The Pres­i­dency Is Prov­ing Tough for Trump

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No Pres­i­dent-elect ex­cept per­haps Don­ald Trump him­self has been so ill-pre­pared for the Pres­i­dency. Then again, maybe the job is now so big no­body could ever do it well any longer.

Much of what the me­dia tends to fo­cus on th­ese days is over Pres­i­dent Trump’s sup­port of poli­cies few out­side of his shrink­ing base be­lieve in. Next to that is blame for what many see as his lack of pro­fes­sion­al­ism, con­sis­tency of pol­icy, truth-chal­lenged rhetoric and lack of ex­pe­ri­ence in lead­ing this spe­cific kind of or­ga­ni­za­tion. Be­cause of those fac­tors Trump is of­ten per­ceived and dis­cussed as hav­ing failed, if not as mea­sured by all in­de­pen­dent me­dia out­lets and po­lit­i­cal pun­dits then at least by more than half of them.

On some of th­ese grounds, those watch­ers from out­side the White House may be ex­actly right.

On those items Trump in the­ory could con­trol, such as in ac­tions for dead­lines he him­self set in ex­ec­u­tive or­ders he him­self cre­ated and signed, he is not do­ing well. Re­ports de­manded from within his own Cabi­net and the De­fense De­part­ment, ones that again – in the­ory – he could have co­or­di­nated with them so the dead­lines were prop­erly crafted and fea­si­ble, could have been on time. Yet ac­cord­ing to an out­side me­dia re­view by one out­let, only 23 of the 52 dead­lines Trump him­self has set – us­ing his own staff – have been met.

There’s the mat­ter of six dif­fer­ent re­ports re­lated to the Pres­i­dent’s or­der on Cy­ber­se­cu­rity, which re­quired 13 dif­fer­ent fed­eral agen­cies to re­spond by Au­gust 9. Only three re­sponded to a re­quest for in­for­ma­tion say­ing the re­ports were on their way.

In what was surely a higher pri­or­ity for the Pres­i­dent, an­other im­por­tant mile­stone which ties into Trump’s pro­posed immigration bans has been missed badly. The State De­part­ment, it­self man­aged by Rex Tiller­son, the for­mer Exxonmo­bil Chief Ex­ec­u­tive who clearly has some back­ground in run­ning large and com­plex or­ga­ni­za­tions, was sup­posed to have pub­lished a list of im­mi­grant and non­im­mi­grant visa is­suances ev­ery month start­ing in March. The first four months of data came out on time, but for some rea­son July’s re­port was de­layed.

The Com­merce De­part­ment’s plan to move to use Amer­i­can-only ma­te­ri­als for pipe­line con­struc­tion was sup­posed to be out on July 23. It also still has not sur­faced, de­spite its im­por­tance to the U.S. fos­sil fuel in­dus­try, an in­dus­try Trump and his team strongly sup­port, and de­spite con­cerns raised that de­mand­ing ‘Amer­i­can-only’ in this in­dus­try might sig­nif­i­cantly in­crease pipe­line con­struc­tion costs.

Trump also planned to ini­ti­ate sev­eral tar­iffs against other coun­tries, based on what he had la­beled as un­fair trade prac­tices on their parts. That in­cluded a tough re­stric­tion on steel im­ports, but it too has been de­layed, this time in part be­cause many U.S. man­u­fac­tur­ers want in­ex­pen­sive im­ported steel, and de­pend on it for the busi­nesses to be suc­cess­ful.

Trump’s early ex­ec­u­tive or­der made Jan­uary 25 re-

garded bor­der se­cu­rity, which de­manded in­creased de­por­ta­tions, build­ing of a bor­der wall and hir­ing 5,000 more Bor­der Pa­trol agents. Far from hir­ing more such agents, the to­tal num­ber of Bor­der agents has gone down by 220 peo­ple since the Ex­ec­u­tive Or­der was put in place.

