Widgets Magazine


Our so-called administration

Last week, President Donald Trump gave his address to a joint session of Congress and garnered immediate critical acclaim for being, as the “Washington Post” puts it, “surprisingly presidential.”

Of course, in typical Trump-ian speed, this honeymoon period lasted all of two days before Jeff Sessions was revealed to have perjured himself — but that’s another story for another time. Of course, for someone like Trump, acting presidential for any amount of time is a profound accomplishment, but in our singular focus on any minutia of Trump acting like the president, we have ignored something even more important — when is the Trump administration going to start acting like an administration?

In our (understandable) desire to paint Trump as a buffoon, we seem to forget the fact that there is supposed to be an entire administration of supposedly capable people whose entire jobs are to assist and counsel him and prevent him from consistently making a fool of himself. And, so far, it appears that this administration is failing even more than Trump himself is.

Take the Sessions scandal, for example. On the morning of March 2, Sessions voluntarily offered to recuse himself from ongoing investigations about Russia. But this did not stop White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer from declaring, on the contrary, that “there’s nothing to recuse himself [from]” a mere hours later. Then, at 2:30 p.m., hours after Spicer’s statement, Trump parroted Spicer and personally expressed “total” confidence in Sessions. But, not an hour after this, Sessions called a press conference where he announced that he would recuse himself. And, to top it all off, word leaked that Trump was apparently furious that Sessions did recuse himself.

The conflicting messages, especially the fact that they are being broadcast in such close proximity to one another, indicates a grotesque level of incompetence. The amount of conflict within the Trump administration is, simply put, astounding. The presidential administration is referred to as such — that is, as a singular unit — because it’s supposed to function like one. Here, however, this so-called administration is the exact opposite. In fact, it more closely resembles two small children trying to lie to their parents, both of  whom can’t get their alibis straight.

And it’s not as if this was some one-off incident. In what can only be characterized as an incident of déjà vu, former national security advisor Michael Flynn, the previous Trump administration official beleaguered for his Russia ties, resigned a mere 7 hours after the administration defiantly declared that Flynn had Trump’s “full confidence.”

But, at least these messages, conflicting as they might be, were voluntarily put out by the administration, because most of the information we get about the Trump team now comes from leaks. As Vox points out, “the worst things [we’re reading] about Trump [are coming] from his own aides.” And, indeed, the leaks are so frequent that even news about the meeting Sean Spicer called to try to stop the flow of leaks was almost immediately leaked. The fact that there is such an alarming willingness of insiders to leak information indicates a tremendous amount of unrest and disunity within the administration (which would explain the conflicting messages). The administration’s utterly fruitless attempts to curb these leaks, once again, point to an alarming level of incompetence and disorganization.

But, that last point is also not surprising given that the Trump administration is painfully understaffed. As of the end of February, there are still nearly 2,000 positions left unfilled, not because of Democrats blocking nominations, but because Trump has failed to nominate anyone at all. That number becomes even more disturbing when one examines the details. For example, of all the hundreds of countries of the world, Trump has currently nominated ambassadors for just six (China, Israel, the U.K., Congo-Brazzaville, Guinea-Bissau and Senegal), which would be less worrisome if Trump hadn’t also dismissed all of the Obama-appointed ambassadors upon taking office. (So, yes, there has not been a U.S. ambassador to, say, France, for almost three months.)

These criticisms don’t even touch on any disagreements on policy issues. We are past that at this point. The simple fact of the matter is the Trump administration is in such disarray that even with all policy and partisan considerations aside, it is still failing on account of objectively lacking a basic level of bureaucratic competence. And, frankly, that itself should be disqualifier enough for the Trump administration.


Contact Terence Zhao at zhaoy ‘at’ stanford.edu.