention clown car above, but don’t let that cosy image fool one for a moment. Clowns are scary (only this month an 18 year old was imprisoned for months for scaring a pregnant women dressed as a clown and brandishing a knife) and a clown driving a car that is disintegrating all around it? it’s absurd, yes. But it’s still scary. And even more scary, when it’s driving the US. Of course the US is resilient – fingers crossed (though more on that below).
Kaplan notes a further characteristic of this administration:
Ordinarily this delay in staffing wouldn’t much matter. New administrations take some time to find their footing; crises rarely occur so early on. But Trump has been spawning mini-crises almost daily. With nearly every phone call to a foreign head-of-state comes a tantrum, a faux pas, or at very least a storm of confusion that heightens tensions or foments new uncertainties. Usually, before presidents call a head of state, they’re briefed on the major issues concerning that country, the positions held by both sides, perhaps some personal peculiarities. For heads of particularly important countries, they’re given briefing folders to read in advance. Trump reads no such folders and hears no such briefings, except sometimes an informal point or two, delivered not by a State Department official, but by his national security adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who, in some cases, has his own agenda and, in others, has little to say.
And while I suspect few of us would have much time for Francois Hollande I have a certain sneaking sympathy for his having to take the call from Washington:
Several foreign leaders have shaken their heads in wonder at these phone calls, so hostile or, in any case, bewildering. French President François Hollande told aides that all Trump seemed to care about was the money that America spends on the rest of the world. Trump famously screamed at Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull over a prior deal for the United States to receive 1,200 refugees—in part because Trump didn’t know about the deal and, on a broader level, had no knowledge of the critical role that Australia plays in Asian security or in the global U.S. intelligence network. In another phone call, when Russian President Vladimir Putin asked about extending the Obama-era New START nuclear-arms-reduction treaty, Trump scoffed at the treaty as a bad deal that gives Moscow an advantage—in part because he was unfamiliar with the treaty, which in fact requires both sides to cut their nuclear arsenals to equal levels and which, meanwhile, gives the United States unprecedented rights of inspection.
What is now clear is – and I’m always hesitant to use the word because it comes loaded with so many connotations that are problematic, but in this case it fits – the sheer stupidity of this administration from the head down. These people aren’t adults, they’re not even close to being adults. It’s not just Trump, it’s Spicer (who actually should know better), Conway, Bannon et al. They’re rather ignorant and in that dangerous way where they’re ignorant while simultaneously believing they’re the cleverest guys in the room. This stupidity is written over everything, or near enough everything, they do. That point Kaplan makes about a crisis a day is evidence of this. They are unable to function as a real government, making it up on the foot, ill-informed, constrained by profoundly limiting world-views. There’s no gaming the consequences of their decisions, not a hint that they understand how those decisions, as with immigration control, can be subject to judicial and other oversight or over-turning. That last is also key. Any half-way serious administration would have been aware of how unprepared and underprepared the executive order was, how open to contesting. But not this one. Fired up on rhetoric and stupidity in they wade. And this is problematic because that rhetoric as the Guardian notes is now turned back against its source.
Trump’s long history of controversial statements, the court suggested, can therefore be used as legal weapons against him.
Kaplan’s last paragraph makes for sobering reading.
Trump is right about one thing: The world is a mess. He doesn’t seem to realize the extent to which his words and actions—his hostile messages, mixed messages, and sometimes the absence of a message where there needs to be one—are making it messier. He knows almost nothing about foreign policy. He has no foreign-policy apparatus, only a few Cabinet secretaries and some White House advisers, who have little experience running federal bureaucracies and who disagree on basic premises. In short, he has no foreign policy, but only a string of clichés about “America First” and “winning,” which don’t translate into substantive ideas or prescriptions for action. And he seems blithely unaware that he’s spinning aimlessly.
One doesn’t have to be a booster of the US to feel that the idea of it ‘spinning aimlessly’ is not an optimal one for this planet or its well-being. And that before we factor in just how reactionary the approach and attitudes of this administration are on issues that range from regional to planetary – Israel/Palestine, climate change, rhetoric interference in other states political decisions, and on and on. The anecdote about Trump talking to Putin about New START is telling. If Putin harboured any illusion that Trump was controllable in any meaningful way that likely has dissipated now (worth reading this from Reuters on that conversation). Trump’s ignorance is all and he starts from a position that the other guy is cheating him.
There’s a comment under Kaplan’s article that is oddly on the mark…
“I think Trump will make America a great power. Remember, we’re a superpower now.”
Some might think that would be no bad thing – it’s certainly open to discussion, but the processes by which that occurred aren’t unimportant and how it impacts elsewhere…