All in the Trump Family

Trump Maladministration

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.

Update: Inside Donald Trump’s White House Chaos

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  1. LongHairedWeirdo  •  Feb 16, 2017 @2:46 pm

    Just a note regarding the State Department being ceremonial, there is a long standing conservative and military disdain for State. I’m not sure *how* long standing, and I don’t know if conservatives or military folks drove it, but I do recall hearing stories of friction and some amount of contempt, for State going back a good many years.

    Some strain is expected; the military fights wars, State prevents them, and sometimes encourages us to back down from an easy military victory in favor of other goals.

  2. c u n d gulag  •  Feb 16, 2017 @2:47 pm

    After less than a month, I long for the days of W & Dick!

    Sure, they were evil and incompetent, but they at least gave the appearance of some level of competency. Who knew that Dick Cheney had gone insane, and Colin Powell would be a “Yes-man” since H.W. Bush left office?

    This bunch?
    It would shame a Russian Village Idiot’s Convention, back in the late 19th Century.
    Even acknowledged Village Idiot’s, take pride in their idiocy.
    And they would take one quick look here in 2017 DC, and go back home to work on “their game.”

  3. chris  •  Feb 16, 2017 @7:14 pm

    “One suspects Tillerson is already regretting he left Exxon.”

    He was scheduled for a mandatory retirement.

  4. Dickeylee  •  Feb 16, 2017 @8:43 pm

    I’m telling you what, it’s a well oiled machine, a huuuge well oiled machine.

  5. Doug  •  Feb 17, 2017 @12:07 am

    Shortly after WWII, my dad in the Army was stationed in Alaska. He was the only guy managing the flow of sporting goods from the mainland to ALL of Alaska. His CO asked for 2 more people to keep up and in typical military wisdom, was denied. He told my dad he was to work exactly 8 yours per day, 5 days per week. My dad objected that he’d never be able to keep up – and was reminded he was an enlisted man who had received an order from an officer. “Yes, sir.” Things went to hell and officers were getting skis after the season ended – and pissed. All complaints were sent to my dad’s CO, who explained that if his requests for enough manpower was denied, the army needed to specialize in checkers because the boards and disks were all they would get. In a week, my dad was in charge of 5 GIs.

    The point being, various agencies without leadership are not going to perform superhuman feats for Trump. They are going to sne memos for instructions to empty desks, which will be forwarded to the Trump appointees who have no idea what they are doing. And spectacular departmental failures will highlight the brain deficit. But it’s gonna be ugly for people who depend on those agencies.

  6. LongHairedWeirdo  •  Feb 17, 2017 @1:50 pm

    Doug, that’s a *great* story about good leadership. And I do hope there are good leaders up high and down low who will follow similar actions.

    One of the things I keep pondering is what led us to this? And one of the things that I think happened was that the GOP has been preaching simple answers for a long time, that people don’t realize that this is really difficult, really specialized, stuff.

    And part of it is, of course, the GOP couldn’t let their chance slip through their fingers. Except… this has happened before, over and over. They’ve been forced into defending the indefensible *so* many times. And it scares me, because when will they say “shit, we can’t keep doing this?”

    In the W years, they defended gratuitous warfare, nation building, lies, lawlessness, and torture. And the thing I thought was that George W wasn’t a Hitler. He wanted to be The Hero Who Brought Down Saddam, but he wasn’t going to keep conquering nations (at least, I didn’t think he would have). What scared me about the W years was, they were laying the groundwork to support a Hitler.

    And I’m not accusing Trump of being a Hitler, but I do feel that there’s no more daylight between “how Trump campaigned and won” and “how a Hitler could campaign and win”.

    “Folks, Trump doesn’t know what he’s doing, don’t vote for him, please!” would have cost them dearly, but it clearly would have been the right thing to do for the good of the nation. They refused to do that. When will be their breaking point? Or are too many of the inmates in positions of authority in the asylum for there to be a breaking point?

  7. paradoctor  •  Feb 17, 2017 @2:51 pm

    Trump is not Hitler. Nor is he Mussolini, or Stalin, or Mao, or Franco, or Pinochet, or Berlusconi. That’s the good news. The bad news is, Trump is Trump.

