During last year’s primary, my father told me that he wasn’t too concerned about Trump, because like all other presidents, he would surround himself with smart, knowledgeable people. I assume that Charles Krauthammer was saying this. Whenever my father has what seems like a thought-out political opinion, it usually means he is just channeling Krauthammer. (To get an idea of what I think of the
hypocrite man, read, Republicans Are in the Majority Again — So Krauthammer Is Against the Filibuster Again.) It was a hard argument to counter at the time. I did, but I doubt that it meant much. Today, it is impossible to deny: the Trump administration is as incompetent as he is.
Perhaps if Trump had any experience in the government at all, he might have surrounded himself with nominally competent people. But the truth is that Trump ran a campaign that everyone who knew anything about politics told him should have resulted in his resounding loss. Instead, he’s now President of the United States. As I like to remind people: the only real job of a politician is to get elected and to win re-election. Trump has won election, despite being a total nightmare in every way imaginable. Why should he run the country in any other way?
Why Should Trump Change?
That, in fact, was the argument I made at the time: why should he change what worked for him so well in the primary once he became president? There was a comeback to that, which my father used: presidents always have. Of course, that’s not even true. It’s just that people in the United States have developed what I call casual cynicism. They’ve come to accept the unqualified as a give.
So when Obama, for example, made Eric Holder attorney general, it was no big deal. Holder had spent his entire career defending the very people who brought us the Great Recession. No problem! The same thing was true when Obama made Mary Jo White head of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). But at least you could count on Obama to nominate lawyers to do work involving the law. Going back to Reagan, Alan Greenspan may have been a wacky pick for Fed chair, but at least he was nominally an economist.
Trump doesn’t care about any of that. And can we blame him? If Mary Jo White can head the SEC, why can’t Betsy DeVos be the Secretary of Education? Just because White had the superficial credentials to head the SEC didn’t mean she would actually do the job. How is it a big deal that DeVos wants to destroy public education when it wasn’t a big deal that Obama put a woman in charge of policing the securities industry that the securities industry itself would have picked?
Incompetent Is as Incompetent Picks
The only thing that is different is that Trump has surrounded himself with people who are so incompetent that they won’t even be good at doing the evil things that they want to do. That doesn’t mean that they won’t do terrible damage. They will! But there isn’t anything categorically different in what Trump is doing compared to what Obama did. In fact, the administrations of the two men are totally in keeping with who they are.
Obama surrounded himself with smart, nominally competent people who didn’t see anything fundamentally wrong with the nation. Given that they were both fully vested in the status quo, their competence didn’t matter that much. After all, they headed institutions that were filled with competent people who knew how the job used to be done.
Trump has surrounded himself with dull, incompetent people who see fundamental problems with the country. Of course, the fundamental problems they see are mostly pure fantasy. But they do want to do something about these problems. Mostly, however, the courts and Congress will stop them from doing anything important unless it involves giving more money to the rich.
In this way, we should be grateful to Donald Trump. A regular Republican would have surrounded himself with people who would have been better at furthering their evil plans. Trump isn’t getting that, as we have already seen with the Muslim travel ban. If Trump had an Obama-level crew, the ban might have been finessed to the point where it was legal. In this case, at least, incompetence trumps villainy.
The Down Side of Republican Incompetence
The place where this will all matter will be in the event of a catastrophe. And this will be the case. There will be lots of “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job” moments under Trump — both big and small. And the villainy of Trump’s (and the entire Republican Party’s) plan will cause untold damage to the people of America and the world.
But there was never any question but that Trump would surround himself with people as dull and incompetent as he is. How could it have been otherwise? How could a man of Trump’s towering incompetence tell the difference between the competent and the incompetent?