As much as his outrageous tweets and attacks on opponents, President Trump’s personnel picks define his presidency. And that’s bad news for him and the country.
CNN reports that Trump’s treatment of Attorney General Jeff Sessions provoked some soul-searching by Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson:
For weeks, conversations with Tillerson friends outside of Washington have left the impression that he, despite his frustrations, was determined to stay on the job at least through the end of the year. That would allow time to continue efforts to reorganize the State Department and would mean he could claim to have put in a year as America’s top diplomat. But two sources who spoke to CNN on condition of anonymity over the weekend said they would not be surprised if there was a “Rexit” from Foggy Bottom sooner than that.
Tillerson was never the right man for the job, despite the somewhat inexplicable recommendations he received from former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, former secretary of defense Robert Gates and former national security adviser Stephen Hadley. He had no diplomatic or government service, and no real feel for a very public job that requires interaction with the media. He never seemed to grasp the role of values in American foreign policy, nor demonstrate an appreciation for the role of Congress in oversight. Perhaps no one could have succeeded in the job, but it was apparent to many of us from the start that Tillerson was an ill-conceived choice.
Then there is Jared Kushner, the president’s unprepared and underwhelming son-in-law. Whether one believes him or not on the subject of cooperation with Russian officials, his written and verbal defense of his series of badly conceived meetings with Russian officials and failure to report them as required by his security clearance application reveal a callow young man, too arrogant to seek advice and too unsophisticated outside New York real estate circles to be entrusted with such daunting responsibilities. The notion that the president has entrusted him with Middle East peace, relations with Mexico, government innovation, China talks and criminal-justice reform was always silly; now it seems downright ludicrous that anyone (other than a relative) would find him seasoned enough for one, let alone all, of these jobs. Trump’s reliance on his family, again as many anticipated, has led to not only massive conflicts of interest but also a level of incompetence rarely seen at the highest level of government.
Moving along to Trump’s press operation, the president has gone from a language-challenged press secretary with no White House experience to a slick New York operator with no White House experience. The well-intentioned suggestion that Trump might find someone respected by the media and sophisticated in the ways of government now seems like a pipe dream. Trump wants yes-men and slick spinners like himself; expertise and credibility are not requirements but rather handicaps.
The hope that a business figure who reinvented presidential campaigning might have access to a talent pool filled with figures who could bring new expertise and insights to government was always fanciful. Trump defines success in terms of money and demands absolute loyalty. He lacks any interest in policy and therefore sees no need for policy experts. His narcissism prevents him from getting those more knowledgeable and sophisticated than he to serve. Those with high ethical standards were hard to lure into government.
So he surrounds himself with his pampered children, fellow billionaires and a hodgepodge of sycophants. And the replacements for these people will likely be worse than the originals now that we know what working in the Trump White House is all about (lawyering up, for one thing). Hence, we get the least competent administration in modern memory. When you have the worst president in history, naturally you get the worst administration in history.