The Trump Administration’s Approach to Problem-Solving Will Fail

Prior to the demise of the Republican plan to repeal Obamacare, Ryan Lizza, in questioning whether Steve Bannon could revive Trumpcare, reported this:

In the White House, Steve Bannon’s office, on the first floor of the West Wing, is called the war room. Bannon, the Administration’s chief strategist, has cleared out much of the furniture, and on one wall has hung an enormous whiteboard on which he has scrawled every promise that Donald Trump made during the campaign. Bannon and the war room are the heart of the effort to turn Trump’s populist campaign into a policy agenda that can pass Congress or be implemented through executive actions.

According to Mike Allen, when it came to Trump’s promise to repeal Obamacare, Bannon didn’t exactly help the cause. When meeting with the Freedom Caucus, he told them:

Guys, look. This is not a discussion. This is not a debate. You have no choice but to vote for this bill.

One member responded with this:

You know, the last time someone ordered me to do something, I was 18 years old. And it was my daddy. And I didn’t listen to him, either.

As much as anything else you’ll find, that captures exactly my point about how Trump doesn’t make deals, just enemies. Bannon helped ensure that one promise on that white board would not be fulfilled.

But perhaps the most signature promise of Trump’s campaign was that he would build a wall along the entire stretch of our southern border, and that Mexico would pay for it. He’s already ceded the second half of that promise and is now going hat in hand to Congress for the money to pay for it. As Martin recently reported, that isn’t going to happen anytime soon.

I’ve already discussed the people and terrain that will also pose a challenge to the wall. One issue that I didn’t bring up is the fact that 1,200 miles of the border is defined by the Rio Grande. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke recently identified the problem.

“The border is complicated, as far as building a physical wall,” Zinke said at an event held by the Public Lands Council, according to E&E News. He went on to say, “The Rio Grande, what side of the river are you going to put the wall? We’re not going to put it on our side and cede the river to Mexico. And we’re probably not going to put it in the middle of the river.”

Zinke’s answer to that problem was similar to Bannon treating the members of the Freedom Caucus like a child who can be ordered to comply with your wishes.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke proposed Tuesday that the U.S. build its border wall on Mexico’s side of the border.

Of course, there is that little problem of sovereignty to contend with! It was easily one of the most ridiculous things I’ve heard from Trump or any of his associates. I doubt that Mexico will respond any differently to that idea than the Freedom Caucus member did to Bannon.

This is what passes for problem-solving in the Trump administration. Every challenge is seen as a contest between dominating or being dominated. But in order for that to work, you have to wield complete power over those you want to dominate. While the presidency comes with a certain degree of positional power, our founders made sure that it wasn’t absolute. Beyond our borders, it is limited by the degree to which the president is willing to use military and/or economic interventions to enforce his will, but even then it is not assured.

This is Trump’s playbook as we’ve seen throughout his life. While it is threatening at times, this approach to problem-solving by the leader of a democratic republic will leave many of the promises on Bannon’s white board unfulfilled.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.