Incompetence Could Wound Trump More Than Anything Else

We may want to believe that Trump’s violation of our “values” will turn Middle America against the President. But it’s worth remembering that the public soured on George W. Bush as much because of his handling of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans as the Iraq War.  He started to look incompetent.

Competence is supposed to be Trump’s strong suit, being as he is a never-quite-totally-bankrupt businessman. Yet he seems to be struggling with the managing-government thing.

Corporate leaders often struggle in government, but we’re now seeing that Trump’s personality issues will directly affect his competence:

Paranoia

It’s one thing to think the media is out to get you, but if you fundamentally don’t trust many of the people in your own government, you’re going to mess up. Media accounts now say that the immigration order was not fully vetted with the Department of Homeland Security, or congressional leadership – part of why there was mayhem at the airports. On at least one important issue – the question of whether the ban affected green card holders – the DHS did hear, and objected, but were overruled by the White House.

We can almost imagine Steve Bannon fuming that the DHS chief had “gone native,” having been on the job a good 24 hours or so. When you discount every criticism from the outside as whining from losers, you’re not going to think much better of internal criticism. Let’s remember that two of his three top advisors – Bannon and Michael Flynn – are even more paranoid and conspiracy-minded than Trump is.

Delusion

The founder of this magazine, Charles Peters, wrote that one of the most common ways for government leaders to mess up is not insuring that “bad news travels up.” The natural tendency is for uncomfortable information to stall before it makes it to the top. To succeed, you have to proactively work on getting accurate information.

Trump seems to be trying a different approach of actively making sure he gets bad information. Much outrage has erupted about the immorality of his lying and self deception. There’s a practical consequence, too. You cant make good decisions with bad information. When visa problems first appeared, Trump apparently believed their own spin that it was a minor issue. Delusion led to stubbornness which led to a solvable problem becoming a blow-up.

Revenge

Trump believes that power begets power and winning begets winning.  So far he’s been right. But some of the people he’s humiliated aren’t cowering, they’re just biding their time.  So when they have the chance to undercut him they will.  I can’t help but wonder if Chris Christie’s trash talk about how the White House staff screwed up the roll-out might have anything to do with the White House staff having frozen out the governor.  I’m also guessing that his decision to exclude the chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff from the National Security Council’s Principals Committee will bear some rotten fruit in future battles, as will his apparent decision to exclude the congressional leadership from the immigration deliberations.

Trump said he didn’t give a week’s heads up because that would have tipped off the “bad dudes” sneaking into the country. The problem is, he seems to think members of his own party and government are the bad dudes.

Steven Waldman

Steven Waldman is founder of LifePosts.com, a platform for online memorials and life milestones. He's a Washington Monthly contributing editor, journalist and author.