A host of insider tell-alls coming from within the White House have revealed what we knew would be the case—Donald Trump and his minions don’t know the first thing about running the Government. Two weeks ago, the New York Times described an executive branch led by a lonely man wandering the West Wing in his bathrobe and staffed by “a surprisingly small crew of no more than a half-dozen empowered aides with virtually no familiarity with the workings of the White House or federal government.” Last Sunday, the Washington Post detailed how one of Trump’s closest “friends” first privately, and then quite publicly, told the president that his chief of staff, Reince Preibus was “in way over his head.” That same day, the New York Times reported that the National Security Council was in a state of disarray: “Three weeks into the Trump administration, council staff members get up in the morning, read President Trump’s Twitter posts and struggle to make policy to fit them.” Now, Politico and other outlets are reporting that Trump is considering a massive staff-shakeup less than a month into his presidency, and that aides like Preibus and Press Secretary Sean Spicer may be out the door soon.
Just last week, embattled National Security Director Michael Flynn was forced to resign amid allegations that he engaged in unlawful diplomatic discussions with the Russian Ambassador to the U.S. while Flynn was still a private citizen. Were that the only side to the story, it might not merit mention here. But what precipitated Flynn’s sudden resignation after months of speculation concerning his conversations with Russia about easing sanctions before he was in a position to officially represent U.S. interests was the recent revelation that not only did Flynn lie to Vice President Mike Pence about his involvement in the matter but that the Trump administration knew about the deception for at least two weeks and took no action. The disturbingly cavalier national security posture Trump took in appointing Flynn in the face of strong evidence that Flynn was compromised by Russian interests and then in keeping him after his active deception is concering enough. Why Trump didn’t take more decisive action simply as a matter of self-preservation, however, is thoroughly mind-boggling.
Much the same can be said for Trump’s handling of Executive Order 13769 banning entry into the United States from seven predominantly Muslim countries. The Order was hurriedly put together without input from the Departments of State or Homeland Security and was signed without consultation from members of Congress. The EO was so poorly thought through that the West Wing couldn’t decide whether it applied to green-card-holders, finally pretending that additional clarification from the White House Counsel that such persons were not covered actually held the force of law. Even the ban’s proponents have admitted that this process was haphazard. Though one would hope that the travel ban’s discriminatory purpose and monstrous effect alone would be enough for courts to strike it down, its incoherent drafting made it all the easier for the courts to swat it away.
If only inexperience, indecision, and incompetence were all. On Thursday, President Trump’s disturbing performance in his first solo press conference as leader of the free world laid bare the reality that the office would not affect the man. There will be no change to his fundamental nature, one that was painfully exposed during the seventeen-month campaign. At his core, Donald Trump is an ignoramus.
Consider for a moment a sample of some of Trump’s proclamations from the podium on Wednesday:
- “You know what uranium is, right? This thing called nuclear weapons like lots of things are done with uranium including some bad things.”
- “Let me tell you about the travel ban. We had a very smooth rollout of the travel ban. But we had a bad court. Got a bad decision. We had a court that’s been overturned. Again, may be wrong. But I think it’s 80 percent of the time, a lot. We had a bad decision. We’re going to keep going with that decision. We’re going to put in a new executive order next week some time. But we had a bad decision.”
- “No, I fired [Flynn] because of what he said to Mike Pence. Very simple. Mike was doing his job. He was calling countries and his counterparts. So, it certainly would have been OK with me if he did it. I would have directed him to do it if I thought he wasn’t doing it. I didn’t direct him, but I would have directed him because that’s his job. And it came out that way — and in all fairness, I watched Dr. Charles Krauthammer the other night say he was doing his job and I agreed with him. And since then, I’ve watched many other people say that. No, I didn’t direct him, but I would have directed him if he didn’t do it.”
- “I understand what you’re — and you’re right about that, except this. See, I know when I should get good and when I should get bad. And sometimes I’ll say, ‘Wow, that’s going to be a great story.’ And I’ll get killed. I know what’s good and bad. I’d be a pretty good reporter, not as good as you. But I know what’s good. I know what’s bad. And when they change it and make it really bad, something that should be positive — sometimes something that should be very positive, they’ll make OK. They’ll even make it negative. So I understand it. So, because I’m there. I know what was said. I know who’s saying it. I’m there. So it’s very important to me.”
There’s both a lot and absolutely nothing going on in these snippets. As James Fallows documented during the campaign, Trump speaks at a third or fourth grade reading level. He cannot concentrate or articulate a thought that’s both nuanced and coherent (and sometimes goes 0 for 2). But it’s much more than that. The United States of America has a fundamentally ignorant man running the country, and one uninterested in learning or improving. As the Times article on the travails at the NSC explained, Trump refuses to read position papers longer than one page including graphics. “The president likes maps,” one source explained.
This is not snark or smug superiority. There is a larger truth to these undeniable facts, and the point is this: there is hardly a difference between treating this president with the respect and deference normally accorded to the office than treating a child that way. Those scenarios are nearly equally preposterous and demeaning to those who play along. So, when the child-president throws his toys at the press and demands a second serving of ice-cream, should we patiently challenge him with tough questions about his playground escapades or dispense with the charade entirely?
This is not to blame the press for participating in press conferences and conducting interviews. After all, Trump does hold the immense powers of the presidency, and how else could we hold him to account? It is, however, to blame everyone who pretends that what is staring us in the face is not so, who contends that this is an acceptable president to be treated normally. James Mattis is responsible. Paul Ryan is responsible. Lindsey Graham and John McCain are absolutely responsible. And thirty years from now, when then-Justice Gorsuch hands down rulings on the limits of police searches of flying cars under the Fourth Amendment and sets profound legal precedents that will stand the test of time, he will still be the weak-willed man who shook President Donald Trump’s hand and thanked him for bestowing that honor upon him.
This president has no clothes. And those that accept an appointment from, pass legislation with, or applaud the decisions of this naked president become as ridiculous as he is.