As we stumble along through Day Three of the government shutdown two phenomena should stun even loyal Republicans. Neither bodes well for the country.

First, the degree to which President Trump cannot be helpful in resolving a major government crisis and needs to be closeted away like the crazy uncle in the attic, is stunning, even after a year of Trump’s nonsensical statements and policy flubs. He really cannot grasp or stick to a position on immigration, so his own aides don’t trust him to do more than photo ops.

The New York Times reports: “The president was either unwilling or unable to articulate the immigration policy he wanted, much less understand the nuances of what it would involve.”

Far from a great dealmaker, at least in the context of government, he’s a clumsy giant big-footing his own side one minute and knocking over the furniture the next:

“There’s a real sense that there’s a disconnect between the president and his staff on immigration issues, and people on all sides are seeking to exploit that disconnect,” said Alex Conant, a Republican strategist who advised Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, one of Mr. Trump’s rivals, in his 2016 bid for the White House. “This is what happens when you have a president who is not clear and consistent on what he will accept: It emboldens all parties to take positions that they won’t compromise.” . .  . . Trump has demonstrated confusion over time about the details of immigration policy, including during a televised meeting in the Cabinet Room this month with lawmakers of both parties.

Whether it’s his desire to please whomever he is addressing, total confusion, lack of interest in the substance of governing or inability to focus (or all of the above) can be debated. The reality is that even worse than the Trump U swindle, the promise Trump as a businessman would do great deals was egregiously false labeling. If there is a deal, it will be because one was presented to him after others negotiated it. Michael Wolff’s portrait of Trump as a useless man-child marched around by aides seems have been on point.

The second and arguably more distressing phenomenon is the degree to which the Trump team refuses to separate partisan politics from the operation of government. It is as if the Hatch Act — which prohibits politics while on the job serving the American people — has been replaced by the Trump Act: Make everything a nasty partisan exercise and charge the taxpayers.

We therefore see the unprecedented sight of Vice President Pence making a political speech to the troops overseas. Foreign policy gurus, even Republicans,  as well as experience reporters blasted Pence for using the military as a political prop. It simply does not cross Pence’s mind nor set off alarm bells for his staff that a key component of civilian control and democratic governance is keeping the military apolitical. This is the clearest sign yet that the number of military and ex-military serving in high government posts is doing real damage to these pillars of democracy.

We also saw the press secretary issue this unseemly partisan harangue in the name of the White House: “We will not negotiate the status of unlawful immigrants while Democrats hold our lawful citizens hostage over their reckless demands. This is the behavior of obstructionist losers, not legislators. When Democrats start paying our armed forces and first responders we will reopen negotiations on immigration reform. During this politically manufactured Schumer Shutdown, the President and his Administration will fight for and protect the American people.” That statement was paid for with your tax dollars. In the absence of any ethical direction — in fact, they get misdirection — the staff imitates the president who does not believe the instruments of power (like the Justice Deparment and the FBI) aren’t “his.”

And we see the White House voicemail message converted into a partisan screed. “Thank you for calling the White House. Unfortunately, we cannot answer your call today because congressional Democrats are holding government funding, including funding for our troops and other national security priorities, hostage to an unrelated immigration debate. Due to this obstruction, the government is shut down.”

This is one reason why those in this administration should never work in the White House again. They have earned bad habits and abused their trust.

This is part and parcel of Trump authoritarian approach — L’etat c’est moi! The state is merely an extension of his own partisan, personal whims, not a public trust to be run for the benefit of all citizens. We’re not talking about setting policy; this is about use the taxpayer-paid machinery and resources of government for their own partisan uses. It goes hand in hand with bastardizing the truth by substituting political propaganda for objective data. (Cabinet secretaries worth their salt would never allow such chicanery; civil servants paid by the taxpayers should publicly object.) But this is the Trump era when fear and intimidation chase honorable people from government, ethics are disposable and partisan hacks rule the roost.

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