Trump Is the Boss From Hell

Last month Benjamin Wittes of Lawfare said the Trump maladministration is “malevolence tempered by incompetence.” Brilliant, and on the money, I think.

A lot of people have analyzed the actions of the so-called president looking for a grand plan behind the lies, schemes and general floundering around. But IMO the White House crew are more maladroit than Machiavellian. (See Sincerely, Niccolo Machiavelli: An open letter to Donald Trump, from the guy who wrote the book on power moves.) There may be a plan in there somewhere, but they’re too driven by their psychological issues, and too lost in their delusions, to make it work.

See also “Trump’s White House Is Falling Apart” by Jonathan Bernstein.

Nor is there any particular reason to expect things to get better, at least not without massive outside interference. And not just because the Russia scandal is hardly over just because Flynn is gone. The factionalized, inept White House remains just as dysfunctional as ever. Executive branch nominations have slowed to a crawl, with just one submitted since Feb. 1 — balanced by the withdrawal of the former selection for secretary of the army, Vincent Viola. They can’t find anyone willing to handle communications. Did you know they still don’t appear to have formally submitted the nomination of Sonny Perdue, the choice for agriculture secretary, to the Senate? Did they just forget? Who knows?

Then there’s an increasing obsession with leaks — Trump tweeted about it this morning. That’s a classic White House mistake. Things go wrong, and it triggers people (in the permanent bureaucracy, or from one or another faction within the administration) to talk to the press. A good president will use these leaks as sources of information — who is upset, and why? A poor president will circle the wagons, trying to keep knowledge of what’s happening within the administration within a tighter and tighter circle, which only serves to make those who legitimately are supposed to be part of the policy-making process even more upset, and the policy made without proper inputs even less likely to succeed. Guess which one Trump is choosing? Hey, at least on this he’s making a normal presidenting mistake, albeit one which helped cost Richard Nixon his presidency.

The worst of it, perhaps, is that hardly anything that has happened since Nov. 9 has been truly surprising. Look at the White House. The president of the United States has no government experience and demonstrated during the campaign only a very limited understanding of the U.S. government and public policy. The top players within the White House — Reince Priebus, Steve Bannon, and the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner — also have no government experience at all. Why should anyone expect that to work?

The Republican Party and conservative media will do their best keeping the Trumpettes propped up for a while. And genuinely dysfunctional organizations can stay in business for a surprisingly long time under some circumstances. I have seen this myself.

Trump actually could have a successful administration if he were surrounded by competent people, and if he allowed those competent people to do their jobs. I’ve seen that, too.

Many years ago I worked as an editor for a small book publisher being run by the founder’s son, and Son was something of a dweeb. He was a nice guy, actually, but not the sharpest tack in the box. Any project he got personally involved with was pretty much screwed. But for the most part (there were a few gawdawful exceptions) the managers and staff were competent people who effeciently turned out salable products. Over time, Son figured out that it was okay if he just stayed out of things and enjoyed his tastefully decorated office. He trusted his people to do their jobs. Many years after I left it, the little company was bought out by a bigger company for a nice sum, and it’s still around.

On the other hand, some years after that I went to work for another small publisher in New Jersey as their production manager. This is something I’d always wanted to do. By then I’d worked as a production manager — one of many — for departments within big corporations, but I thought it would be cool to run the whole show in a small company so that I could set up all the prodedures and do things My Way. I’d had tons of experience by then and knew my stuff, you see.

However, I found myself reporting to a vice president who had no experience in publishing whatsoever. The company specialized in books for lawyers, and this guy was a lawyer who was an old buddy of the owners. And this guy wouldn’t let me do my job. He micromanaged me to death and reversed my decisions. He wouldn’t allow me to follow sensible, cost-effective procedures, mostly because he didn’t understand them. I despaired that he would ever get out of my way long enough to allow any books to be printed and bound, so I left after fewer than six months and took another job with a big corporation.

The little legal book company went belly up at some point; at least, it doesn’t seem to exist any more. I see that their name and logo have been taken over by some law firm headhunters in California.