    Here are quotes from his solo presser that I shall treasure forever:
    “I am not ranting and raving.”
    “The leaks are real. The news is fake.”

  8. goatherd  •  Feb 17, 2017 @3:52 pm

    As LHW wrote, “the GOP has been preaching simple answers for years.” Yeah, that’s it. There’s a big payoff for people who have felt like the world is passing them by, for people who have talent and skill, but don’t do well in school, who don’t take tests well. They want to believe that the world in understandable, and that there’s a simple answer that has eluded all those eggheads who stirred up their self-doubt back in grade school. They see it as Occam’s Razor, but it’s a dullard’s shortcut.

    As for the repubs, Trump is giving them enough to make them go along for the ride and put a smirk on Paul Ryan’s face. If there is any justice in the world, they’ll trip themselves up. But, that’s still an open question.

    I caught enough of the press conference yesterday to be sufficiently astonished. It seems impossible that anyone could hear that and not walk away shaking their heads , muttering, “this can’t be happening.” But, humans seem to have a generous capacity for ignoring what should be slapping them I the face, if they have enough invested in their ignorance. (sunk cost effect) Sooner or later, it seems that capacity will wear thin, but, it might be too late by then.

    When I see how many people from Breitbart News surrounding Trump, I see a synergy of grifters, but, unfortunately with authoritarian goals in mind. Spencer and Gorka seem to be serious fascists. Someday we’ll see just who is riding whom, to power.

    Doug, was your father at Ladd Field by any chance? My folks were there during the war and for a few years after, with the Army Air Corps.

  9. Doug  •  Feb 17, 2017 @4:41 pm

    Goatherd – He did not mention which base, though it was Army. He had a legendary gift for acting on his instincts.

    In NC he had an office for his property management company in half a duplex. Across the street a red-neck kept a couple of pit bulls, trained mean. One day dad was on the porch and observed a stray puppy cowering outside the chain link fence while the pit bulls in the fence snarled and barked. The owner of the dogs in the yard saw the opportunity for blood sport and started to the gate. Guessing his intentions, my dad went into the office momentarily, returning with a 22 rifle. As the red-neck across the street was opening the gate, my dad hollered, “I will shoot your dogs.”

    The guy saw my dad with rifle in hand and blustered, “Why? Is that your dog?” nodding in the direction of the pup. “Nope. But I can shoot both your dogs before they get to him.” The red-neck was unhappy and threatened, “I got a gun in my house.” My dad’s reply was epic, and sincere. “Well, go GET IT!”. The moron disappeared into his house and my dad waited a few minutes in case he was willing to make good on his threat. The pup had made his escape and my dad and no more action forthcoming, returned to his work.

  10. grannyeagle  •  Feb 17, 2017 @10:14 pm

    Doug: I think I like your dad!!

  11. aj  •  Feb 17, 2017 @10:40 pm

    Since 1980 republicans have preached that government is evil wasteful inefficient because it is not run like a business. Well look at this white house:competence is not valued, knowledge is not valued, only cocksucking loyalty and publicly lying in favor of the boss. Business is often not run well, and business is not producing a product that government has to produce. Government, at least ours was, is designed to be responsive to the populace. Business does not have that problem. They can produce PR about themselves that is whole crap. Unfortunately large swaths of the population unquestioningly have bought into the assumption that business is the end all be all. So this is what you get when you elect business.
    This president in particular, born rich , unaccountable for anything in his life, respects no one, has no boundaries, never had to be an employee, never had to answer to a board, a shareholder, nada. So yesterdays’ experiment in bloviation is not really a surprise in any way. Trump is incapable of realizing that telling Flynn to tell the Russian ambassador” don’t worry we will fix it” is wrong, or that lying to Pence and the FBI about it is wrong, or that Yates was right to warn of Flynn’s being vulnerable to being compromised, or for that matter, telling everyone to go buy Ivanka’s products or complaining about ethics rules is wrong. The other day when told of a Texas state senator who wanted to change the law on forfeiture for only those convicted( not charged) his response was ” what’s his name , can we ruin his career?” In his mind it is all perfectly acceptable to act like a mafia don. Just as a don wants his men to compete for favor and not trust each other, Trump wants his staff to do the same.

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