I Will Not Suspend Reality

Photo: WhiteHouse.gov

By now it may be obvious I did not vote for Donald Trump for president. It should therefore be equally obvious I did not vote for any of his appointees to control the presidency, or parts of it, on Trump’s behalf. It gives me no solace that some of Trump’s appointees are considered somewhat competent. I did not vote for any of them, because they were not on the ballot. The choice was between Trump and Hillary Clinton and I chose the experienced candidate no matter how flawed.

It is important to make this point, because one month in to the Trump administration we are being asked by a growing number of political observers to understand that the way to survive the Trump presidency is to ignore Trump himself and concentrate on the good work being done by the sane people who surround him, and by the permanent federal employees who do the daily work of our government.

Yes, Trump cannot control himself. He will wake up early in the morning and use Twitter to get even with department stores, judges and war heroes, but that’s OK — we are told — because somewhere grown-ups are running things. Even Trump’s appointees were willing to contradict their boss in public during their confirmation hearings. This is supposed to prove to me everything is fine.

Pardon me, but this argument is not re-assuring, because to accept it means accepting as fact the premise that the presidency itself is not a job that matters and I know that is not the case. All power in the executive branch of our government flows from the presidency and at some point — even the most sober of executive branch employees — must answer to the president. So it matters that our current president continues to present as an unpredictable, uninformed, immature 70 year old who has no business being anywhere near the Oval Office, except for the fact that as voters, we put him there.

One month in, it is remarkable that the circle around President Trump has not expanded much. At a White House news conference last week with the prime minister of Japan, the first two rows of seats reserved for American officials, were filled with the familiar faces of the Trump campaign. Most of them with no previous experience in government. Their most relevant experience, placing them in that room as representatives of our government, was their willingness during the campaign to attach themselves to Trump and follow his lead no matter how unorthodox it may have seemed to half the country and the rest of the world. And now we are told, these are the people we must rely on to keep us safe from the president — a pack of yes men with no experience running anything as complicated as the U.S. government.

We are told again — not to worry — Trump has picked excellent candidates to lead the various government agencies and those appointees are doing their jobs. This might be helpful if it were true. The evidence so far suggests the power in the Trump administration resides at the White House not in the agencies. The controversial executive order on immigration was clearly not reviewed by the relevant agencies before it was rolled out, because members of the tight Trump circle, pursuing a yahoo agenda, believe they are in charge — they as extensions of Trump won the election — and agency leaders only exist to carry out their orders. Another reason to worry. Members of the Trump White House staff are not only un-elected they are not even subject to the scrutiny of the U.S. Senate.

Let’s not sugarcoat what is really happening here. Let’s not pretend there are grown-ups standing by to cover for Donald Trump. The truth is a handful of aides — no more than a dozen — are running the U.S. government right now based on the whims of a man who is not remotely qualified to show the way. Running the U.S. government with such a small group would be an impossible task for even a seasoned president surrounded by equally experienced advisors. The team in the White House right now is in way over its head, they suspect that is the case and as a result they won’t let anyone else in who may tell them where they are going wrong. Such outside advice is considered a sign of weakness in Trump’s world so the bad decisions just build on themselves.

Counting on the competence of others to survive the Trump administration is not a rational strategy. The country is being led by Trump and a handful of sycophants, which is to say no one is in charge. Choosing to believe in the power of unseen corrective forces is the same as closing your eyes and hoping for the best.

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