And the President may have found both in the man who seems destined to become the new Director of National Intelligence…
The Senate got back to business with a confirmation hearing for Texas Representative John Ratcliffe. It’s been an interesting road for Ratcliffe: Trump’s chosen him as his intelligence chief before, but then pulled back the nomination after Ratcliffe was found to have padded his resume. But then came the House impeachment proceedings, and following Ratcliffe’s fiery, near-blood-vessel-bursting adulation of Trump, things were hunky-dory again, and the nomination was back on. And the handful of Republican Senators who were against Ratcliffe’s nomination before, now at least seem willing to go along with it (the most common explanation being it’s better than having an “acting” Intelligence Chief, as the U.S. does now.)
Beyond the institutional friction implied in many of Ratcliffe’s answers (or non-answers), one of the more immediate concerns is his repeated downplaying of Russia’s intervention on Trump’s behalf during the 2016 campaign. You know who else likes to downplay that? The President. Even to the point of denying there’s evidence that it clearly happened; instead asserting all the “real” crimes were on the “other side”, including within the intelligence community itself. So what might that imply for someone running the nation’s intelligence apparatus heading into the 2020 Presidential election? Ratcliffe’s predecessor, Dan Coats (the most recent not- “acting” Director of Intelligence), didn’t have a problem pointing a finger directly at Russia based on evidence his people had gathered, and warning to be vigilant about a lot more interference to come. Coats also no longer has a job with Trump.
Anyway, we want to look at a broader picture today. And the problem is not that the President keeps appointing loyalists. All Presidents appoint loyalists. It’s part of the privilege that comes with being President. “You want to put your mark on it”, as Trump says. And if Presidents weren’t awake to this before (which they were) they certainly got an illustration of why this is so important in President Obama’s decision to bring James Comey on as FBI Director, despite the fact that he was a Republican. It was seen at the time to be “a strong statement about bipartisanship“, as the New York Times put it. And it might’ve turned out to be the worst decision of Obama’s presidency.
No, the problem with this President is not that he appoints loyalists, it’s that he appoints lemmings and bona fide lunatics. We think we’re being objective when we say that. Because sometimes even Trump admits as much: he does a lot of different, sometimes “sarcastic” stuff just to drive Lefties crazy.
And Trump, on a daily basis, makes it clear that a lot of his agenda centers around punishing people who don’t agree with him. Who better to carry it out than faithful executioners, either because of fealty to the President, or unwavering extreme Right dogma, or even beliefs emanating from the world of conspiracy theory that lies beyond that, in which the President so likes to dabble? Even if that implies taking actions that are nowhere close to being rooted in reason or reasonableness?
And recently, Trump’s been moving away a little from the lemmings, and more toward the lunatics. A decent example, we think: replacing acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney = lemming, with so-called Freedom Caucus Chief Mark Meadows = lunatic.
How are we making the distinction? Mulvaney, beneath it all, seemed like a decent guy, even though we didn’t agree with a lot of what he believed. He went about his job quietly. In fact, other than a few ill-timed and widely covered expressions of exasperation, you’d barely have even known he was acting White House Chief of Staff. Yeah, he impressed Trump by completely neutering the Consumer Financial Protection Board, but many other Republican administrations would’ve done that too. Meadows on the other hand, is an extremist and showboater, and is much more fiercely and personally aligned with fringe theory spouters and conspiracy theorists in the media and elsewhere. He does most things in the most zealous way he can. His ability now to refrain a little from taking stands that gain him the spotlight, since the President doesn’t like to share the spotlight, will be the key to his longevity.
And another tidbit about Ratcliffe: he’s also firmly supported Trump’s contention that former special counsel Robert Mueller was out to get the President entirely because of sour grapes, after Trump interviewed Mueller for F.B.I. director, but didn’t give him the job.
We’ve come to not mind Vice President Mike Pence = lemming. Once you get past all the daily toadyism (mixing metaphors, we know), he actually is pretty good at presenting information in a no-nonsense way (except for the toadyism). Actually, we think a solution for all the flack the media is getting for covering what often nominally turn out to be Trump campaign rallies, is to direct all their questions to Pence at all Coronavirus Task Force briefings. After all, he is head of that task force. But then they wouldn’t get their ratings. But that’s a separate issue.
It also may be a moot point now that Trump’s apparently on the verge of disbanding that very visible task force. Why? Because they’re no longer needed even though the virus continues to claim more lives each day in many places than the day before? Or the virus didn’t succumb to Trump and give him the “high marks” he wanted for defeating it, so now he’s moving on…?
Trump replaced economic advisor Gary Cohn who was as Wall Street as they come (which comes with its own brand of insanity), with Larry Kudlow = lemming, who spent most of his career as a professional cheerleader for Wall Street, particularly why people should always be buying stocks, and governments should always be delivering tax cuts to the wealthy. Now he’s a cheerleader for Trump’s cheerleading on the economy.
Trump hired economic advisor Peter Navarro because he’s a lunatic. A fringe economist best known for being a Chicken Little about China. And that’s why nobody—including the President—listened to him when he sent an urgent memo raising the alarm about Coronavirus pretty early on. “Peter sends a lot of memos”, explained the President.
Son-in-law and Senior Advisor Jared Kushner, who may gain even more responsibility if the Coronavirus task force is disbanded = lemming. Michael Caputo = lunatic. Trump recently put Caputo in charge of messaging at the Department of Health and Human services. (Which is like putting dirty-trickster-and-professional-rabble-rouser-and-convicted-felon Roger Stone in charge of messaging at the Department of Health and Human Services. Caputo used to be Stone’s driver.)
Look, this seems like a fun game.
But here’s why it isn’t: lunatics and lemmings do not have the makings of good managers. Lunatics make capricious decisions that often change with the wind, so the people working for them live not in fear, but dread. Lemmings can’t make decisions because they’re too worried about unintentionally countermanding one of the President’s capricious decisions that change with the wind, so the people working for them don’t know what to do.
Having lunatics and lemmings at the top undermines government, in everything from healthcare to intelligence, and sends sharp bolts of mistrust through the ranks of federal workers. And we won’t argue with Trump loyalist contentions that people who live in and around Washington, D.C. tend to lean Democrat. Our personal, anecdotal experience is more nuanced than that: the folks we know who fall into that category tend to be free-thinking and pragmatic, because they know the realities of what they’re doing, and how to get things done. Stop trusting those people, and/or the ability to faithfully execute their jobs regardless of who the President may be, and things start not getting done. And right now is not the time to be flying your Far Right freak flag. It’s time for the federal government like never before to act forcefully in the interest of the public good.