And then three years after I left the law book ccompany the corporation laid off my division, and after some thrashing around I ended up working for another small company as production manager. This was for the Dragon Lady, an honest-to-gosh sociopath. She had a lot of Trump characteristics, including the lying, the temper, the blatant cheating of vendors and clients, and the narcissism. (I was never in her apartment, but those who were said it was decorated by nude paintings of Herself.)

The Dragon Lady also was a micromanager. She didn’t trust any of us to be able to do anything without her watching. I knew I’d picked the wrong job when she discovered I’d met with one of the vendors to go over bid specifications while she was out of the office, and she hauled me into her office and screamed herself purple for 20 minutes. I’d been meeting with vendors for years and considered it part of the normal functions of a production manager, but the Dragon Lady considered any outside communication without her direct supervision to be something underhanded; to her, it was going behind her back.

And I was stuck in that job for a year and a half before I could find another and bail out. My year and a half was a record, I understand; some of her previous managers had left after a few days. I’d like to be able to say that her business went belly up, but I understand she sold it at a profit.

The moral to all this is that the worst boss, in my experience, is one who doesn’t trust other people to do their jobs; he has to be in complete control, even if he doesn’t know what he’s doing. And that’s usually because untrustworthy people are very distrustful. And when you put such people in charge, expect dysfunction.

I’m saying that if Trump were surrounded by old Washington hands with lots of experience, people who knew how to work the bureaucracy and interact with Congress, he probably could be as outrageous as he wanted to be and still have a successful administration. But he’s surrounded by toadies and True Believer ideologues.

The heart, blood and bones of a big, sprawling bureaucracy are made up of well-internalized procedure and deep institutional memory. Without those, everything falls apart. The people at the head can come and go, and they can change policy and steer the whole shebang into new directions. But if they are disconnected from the levels of bureaucracy below them, or if those levels are gutted out, the beast ain’t goin’ nowhere.

And everything that’s going on tells me the Trumpettes have no appreciation of the beast they are supposed to be heading.

CNN reported yesterday,

The administration of President Donald Trump remains largely unfilled four weeks into his presidency, with just 34 of nearly 700 key Senate-confirmed positions even having a candidate announced.

According to data from the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service hosted by The Washington Post, Trump has 14 officials confirmed by the Senate and 20 others are awaiting a vote, out of 696 top leadership positions in the administration.

Not a good sign. And they’re having trouble finding a replacement for Michael Flynn. For example,

Ret. Vice Adm. Bob Harward turned down President Donald Trump’s offer to be national security adviser Thursday, depriving the administration of a top candidate for a critical foreign policy post days after Trump fired Michael Flynn. …

… A friend of Harward’s said he was reluctant to take the job because the White House seems so chaotic. Harward called the offer a “s*** sandwich,” the friend said.
A Republican official told CNN that Harward made it a condition of taking the job that he could form his own team. In the end, he didn’t feel that was the case.
And a senior Republican familiar with the process added that “a question of clarity regarding the lines of authority” was central in Harward’s decision.

It’s also said that Harward bailed after seeing Trump’s unhinged press conference this week.

It turns out the cabinet heads are not being allowed to choose their own staffs, even though the White House is struggling to hire staff themselves. I understand a lot of Obama Administration holdovers still are keeping the lights turned on in the White House, so to speak. Some appointees are being un-appointed after back ground checks found they had written something critical about Trump. Only toadies need apply.

And stuff like this happens:

President Donald Trump this week abruptly dropped the nation’s commitment to a two-state solution for Middle East peace — without reviewing the specifics of his new strategy with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

State Department officials and Tillerson’s top aides learned about the president’s comments in real time, according to two sources with knowledge of the situation. Tillerson himself was in the air when Trump announced the change in the longstanding U.S. position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. At the White House, there was little thought about notifying the nation’s top diplomat because, as one senior staffer put it, “everyone knows Jared [Kushner] is running point on the Israel stuff.”