There are sim­i­lar is­sues af­fect­ing Trump’s ob­jec­tives for putting in place:

A new pol­icy re­gard­ing Cuba, a sub­ject the Pres­i­dent had crit­i­cized Barack Obama for hav­ing been too ‘soft’ about

A study about pro­mot­ing ‘en­ergy in­de­pen­dence’ via a bet­ter-man­aged mix of en­ergy types than the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion might have wanted

A so-called mod­ern­iza­tion of en­vi­ron­men­tal re­view pol­icy, to stream­line de­ci­sions of this kind

A plan to over­haul Amer­ica’s in­fra­struc­ture, some­thing Trump had said much about dur­ing his cam­paigns and which also had much stronger bi­par­ti­san sup­port than per­haps any other part of his agenda.

In each of the above cases, all of them were items un­der Trump’s con­trol, or the con­trol of his cabi­net mem­bers. So – pro­vided he had ap­pointed the right peo­ple for the job in each case, and had au­tho­rized the hir­ing and struc­tur­ing within each or­ga­ni­za­tion to com­plete the work, Trump’s group should have been able to get th­ese done. He of course failed to de­liver on al­most ev­ery­thing since com­ing into of­fice.

Some of what Trump is hav­ing trou­ble with is a lack of ab­so­lute power in his role as Pres­i­dent. It is a com­mon prob­lem, one that most Pres­i­dents in re­cent decades have dealt with by ap­point­ing peo­ple with strong po­lit­i­cal or or­ga­ni­za­tional ties to the al­ready-ex­ist­ing in­fra­struc­ture.

One ex­am­ple of this from the re­cent past is Obama’s ap­point­ment of Ti­mothy Gei­th­ner, a for­mer cen­tral banker who many crit­i­cized as be­ing an in­sider, to run the Trea­sury De­part­ment in 2009 when the U.S. and the world were in the worst fis­cal cri­sis since the 1930s de­pres­sion era. Although the spe­cific ac­tions Gei­th­ner took also ended up wrongly pro­tect­ing many white-col­lar crim­i­nals who should have gone to jail over the cri­sis, Gei­th­ner’s ap­point­ment did at least en­sure that there was some­body at the helm with knowl­edge of the in­fra­struc­ture and pol­i­tics of such a big fi­nance job.

Trump did not do that for most of his cabi­net ‘hires’, in­stead pick­ing ei­ther cronies he al­ready felt he could con­trol but who were not qual­i­fied in other ways, such as En­ergy Sec­re­tary Rick Perry, or busi­ness peo­ple such as Rex Tiller­son of Exxonmo­bil to run the highly com­plex and in­ter­na­tion­ally-po­lit­i­cal State De­part­ment.

An­other type of fail­ure by Trump is the lack of con­sis­tent and clearly-stated poli­cies in each sit­u­a­tion. Trump him­self is such an op­por­tunist, want­ing to ‘wing it’ in the mo­ment, to be un­pre­dictable, that when it is more im­por­tant than ever to show pre­dictabil­ity in a big way, he tends to fail.

A third type of fail­ure is Trump’s in­abil­ity to grasp the com­plex­ity of world pol­i­tics, as well as its abil­ity to shapeshift in a mo­ment on both mi­cro and macro lev­els. It was never his strength and he has failed to hire those to sup­port him with the com­bi­na­tion of such knowl­edge, skill in in­ter­pre­ta­tion, and abil­ity to in­flu­ence the mer­cu­rial Pres­i­dent.

With those kinds of mis­takes, Trump should cer­tainly take a ma­jor share of the blame for fail­ing to lead ef­fec­tively on those is­sues. Where he could have co­or­di­nated bet­ter, he let plans get set by dic­tate rather than fore­thought. Where he could have lis­tened more, he chose to lec­ture oth­ers. Where he could have brought up po­lit­i­cally-savvy ex­perts to fill key po­si­tions, he of­ten brought in ones with­out the right back­grounds or tem­per­a­ments to do the jobs ef­fec­tively.

Be­yond those, how­ever, are is­sues such as are rep­re­sented by Trump’s in­abil­ity to get a new health­care plan in place to re­place what Trump had la­beled as the Oba­macare dis­as­ter, or to get a re­struc­tured tax code in place that Trump felt would make life eas­ier to op­er­ate and com­pete for Amer­ica’s cor­po­ra­tions.

