Sunday, September 3, 2017

Insubordination in the Trump Administration

The good news is that President Trump did not surround himself with a bunch of toadies and flacks. At least, for the most part he didn’t.

He surrounded himself with generals, with CEOs, with people who have considerable executive and managerial experience. As everyone knows, their first task has been to manage the president himself.

Some Trump supporters insisted in the months preceding the election that a business executive would bring executive management and leadership skills to the White House. Their voices have fallen silent of late. The world has discovered that Trump is markedly deficient in executive and management skills. His White House is anything but a well-run organization. Hiring John Kelly as chief of staff admitted the obvious point.

And while Trump has hired some very good people for very senior posts, he has put a twenty-something pal in charge of White House communications and listens intently to the advice of Omarosa Manigault. Evidently, Trump insists on running his own communications operation, often through his Twitter feed.

By now, he has convinced the vast majority of the American people, including his own supporters, that he should shut down his Twitter account. At some point the president has to understand that he needs to look presidential. Today, in face-to-face matchups, he is losing to Elizabeth Warren in the blue midwestern states that gave him the election.

We recall when Barack Obama declared that he was the best at all the jobs that involve the presidency, including political strategy and communication. Apparently, Trump believes the same thing… and acts on it.

We will not mention the simple fact that Trump does not possess the knowledge of experience to provide leadership on any significant policy issues. When Congress was addressing the Obamacare repeal, Trump could not provide any leadership. He did not understand health care and did not understand the Congressional procedure. This does not obviate the fact that Congressional Republicans were responsible for not having a plan-- after promising one for seven years-- but weak non-leadership in the White House did not help.

Nor did it help that Trump insulted many Republicans during the primary season. Like it or not, his attitude toward John McCain cost him the Obamacare repeal. 

Be that as it may, Rich Lowry recently made an important point. Important for those who study executive leadership and management. 

The generals and CEOs that Trump hired cannot be fired. Beyond that, none of them seem to respect their leader. Many frankly insubordinate, and Trump can do nothing about it.

Lowry wrote:

Donald Trump told us that he’d hire the best people. He didn’t mention that he’d be unable to fire them.

The president is experiencing a bout of insubordination from his top officials the likes of which we haven’t witnessed in the modern era. It’s not unusual to have powerful officials at war among themselves, or in the presidential doghouse. It’s downright bizarre to have them publicly undercut the president without fear of consequence.

The new measure of power in Washington is how far you can go criticizing the president at whose pleasure you serve.

For instance:

First, it was chief economic adviser Cohn saying in an interview that the administration — i.e., Donald J. Trump — must do a better job denouncing hate groups. Then it was Secretary of State Tillerson suggesting in a stunning interview with Chris Wallace of Fox News that the rest of the government speaks for American values, but not necessarily the president. Finally, Secretary of Defense Mattis contradicted without a moment’s hesitation a Trump tweet saying we are done talking with North Korea.

We are not talking, Lowry continues, about deep state bureaucrats who are leaking information. We are talking about public actions that suggest disrespect. Many important figures in the administration are doing what they want to do, not what administration policy is. In some cases the policy has barely been outlined, anyway. They are suggesting that the administration is leaderless.

It shows Trump’s weakness:

The fact that this hasn’t happened is an advertisement of Trump’s precarious standing, broadcast by officials he himself selected for positions of significant power and prestige. This isn’t the work of the deep state, career bureaucrats maneuvering or leaking from somewhere deep within the agencies. This is the shallow state, the very top layer of the government, operating in broad daylight. Trump, of course, largely brought this on himself. He is reaping the rewards of his foolish public spat with Jeff Sessions and of his woeful Charlottesville remarks.

Lowry hypothesizes that Trump brought this about with his absurd public denunciations of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. As soon as he started bashing Sessions, friends of Sessions, especially in the Senate, stood up for the Attorney General and shut Trump down. This made it appear that Trump was more bark than bite. But it also showed him to be disloyal to his most loyal supporter, and thus, not deserving the loyalty of his team:

By publicly humiliating his own attorney general, Trump seemed to want to make him quit. When Sessions stayed put, Trump didn’t fire him because he didn’t want to deal with the fallout. In the implicit showdown, Sessions had won. Not only had Trump shown that he was all bark and no bite, he had demonstrated his lack of loyalty to those working for him.