Jared Kushner being the 30-something trust fund brat who bought the once-respected New York Observer and turned it into a vapid tabloid-shopper before killing the print edition completely. He’s in charge of Israel stuff, not the State Department.

If Tillerson has any self-respect, he’ll resign before the year is out.

Update: See Trump, an Outsider Demanding Loyalty, Struggles to Fill Top Posts

It is not just the State Department that has no deputy secretary, much less Trump-appointed under secretaries or assistant secretaries. Neither do the Treasury Department, the Education Department or any of the other cabinet departments. Only three of the 15 have even named a nominee for deputy secretary. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has a deputy only because he kept the one left over from President Barack Obama’s administration.

That does not even begin to cover the rest of the more than 4,000 appointments that a president typically makes. In some cases, the Trump administration is even going in reverse. A senior political appointee at the housing department, who had already started the job, was fired this past week and marched out of the building when someone discovered his previous statements critical of Mr. Trump. The State Department laid off six top career officials in recent days, apparently out of questions about their loyalty to Mr. Trump.

12 thoughts on “Trump Is the Boss From Hell

  1. This disfunfunction may, if we are lucky, mitigate some of the damage our president can do. Of course, it likely will cause some big problems too. My hope is the Ledt can keep its head on straight, quit fighting the primary battles, and come out and vote this next election.

  2. Petreaus did the same as Harward. He declined saying he would have to pick his own staff before he would consider it. I wouldn’t want to work with KT McFarland and Bannon etc.
    Loyalty before competence.

  3. Be of good cheer and take heart in this rousing patriotic song by Henry Clay Work from 1866. It targeted President Andrew Johnson for his veto of a civil rights bill and a Freedman’s Bureau bill and for his obstinate opposition to the Fourteenth Amendment (the one that says the government cannot deprive us of our liberty without due process of law). Work is best known for “My Grandfather’s Clock” but this one also deserves to be remembered.

    Here is the second stanza and the chorus:
    Who shall rank as the family royal? Say, boys, say!
    If not those who are honest and loyal? Say, boys, say!
    Then shall one elected as our servant
    In his pride, assume a regal way?
    Must we bend to the human dictator? Say, boys, say!
    Chorus: No never! no, never! The loyal millions say;
    And ’tis they who rule this American nation, They, boys, they!

    Listen a couple of times and see if you don’t feel better!

  4. Pop quiz.. for 10,000 points plus a gold star. and a pat on the back.

    To whom is the quote —” I will always be with you.“— attributable to?
    A.) Jesus to his disciples.
    B.) Donald Trump to his diehard supporters.

  5. Putin must be laughing his butt off at the chaos in the US government he has facilitated with the help of millions of stupid, gullible Trump voters.

    We’re heading for Zimbabwe levels of corruption and incompetence.

  6. I haven’t read “The Prince” since high school, Tempus fugit, as they say.

    I guess I need to read more about the Gallic wars. As I remember, Vercingetorix was still in his thirties, a talented strategist, but, relatively unseasoned as compared to Julius Caesar. It was the siege and the rapid building of supportive infrastructure that got him at Alesia. Even so, he was able to summon a relief army of nearly 250,000 men, and he very nearly won. (q.v. horseshoes and hand grenades)

    True to our times, this current drama is unfolding at a rapid clip. For anyone with their eyes open, the corruption and incompetence are on full display. It is hard to find a fitting model, but, aside from the obvious faults with “running the government like a business,” there is the similar, but, more toxic model of running it like the mafia*. The difference is that the mafia model requires an even higher degree of loyalty, which would explain the involvement of so many family members.

    Maybe the most telling bit is about the nominations, Trump simply can’t find a sufficient number of soulless, loyal, sycophants to man his ship, even so he insists that his “finely tuned machine” is blazing forward. There is a description of Marc Anthony that I recall from “Plutarch’s Lives.” “He had that kind of blind ambition that caused him to march roughshod over the ruins of mankind.”

    My own quip would be that I find something heroic about the Donald. After all. not since Samson has so much been done with the jawbone of an ass.”