In both cases, Trump did en­ter of­fice with strong sup­port from the Repub­li­can party, who them­selves were

en­joy­ing one of the big­gest and strong­est ma­jor­ity rules in both houses of Congress than for a long time. For both he also came in aligned with a Repub­li­can lead­er­ship as to what needed to be done, at least from a high level. Trump was also more than pre­pared to del­e­gate the de­tails of the re­work of the health care plan and the tax code to the very Se­na­tors and Rep­re­sen­ta­tives who had been clam­or­ing for this day them­selves.

Yet in the end, the Repub­li­can lead­er­ship failed Trump. The Repub­li­cans, who had spent many years com­plain­ing about Oba­macare and the tax code, turned out to be much like dogs who had chased af­ter a car bark­ing and, once they caught it, had no idea what to do. Nei­ther did Trump, of course, but then the specifics of the new plans for each were al­ways best han­dled by the so-called ex­pe­ri­enced ex­perts from within Congress. There no one was ready with a plan at all.

Part of what is bro­ken here is that in the mod­ern era, much of what seems to work most ef­fec­tively when cam­paign­ing as the ‘out’ party is to paint one­self mostly as against the ‘in’ party. That is part of why the Repub­li­cans were not ready when Pres­i­dent Trump took the helm and was more than will­ing to sign al­most any­thing they might have agreed on to­gether, just to check it off as be­ing done.

An even big­ger prob­lem in both cases is the in­abil­ity of the U.S. Congress as it is cur­rently man­aged to do ad­vance al­ter­na­tive-sce­nario plan­ning to get ready for pos­si­ble fu­tures. There should have been a ready al­ter­na­tive to Oba­macare when Trump ar­rived, just as there should have been a new tax plan pro­posal. Not only were nei­ther plans pre­pared, there had been vir­tu­ally no dis­cus­sion of what they needed to be.

What that did is left it to the Pres­i­dent, as seems to be the case cur­rently at least, to have to cre­ate pol­icy for both, sell them to the Amer­i­can peo­ple and Congress, and guide the poli­cies’ pas­sages through Congress. For Trump, this is one case where to be able to have the abil­ity to cre­ate those would have been a tough job for even the most ver­sa­tile, in­tel­li­gent, and skilled lead­ers, es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing the com­plex­ity of the sit­u­a­tions un­der re­view. Trump does not have that skill, granted, but it is un­likely that any­one else who might have made it to the Oval Of­fice – or will in the fu­ture – would have that skill ei­ther.

With the U.S. Congress so in­ef­fec­tive as a plan­ning or op­er­at­ing or­ga­ni­za­tion, this puts the Pres­i­dent in a ter­ri­ble bind. Thomas Jef­fer­son re­port­edly said that he and those who wrote the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion with him in­tended for the U.S. Congress to be in­ef­fi­cient, in part to avoid chang­ing po­si­tions too quickly on any spe­cific sub­ject. That may have worked at one time, but there now need to be ways to re­spond to a faster-chang­ing world that op­er­ates on a much big­ger scale than the ones even imag­ined by the Found­ing Fa­thers.

What we seem to be left with now is a po­lit­i­cal ver­sion of “We’re go­ing to need a big­ger boat”, the words Roy Schei­der’s char­ac­ter said in the 1975 movie “Jaws”. It ap­pears that the only way to govern now is to find some way to over­haul how the U.S. Congress does its plan­ning, si­mul­ta­ne­ously tied to a much dif­fer­ent way of staffing and or­ga­niz­ing the Cabi­net-level po­si­tions, and the vir­tual re­quire­ment of hav­ing a Pres­i­dent with a IQ in the strato­sphere. t U.S. Gov­ern­ment as de­fined in the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion may have fi­nally reached the point of be­ing com­pletely un­govern­able.

All that, for once, re­gard­less of his many short­com­ings, is def­i­nitely not the fault of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

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