Consider the raft of ex-White House officials: Stephen K. Bannon, Sean Spicer, Reince Priebus, Anthony Scaramucci and Sebastian Gorka. None of them had governing experience, let alone White House experience. They all failed spectacularly, displaying qualities that are inappropriate to governance and lacking expertise, discipline and an appropriate temperament to serve in the White House. Michael Flynn had military experience but no White House or senior civilian service; his ethical lapses (e.g., not disclosing work for foreign governments, lying about contacts with Russians) arguably set in motion events that could lead to President Trump’s downfall.
Trump certainly exploited the notion that one doesn’t need expertise to serve in the West Wing — or any part of government. The experts were “stupid” and didn’t know how to make deals, according to him. Businessmen can show how to run things! Wrong. It turns out that knowing something about policy, understanding how Congress and the bureaucracy operate, maintaining one’s credibility and respecting the constitutional guardrails that make certain our president is not a monarch are essential to success.
In the Cabinet, likewise, arrogance, out-of-touchness and lack of political skill have undermined two of the most important secretaries. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s unwillingness to interact with employees beyond his tight-knit staff, dearth of media skills, lack of a sophisticated worldview (e.g., why we like democracies), slow pace and disdain for Congress render him ineffective and virtually invisible. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, worth nine figures and lacking any government experience, hasn’t a clue about how to deal with Congress. CNN reported:
House Republicans unleashed their fury Friday over President Donald Trump’s deal with the Democrats at Steve Mnuchin, with conservatives calling the treasury secretary’s appeal to them to “vote for it for me” insulting and inappropriate. Mnuchin, along with Trump’s budget chief, Mick Mulvaney went up to Capitol Hill shortly before a vote on the package, which included money for hurricane aid, a continuing resolution to keep the government open and a three-month extension of the debt ceiling.
Multiple House Republicans emerged infuriated and dissatisfied that they addressed their concerns that the deal wasn’t the right strategy to get some of the spending reforms they’ve been pushing.
It turns out — who knew? — that when the president has no idea what he’s doing and his senior advisers don’t either, the president cannot get his agenda through, ricochets from one scandal to another and winds up with historically low approval ratings.
Now consider two consummate professionals with long years of government service in administrations of both parties, who possess a clear understanding of how Congress and the press operate and have an abundance of competence and integrity. Former FBI director James B. Comey took his oath (to the Constitution) so seriously that Trump had to fire him, or tolerate an FBI director who would refuse to succumb to political pressure. Can’t have an independent FBI director! Then there is former acting attorney general Sally Yates, who did her job by alerting the White House as to Flynn’s misrepresentations about his Russia contacts and then refused to defend a de facto Muslim travel ban obviously premised on religious bigotry. She, too, couldn’t survive the Trump administration.
The pattern is not hard to discern. The unqualified riffraff Trump brought with him was/is not capable of doing jobs that are exceptionally demanding even for talented veterans of government. It’s not a good idea, after all, to appoint Tillerson to a post once held by Henry Stimson, George C. Marshall, Henry Kissinger and George P. Shultz, to name a few.
Business is business, and government is government. Sometimes public servants go on to illustrious careers in the private sector, but rarely does someone with no government experience nor subject expertise come in at the highest level of government and succeed. The government depends on experienced, knowledgeable and sober-minded public servants. We truly hope the rule of the amateurs and know-nothings is brief, and that the few experienced hands that remain (mostly military or ex-military men) hold things together until a fit president and an administration of qualified and competent people can be found.