    *The article of the mafia form, might well be from a link that you provided. If so, my apologies.

  7. t-RUMPLE-Thin-Skin isn’t much enjoying being POTUS.
    Well, imo, since he wanted to be a cult leader – a political one – that’s understandable.

    People in cults aren’t allowed to question their Dear Leader!
    And who is THE LEADER?
    Why, HE!
    So HOW DARE the media question him, and not bow-down to his obvious superiority, like his minions and drooling, sycophantic t-RUMP-A-Loon-pa’s?
    And HOW DARE the Democrats not bend to his iron (I’m being ironic when I write this) will (his will is actually more like room-temperature Play-Doh – on a hot summer day, in a room with no air-conditioning)?

    Let’s hold out some hope that there’s a ‘Hale-tRUMP Comet’ coming closer to our Sun in the next few months:
    Then, maybe we can be rid of this inept but narcissistic sociopath, his brain-damaged, soulless minions, and the moronic white lemmings who see in t-RUMP something the rest of us in the real world just know ain’t there!
    I’d write a lost of what ain’t there, but it would take days.
    Besides, I’m sure you know what’s lacking in that old orange meat-sack.

  8. Trump is a tool to be used by both the alt-right nut cases he has gathered as advisors, and by the Republican Congress, who can’t wait to get started on their agenda of destroying everything we consider progress.

    Whether he’s the boss from hell or not – we will certainly see unprecedented levels of corruption and incompetence – but the main issue is going to be how useful a tool he’s going to be to the oligarchy that runs the country – can he deliver for them. If he becomes overwhelmed by the factions warring against him, or if enough of the public wises up to his agenda and turns against him then Trump’s days may be limited. Trump and the right will do anything to prevent the 2018 election from curtailing their power.

    My biggest fear, that I’ve mentioned earlier is that his incompetence and belligerance will create a massive crisis for the US, as other countries stick it to the bully. I believe Trump and his alt-right kooks actually want this to happen. The panicked and weakened public will go along with a “temporary” suspension of the rule of law, giving Trump de facto dictatorial power. I believe that the Republican Congress, facing a massive revolt from the public in 2018, will gladly go along with Trump, thereby keeping themselves in power. Everything is working toward dictatorship. The oligarchy would be just fine with this.

    Some side thoughts:

    The ACA is like a complicated piece of machinery, where every part is needed for it to work right. It never worked as well as it could, because many of the red states refused the federal subsidy to expand it to their poor. What the Republicans are doing is making minor tweaks and changes, which will cause health care costs to rise, making it completely unaffordable. They have no plan to replace it with anything, they’re just quietly making it self-destruct, so they can claim “See, government never works”. No one will be obligated to participate, and so this minimizes the complaints from those who resent paying into it. Only the sick who need it will complain, and well, it’s just culling the herd – it’s the Republican way, a feature not a bug. It’s a quiet way to roll the whole thing back. There will be so much chaos and disruption from other quarters, nobody will much notice the collapse of the ACA.

    Trump is a world class narcissist, but he’s not mentally ill, says the psychiatrist who helped define narcissism.. “He can, and should, be appropriately denounced for his ignorance, incompetence, impulsivity and pursuit of dictatorial powers,” Frances wrote. But, he added, “The antidote to a dystopic Trumpean dark age is political, not psychological.” He’s a “classic schmuck” says the shrink.

    Stephen Miller, the 31 year old twit who proclaimed Trump’s superiority over the judiciary a few days ago, comes from a very liberal environment, west side LA, where he was infamous in high school for his views. His politics are all about rebelling against the tolerance and multi-culturalism that was part of his milieu growing up.

  9. This is the third Republican president in my lifetime whose unstated but clearly implied campaign motto was “How hard could it be?”

    And who clearly stated that sure, he didn’t know what he was doing, but he’d surround himself with great, talented, capable people.

    It still hasn’t dawned on nearly enough people that if you don’t know what you’re doing, you probably don’t know who the great, talented, capable people are.

    But hey – it’s only been 40 years …

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