Sidney Blumenthal has a long article at London Review of Books about the Trump family that’s worth reading. Among other things, there are details I hadn’t heard about Trump’s odious and dysfunctional relations and about his extensive ties to the mob and Roy Cohn. I just want to zero in on this part for now —
Trump’s business has always operated organisationally like a prototypical Mafia, with a tight circle of family, friends and flunkies, bearing little resemblance to a modern corporation. As Masha Gessen put it in the New York Review of Books, borrowing from the Hungarian sociologist Bálint Magyar, the ‘post-communist mafia state’ is ‘run like a family by a patriarch who distributes money, power and favours’. Usually, the ‘family’ is ‘built on loyalty, not blood relations, but Trump is bringing his literal family into the White House. By inviting a few hand-picked people into the areas that interest him personally, he may be creating a mafia state within a state.’
Here is the Masha Gessen piece, btw, and I may have more to say about it later. But it notes that while Michael Flynn was heading the Defense Intelligence Agency, a parallel power structure developed to keep the agency functioning. Government agencies don’t work like the Mafia.
The Guardian is reporting that Secretary of State Tillerson already is out of the loop. He’s not part of the Family.
Rex Tillerson began his first foreign outing as US secretary of state on Thursday, meeting counterparts from G20 countries in Bonn, but he has left behind in Washington a department that is severely weakened and cut out of key policy decisions.
Since starting the job two weeks ago, Tillerson, a former ExxonMobil executive, has soothed nerves at the state department by consulting widely with regional and country experts, but it has been hard to disguise the gap between the department headquarters at Washington’s Foggy Bottom and the White House where far-reaching foreign policy decisions are being made.
Senior state department officials who would normally be called to the White House for their views on key policy issues, are not being asked their opinion. They have resorted to asking foreign diplomats, who now have better access to President Trump’s immediate circle of advisers, what new decisions are imminent.
This article is worth reading also. Basically Bannon and Kushner are making foreign policy decisions and not even bothering to inform State of what’s going on, never mind consult with State. They must view the State Department as some kind of ceremonial thing.
Tillerson had previously assured Bob Corker, the chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, that he would have a free hand in choosing staff. He has brought a handful of personal aides with him but many of the state department senior staff either resigned or were summarily dismissed days before Tillerson arrived in the building, and there is no list of nominees to replace them. Given the time vetting and congressional confirmation takes, Tillerson is now facing many months of working with a severely depleted team of senior staff.
One suspects Tillerson is already regretting he left Exxon. Remember, the entire senior administrative team at the State Department resigned before Tillerson took over as Secretary. My understanding is that those positions, and similar positions at other agencies, are being left unfilled, because the so-called president and his team can’t be bothered to fill them. (Not that Tillerson’s choices were that great; he wanted to hire Elliot Abrams.)
Leaving key positions unfilled is one way of kneecapping the agencies and keeping them from functioning. They are less likely to form a parallel power structure to challenge the White House. Whether that’s the intention or just the result of family dysfunction I cannot say.