Trump Can’t Govern

The following article by John Stoehr was posted on the US News and World Report website February 28, 2017:

I’m on record saying I believe President Donald Trump is a threat to democracy. The waves of antisemitism crashing around the nation are sufficient evidence, as are the president’s repeated attacks on the press, the courts and democratic norms.

While we should be vigilant, I’ve been thinking: Are we seeing fascism where there is first plain ordinary incompetence? This may be a moot distinction since one thing can beget another, but in terms of a communication strategy, it’s important to understand what’s going on. This White House talks a good game. It has crowed about the return of “alpha males.” But when it matters, it chokes.

More than exposing Trump for his white nationalist sympathies, the best way forward may be stressing what’s emphatically evident: Trump can’t govern.

This president sold an image of himself as a billionaire businessman who knows how to get things done. He hires the best people. He has the best words. He knows the system better than anyone. He said: Vote for me and I will bring real change.

But after more than a month, it’s clear the Trump administration is broken. It’s equally clear the public is noticing. The president’s popularity has sunk to historic lows. His White House has lurched from one trumped up crisis to another. It leaks like a sieve. Aides can’t corral Trump in person, so they corral him through the media. His executive orders have been a mix of pixie dust and plagiarized text (literally) from previous administrations. Hundreds of positions remain vacant while Trump does photo-ops at Boeing before alighting to Florida for rounds of golf.

The closest we got to non-crisis normal was last week. But by Friday, Press Secretary Sean Spicer banned some media outlets from a briefing. As Roll Call put it: “an otherwise routine Friday morning at the White House had suddenly given way – yet again – to confusion, chaos, deflecting and denials.”

The incompetence appears baked in.

Ben Carson never ran anything, much less the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which he is nominated to lead. Betsy DeVos literally bought her place as head of the Department of Education. Scott Pruitt was best buds with Big Oil before taking the Environmental Protection Agency’s helm. Trump’s first pick for labor secretary was toxic and withdrew. His first replacement for Michael Flynn on the National Security Council said no thanks. Wilbur Ross, the new commerce secretary, is chair of a European bank known to launder Russian mafia money. Trump’s nominees for secretaries of the Army and Navy have taken a pass. White House aides told Axios they believe the Russia story is a useful distraction rather than a scandal threatening to take down a president. And an adviser, Sebastian Gorka, has the makings of a 100 percent grade-A con artist.

Many have said we must look through the chaos to an underlining peril: a creeping tide of authoritarianism. That may be true. Some staffers – specifically top aides Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller – clearly do not to believe in democracy. America is, to them, defined not by values but blood and soil.

But believing something is one thing. Making it reality is another. This administration is so dysfunctional that if it wanted to usher in a Fourth Reich, it might not be competent enough to do it.

None of this is to say incompetence isn’t destructive. Trump hastily authorized a military mission in Yemen where a Navy Seal died. The tourism industry lost billions after Trump’s Muslim ban. American consumers will likely pay for the border wall. Millions of immigrants live now in fear of deportation. And none of this is to say Trump’s critics are wrong. Though incompetent, this administration could still fumble blindly into fascism.

But it’s important to be clear about the disease in order to cure it. The Democrats are already making a play for Republican-held congressional districts that voted for Hillary Clinton. This is why Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., who is normally a conservative bulldog, is suddenly warming to the idea of congressional inquiries into the role Russia played in the 2016 election. His district is on the outskirts of Los Angeles and it dramatically favored Clinton.

The same thing is happening in suburban districts around the nation. The Democrats are targeting affluent white voters who normally support Republicans but who found Trump’s overt bigotry beyond the pale. Trump can bring those voters back by muting his ethno-nationalist rhetoric (we’ll see what happens at tonight’s joint session of Congress), but the Democrats know, or should know, that to affluent educated white voters, muted rhetoric is one thing. Basic competence is another.

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