In the last month, both the New York Times and the Washington Post have published exhaustive stories that take us behind the scenes of the Trump administration and into the mind of the president.
The Times’ account of Trump’s day to day battle to survive the politics of Washington, D.C. and the Post’s look at his views on Russia are heavy on detail, well-sourced and disputed only on a pro forma basis by the administration itself. Which is a long way of saying they ring true. They are not, in the vernacular of the president, fake news.
The Times reports the president watches many hours of cable television news a day, is obsessed with what people are saying about him and behaves like an addict when he drops out of the news cycle. More than anything, he wants to be noticed. He wants to be the center of worldwide attention. To Trump, there appears to be no greater sign of power than the ability to force yourself inside the heads of millions of people. He is everywhere. Unfortunately for the country, he is no where in terms of the job of president.
If you have served in a public office tied to a specific fixed term you realize the one thing you do not have to waste is time. The bigger the job — the more powerful — the less time you have to waste. Daily, the clock ticks and you pick and choose your battles to make the most efficient use of the time you have left. The goal is to avoid wasting time on petty issues so that you can have an impact on big ones.
It has been clear since January that President Trump has not learned this lesson. The New York Times has only documented it in a manner acceptable as a term paper. Since taking office it has been evident President Trump does not manage his time well. Every hour he spends watching television — whether it is one hour a day or 14 — is time he is not spending on the affairs of the nation. Every hour he spends composing Tweets, or relishing in the reaction to them, is time he is not spending on behalf of the American people. When he picks a fight with actors, athletes and Gold Star families — again the hour glass is running out and someone in the country facing an issue that requires presidential leadership is ignored.
There is a debate bubbling under the surface of American politics having to do with impeachment. Right now the consensus is that the president has done nothing Republicans in Congress would be willing to impeach him for, but how about doing nothing itself as a presidential misdemeanor that might eventually be considered a high crime ? If you showed up for work everyday and did nothing, would you still have a job? If the president spends his days watching television, and picking fights to ensure he sees himself on television, do we really need anything more than that to prove he is derelict in his duties? I know. Right now, the answer is that’s not enough.
On Russia, the Post’s reporting tries to get to the answer to the question of why President Trump seems fixated on President Putin and why so many in the administration have offered so many lies, or withheld critical information on Trump’s connections to Russia.
Put in its best possible light, it appears Trump — not unlike President Reagan — has a vision of a different kind of world than the one we live in. While Reagan was willing to imagine a world without nuclear weapons, or protected from them by a technological shield, Trump seems to believe that if he can forge a personal relationship with the Russian president, our two countries can be great allies and bring peace to the world.
There are many people with great expertise in Russian politics and history who would argue this vision is simply not reality, but let’s give President Trump the benefit of the doubt. During the campaign Trump asked, “Wouldn’t it be great if we got along with the Russians?” Wouldn’t the world be a better place? Whether you think it is possible, you have answer “yes” to both questions, because there is no doubt the world would be a better place if we had the same relationship with Russia that we have with Canada, or England, or France. (Setting aside the opinion those countries currently hold for our president).
If a strong alliance with Russia is President Trump’s goal he has done very little to build such a relationship. Going back to time management, if improved Russian relations were Trump’s goal he would use his time as president to make it happen. He would tell the country what he intends to do, he would sell Congress and the American people on the idea and then he would organize his administration to make it happen. But that is not what he has done. Instead, he has sought to ingratiate himself with the Russian leader by firing an FBI director looking into Russian interference with our elections, criticizing the FBI as an institution, denigrating the American intelligence community and dismissing the entire U.S. State Department as ineffective.
As the year comes to a close President Trump has wasted almost all of it. He appears to be on the edge of winning a huge tax cut package with questionable long-term benefits for most Americans. If it passes, the credit will go mostly to Republicans in Congress who have managed to cobble together a bill the president can accurately call a tax cut package and credibly call a legislative victory. That’s two wins for the entire first year if you count the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court as something more than a ministerial victory. The rest of the president’s time has been wasted on pettiness and unnecessary combat.
A few months ago a Democratic member of Congress said he had no choice but to try to work with President Trump, because “we don’t have a presidency to waste.” This member, understanding the importance of time management in elective office, was not prepared to waste his time reliving the 2016 campaign, seeking impeachment, or dedicating his efforts to obstruction of the president’s agenda. The president does not have the same appreciation for setting priorities. He is willing to waste his presidency on small issues rather than large ones. For all the wrong reasons he is much more concerned with what Joe Scarborough and Vladimir Putin think of him than what he can do for the country. We are left to wait him out and hope his misuse of the four years we have given him does not result in catastrophe.