In the wake of Donald Trump’s election victory in November, I never subscribed to the theories that the Electoral College, Congress, or former President Obama would somehow step in at the eleventh hour to rescue our democratic and social norms. In the same vein, I never fully bought into the hyperbolic, doom-and-gloom future that awaited us under a Trump presidency foretold by countless political pundits. I assumed the reality would be somewhere in the middle: Trump would not Make America Great Again™, but he likely would not destroy the very fabric of democracy. And so, absent any other options, I decided to take lemons and make lemonade.
In the period between Trump’s election victory and his inauguration, I held out hope that Trump’s campaign-trail rhetoric was simply a means to get votes, and that once he won, he would pivot towards a more traditional approach to governance. I hoped that Reince Priebus and Mike Pence would serve as moderating influences. In other words, I hoped for the best-case scenario.
Needless to say, that hope has long since been dashed. (Note to my future self: if you’re relying on Mike Pence to serve as a steadying influence, something has gone terribly wrong.)
Leaving aside his myriad character flaws, his predilection for racially and sexually inflammatory behavior, and his alarming affection for authoritarianism and the dictatorial strongmen who practice it, it all boils down to one thing:
Donald Trump has no idea what he’s doing.
Evidence of this abounds: the ceaseless turnover of key staff members; his own admission that the nuances of one of the largest planks of his legislative platform continue to elude him; his belief that Twitter is a good place to announce executive actions. But the clearest indicator that Trump is hopelessly out of his depth is his complete and ongoing lack of understanding of foreign policy and geopolitical affairs.
For Trump, it is not a matter of who is the best person for the job; it is a matter of determining which person he likes best to do it. That is the only possible explanation for the Sisyphean list of tasks which Trump has delegated to his latest favorite son,
Ivanka’s Husband Jared Kushner.
Kushner is tasked with the following responsibilities: criminal justice reform; government reform; opioid crisis management; liaison to the Muslim community; liaison to China; liaison to Mexico, and; bringing peace to the Middle East. No matter that a President could easily spend an entire term attempting to solve just one of these problems — apparently, Trump not only believes they are all easily-remedied, but they are in fact so easily-remedied that he can fob them off on his son-in-law, a man whose career highlights thus far include buying and selling real estate and owning the only newspaper in the New York metropolitan area – the New York Observer — with a lower circulation rate than the local paper in Rochester.
Kushner has not made much headway on any of his tasks; in fact, it was reported yesterday that in a speech to congressional interns, Kushner admitted that “[he doesn’t] know” how the Trump administration’s approach to peace in the Middle East differs from those of its predecessors. And why would he?
Kushner’s admission goes beyond the fact that he is clearly unqualified to handle the tasks assigned to him; rather, it is emblematic of this administration’s approach to governance as a whole. Donald Trump’s preferred modus operandi can best be described as “shoot first, ask questions later.” His actions are completely devoid of any forethought or consideration of potential consequences — he just does whatever he feels like doing in a given moment.
His supporters have argued that this unpredictability is an asset, that it keeps allies and adversaries alike on our toes. For this tactic to be effective, however, Trump would have to display some sort of internal code of conduct, a set of core values on which he will never compromise.
These same supporters (and Trump himself) often deride former President Obama for his occasional unwillingness to act. And though this is a fair criticism in some cases, Obama’s foreign-policy missteps were attributable to an occasional overabundance of caution; Trump’s, on the other hand, are the result of arrogance, an unwillingness to think even one step ahead, and a general overestimation of his own intelligence.
Thus far, it doesn’t appear that Trump possesses any fundamental conviction aside from his belief in his own greatness; everything else is malleable. Even his so-called “hard line” stances often wither at the first sign of pushback. Moreover, each passing instance of Trump taking a stance only to quietly abandon it at the first sign of trouble serves as a measure of predictability for our allies and our foes: for all his tough talk, if you push him, he will crumble.
This Hydra of unpredictability, a lack of conviction of belief, and an unwillingness to learn about the complicated nuances of governing have already thrown the White House into chaos and dramatically undercut Trump’s ability to get anything done from a legislative standpoint. And since the easiest way to get on Trump’s bad side is by excelling where he is weak or succeeding where he fails, not only does Kushner have any incentive to actually solve these problems, he has no real incentive to even try. What’s the point?
With each passing day, it becomes more and more evident that the Trump administration will not bestow upon us the best-case scenario on which I once pinned my faith. Trump’s overvaluation of gut instinct above all else does not make him a clever outsider — it makes him reckless, foolhardy and easily outmaneuvered in geopolitical affairs. Suffice to say, I’ve learned my lesson. With any luck, our President will too.