Today I’m thinking about my favorite song by Leonard Cohen, Anthem. Overall, it is a powerful mixture of despair and hope – which makes it a perfect summons for our times. Here’s the chorus:
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack – a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in
What reminded me of that song was an interesting take on Trump’s cabinet nominees from Karen Tumulty.
Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominees, in their first round of confirmation hearings on Capitol Hill, have one after another contradicted the president-elect on key issues, promising to trim back or disregard some of the signature promises on which he campaigned.
She goes on to list the various ways these nominees have parted ways with Trump:
* Retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis (nominee for Sec. of Defense) said that the U.S. must honor the nuclear arms control agreement with Iran and cited Moscow as one of the nation’s top threats.
* Rep. Mike Pompeo (nominee for CIA director) said that he would not use torture against terrorist suspects – even if ordered to do so by the president.
* Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly (nominee for Sec. of Homeland Security) downplayed the significance of a wall on our Southern border and also disavowed the use of torture.
* Rex Tillerson (nominee for Sec. of State) said that it is important for this country to “maintain its seat at the table on the conversations around how to address the threats of climate change, which do require a global response.”
The cracks I’m seeing don’t have much to do with the actual competence of these nominees for the job they are seeking. It has more to do with what Tumulty wrote:
The discordant notes that Cabinet nominees have struck as they have been questioned by senators suggests that a reality check may lie ahead for Trump.
It may be that the grandiosity and disregard for convention that got Trump elected were inevitably bound for a collision with the practical and legal limitations of governing.
Beyond “the practical and legal limitations of governing” is the incompetence we’re witnessing from Republicans in attempting to craft a plan to repeal and replace Obamacare that contributes to those cracks. That was expressed, most notably, by Rep. Kevin Brady:
House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) told TPM that some members in the GOP’s ranks had been surprised by the complications of repealing and replacing Obamacare. It was a central campaign promise and refrain, but in action, it is far more complicated to undo.
All of that is why, during his first press conference after the election, President Obama said this:
Do I have concerns? Absolutely. Of course, I’ve got concerns. He [Trump] and I differ on a whole bunch of issues. But the federal government and our democracy is not a speedboat, it’s an ocean liner — as I discovered when I came into office. It took a lot of really hard work for us to make significant policy changes — even in our first two years, when we had larger majorities than Mr. Trump will enjoy when he comes into office…
So I think on a lot of issues, what you’re going to see is now comes the hard part. Now is governance.
As those cracks begin to let in just the tiniest ray of light, it’s helpful to remember what Cohen said about that.
I can’t run no more
With that lawless crowd
While the killers in high places
Say their prayers out loud
But they’ve summoned, they’ve summoned up
And they’re going to hear from me