Sooner or later in any administration, Casey Stengel comes to mind. The great Yankee manager, ending his career with the then-hapless New York Mets, looked down the dugout one dismal day in 1962 and asked, “Can’t anybody here play this game?” The answer for the Mets was no. It is the same now for the Trump administration.
Michael Flynn presides over a National Security Council that is widely seen as dysfunctional. Flynn, ousted from his previous job for an allegedly chaotic management style, has apparently not lost his touch. Now he has been accused of lying about whether he had discussions with the Russian ambassador about relaxing sanctions — before Donald Trump was inaugurated and while President Barack Obama was imposing new sanctions for messing around in our elections. In this administration, it seems, only the top guy is permitted to lie.
Reince Priebus, too, is under fire. The White House chief of staff is being criticized for the rollout of Executive Order 13769, which caught Cabinet members, Congress, the nation and foreign countries by surprise. It restricted entry into the United States from seven majority-Muslim countries. Demonstrations quickly erupted, and the courts intervened. In the end, the executive order may well pass constitutional muster, but nothing can surpass it in confusion, chaos and sheer cruelty.
Stephen K. Bannon, just recently of Breitbart News and now, suddenly, the White House’s top strategic thinker, apparently appointed himself to the National Security Council. From there, he wages battles furiously against the status quo in just about everything. A recent Time magazine profile of him reveals a fervid ideologue who thinks the next big war is just over the horizon, probably with the Muslim world. Back when he was running Breitbart, he said of Islam: “Our big belief, one of our central organizing principles at the site, is that we’re at war.”
Trump speaks before he thinks and, like some teenager with a phone hidden under the covers, indulges in name-calling via Twitter. In the presidential campaign, he publicly disparaged U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who was overseeing lawsuits against Trump University, for being of Mexican heritage. Now, he knocks a federal appeals court for upholding a timeout on his executive order.
None of this should be surprising. Trump’s genius as a manager is apparent only to himself. He is inattentive and dishonest. He insults rather than consults and has spent an inordinate amount of time at his golf courses. Already he has reversed himself on the one-China policy and has sent mixed signals about Russia. He trashes trade agreements as if ending them will reverse globalization, and he responds to complexity with tweets. He would deal with Chicago’s murder rate by sending in the feds. To do what exactly?
We wait in vain for the promised pivot. It will not happen. At the age of 70, Donald Trump is not about to grow up. He ran a dishonest and tawdry presidential campaign. He continues to disparage John McCain’s heroism and public service, characterizing him as a loser. In spirit, it is no different than his criticism of the Gold Star parents of Humayun Khan, who lost his life while serving in Iraq. Trump felt that while the Khans had sacrificed, so had he — in building a business. If there is a Guinness Book of Narcissism, this is in it.
It is not only Stengel who comes to mind. So does Richard Nixon. He, too, assembled a coterie of zealots who were itching to make (domestic) war on anyone and everyone. For a time, the old Nixon was forgotten. A new one was declared. Supposedly gone was the mudslinger of yore, the pol with the twitchy insecurities and a metastasizing inventory of resentments. But the old Nixon was always lurking.
In the end, Nixon had to quit. I believe Trump will meet a similar fate, but things have changed since Nixon’s time. The Senate, which in the end gave Nixon the fatal nudge, is not the institution it once was. (Where have you gone, Barry Goldwater?) As for the so-called mainstream media, it has nowhere near its old influence nor its old audience. Little works as it once did. Even the electoral college, designed to keep a Trump out of the White House, became the vehicle for his victory.
The remedy remains political courage — a determination, particularly by congressional Republicans, to reject the normalization of Trump and his ways. Trump will not change. The question is whether an opportunistic and supine Congress will.
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