It’s staggering how many Trump administration scandals we’ve forgotten completely. Who remembers Ryan Zinke, the Secretary of the Interior who was let go when the Democrats took the House, because even the Trumpers knew his behavior would be unacceptable under even an ounce of oversight? Who remembers Scott Pruitt, the EPA head who wasn’t just taking favors from lobbyists, but was actually living under their roof? The constant deluge of scandal has been destabilizing through sheer volume alone. Things that would be litigated for weeks or months under the Obama or Bush administrations fly by in a day or so, because something even worse comes up. We’ve all got our most hated Trump appointee, for me it’s probably Jeff Sessions, but as the election looms, I think it’s important to try to look at the big picture. That’s what I’ve tried to do with here to support this project through Patreon. Please do reach out to us through Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, or our e-mail newsletter.
Video Transcript after the jump…
Hey there. The most important aspect of being president is probably hiring people. Sure, there are other aspects that matter, dignity, telling the truth occasionally, sounding sane on camera, stuff like that, but at root the job of President is assembling the team necessary to move the world’s biggest and most powerful organization, the US government. Trump promised he would find the best people to do this, but he found the worst. Trump has the worst people. When he can find people at all.
There are probably at least 5 million people who work for the federal government, in a number of agencies that nobody can even agree on defining. All we have are estimates for these figures really, because of the insane complexity built up over 250 years. To make anything happen in this absurd contraption, the president needs to hire thousands of savvy people, and all of these thousands of people need to be pulling in the same direction.
Trump has failed to even find the necessary people. The Washington Post tracks 776 key Senate comfirmable positions. Four years into his administration Trump has filled only 2 thirds of them.
Trump’s supporters have a series of excuses for this. They claim that some of these jobs aren’t filled for principled small government reasons. That’s ridiculous. To shrink government, you need to hire executives to fire people. But by failing to fill these positions Trump has created leaderless agencies full of well-paid bureaucrats and contractors doing what they were doing before, if they are doing anything at all. Trump claims that Democrats are delaying his nominations, but That’s absurd. The Republicans have had a majority in the Senate the entire time he has been in office. The folks waiting to be confirmed are so bad that even the Republicans, who live in terror of Trump’s Twitter feed, don’t want to consider them.
A more credible excuse for the hiring failure is the inability to attract talent, but that doesn’t reflect well on Trump either. His administration has been filled with the kind of pointless reality show chaos that scares away anybody who cares about their reputation or governing with basic competence. We can see this evolution playing out over what I think is two clear phases of his appointments.
The first phase was filled with figures who were respected, or even impressive, if a bit surprising. Trump had run against the extraordinary failures of the past 20 years, Republican and Democrat. He had railed against our endless wars, and the never fixed fallout of the 2008 financial crisis. So it was striking that he seemed to mostly be recruiting from Goldman Sachs and the US military. Trump ran against the Republican party, but he appointed a cabinet that was almost a caricature of the Republican swamp, filled with billionaires and energy lobbyists. These phase one people largely got everything they wanted and peaced out. They made sure the wars were going to last, gave themselves a big tax cut, and shredded a bunch of environmental regulation. And those were the good old days.
As bad as these folks were, in phase two things got worse. Mattis, the war-happy Secretary of Defense, was replaced by a series of representatives directly from Boeing and Raytheon, two of our biggest defense contractors. Tillerson, a disastrously bad Secretary of State, who at least knew a lot of powerful people from his time running Exxon, was replaced by Mike Pompeo, a guy dumb enough to fail at being a defence contractor, who seems to aspire to be a talk radio host instead of the nation’s top diplomat.
I could go on, but I won’t. In the last couple years Trump seems to have given up. Many important posts are filled by unconfirmable thugs, whose extended terms as acting heads of agencies are illegal. In a very real sense we don’t have a government anymore.
Trump’s favorite tool is the executive order. These things have gotten very predictable. They are usually on some culture war topic. They send people in the media into ecstacies of celebration or condemnation, depending on the ideological marketing segment. But then they go nowhere. Even conservative judges have trouble approving them because they rarely make much legal sense. And almost all of these actions are completely reversible on day one of a Democratic administration.
The Trump administration doesn’t really seem to know how the government works. Government is people, and it’s laws, and this administration has been too lazy and chaotic to figure out either. I really don’t want to see what another four years of this garbage might bring. So let’s not let that happen. There is already enough damage to clean up.