For now, the markets care deeply about Gary Cohn. They see him as a stabilizing factor. Some market watchers have suggested that of Cohn leaves, the markets will tank. As for Tillerson, he is apparently working on draining the swamp of the State Department, but when it comes to foreign policy, he seems lost. As for Mattis… he is so widely respected, in the Pentagon and around the world, that firing him is unthinkable.

Lowry explained:

“Globalist Gary,” as his Trumpist enemies style him, is invested with considerable market power, more than any political official besides the president himself. Tillerson is eminently replaceable, but his immediate sacking would be too destabilizing. If Mattis were to leave, it would cause a freak-out on Capitol Hill and around the world.

How does Mattis see Trump? Glad you asked. Lowry answers:

Mattis and Co. obviously consider themselves the president’s minders more than his underlings. But the least they could do is not air this patronizing attitude. They are impressive and accomplished people, but no one elected any of them president of the United States. They don’t do the country any favors by highlighting Trump’s weakness and by making it obvious that the American government doesn’t speak with one voice.

Minders? Think about that. They are acting like they are dealing with a child!

Nothing good can come from top officials of the U.S. government making it obvious that they believe, to borrow Tillerson’s phrase, that the president speaks for himself — and no one else.

So, Trump does not seem to know how to provide executive leadership. The issue is, does he know that he is failing and flailing? He is certainly not the only president who did not know how to lead or to manage. But he is one of the few who does not seem to know that he does not know… and thus who keeps advertising his inadequacy.


James said...

I disagree. Everyone seems to be at least subconsciously comparing him to prior administrations and that is not what he's about. It's too early to expand on this (mercifully for you and your readers), but he and all his efforts are something completely different and have to seen in that light. Or I could be completely wrong, back to the "Stool of Silence"!

Ares Olympus said...

Stuart: Minders? Think about that. They are acting like they are dealing with a child!

Indeed, very similar realty I'm sure to Kim Jong-un, except for the fact he can have anyone executed on a whim. But probably the attitude is the same... how can we keep this man-child distracted while we run a government?

Stuart: The issue is, does he know that he is failing and flailing?

We're back to the "External self-awareness" question from a few months back, or the Dunning–Kruger effect as well.

What sort of person promises on the economy "I alone can fix it" and later marvels "Nobody knew health care could be so complicated." and remember how Netanyahu humored Trump when he said "Maybe peace in the middle east is not as difficult as people have thought?"

Is it even possible to be a serious person in his presence and not feel complete contempt for his entire being?

Sure, billionaires can be clueless, and can have all their errors of judgment covered over by creative bookkeeping, and so perhaps with the entire wealth of the most powerful nation on earth available to be squandered, a man-boy king can thrive in a bubble where he's the hero in his own story. If only the "fake media" could be eliminated, Trump could have his echo chamber complete. North Korea can be our teacher.

Ares Olympus said...

p.s. In defense of James' "too early to expand" Scott Adams delivers a prediction, apparently the logic is similar to George Bernard Shaw's "The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man."
Watch in awe as the anti-Trump coverage grudgingly admits things are starting to look more professional and “disciplined” at the White House. And as the president’s accomplishments start to mount up, you will see his critics’ grudging acceptance of his effectiveness, but not his policy choices. ... By year-end, expect “Effective, but we don’t like it.”

I don't believe it, but I do see Trump's power is his chaos itself, his lack of holding any fixed points of view, but his willingness to surprise all sides at any moment. So Trump himself doesn't need to solve anything himself, doesn't ever have to be liked or admired by all, even if that's his goal. He's merely the stressor that forces neglected issues out in the open, including racism. Sometimes things have to look worse before they can get better again, even if the "better" happens post-Trump.

Sam L. said...

I'm taking the wait-and-see position.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you...The writer just doesn't get Trump. I was not a Trumper but am mostly happy with his accomplishments...which one will never hear of unless one seeks them out. Our political class has been SO AWFUL for SO we even have the ability to judge so harshly Mr. Stuart? And every morning I wake up wondering...from whence does this burble of joy come from? Oh yes! Hillary is not president!

Anonymous said...

Yes, so unlike the previous president, who got the oceans to cease their rise ane got the planet to start to heal. Plus we could all keep our plans and our doctors.

Odd, isn't it, that an incompetant fool managed to become a multi-billionare and managed to get elected, beating 16 other professional politcians and the 98% sure-thing Hillary.