Goldstein: Trump’s Dunce Hat

The early days of Trump’s administration have been wrought with failure.

by Matthew Goldstein | 2/16/17 12:40am

If lies, untruths, falsehoods, mischaracterizations and alternative facts were removed from a transcript of everything Kellyanne Conway has said since President Donald Trump assumed office, all that remained would be a picture book-length collection of her saying “good morning” to Sunday talk-show hosts. And even that might be rated less-than-true by the legions of fact-checkers this administration has put to work, because few mornings have been good to the young Trump White House. If the narrative driving the day’s news cycle isn’t the administration and erstwhile campaign’s connections to Russia, it’s Conway’s ethics conflicts stemming from her on-air commercial for Ivanka Trump’s clothing line. If the scandal du jour isn’t a botched executive order that is most likely unconstitutional, it’s a shutdown of national parks’ Twitter accounts over an obsessive insistence on the size of the crowd at the inauguration. Critics of the administration have labeled it evil, but even that gives Trump’s team too much credit. America is not being led by a savvy comic-book villain; the highest levels of our government are a clown car with nobody at the wheel.

To call this administration incompetent is an insult to incompetence. It has placed its lot on the backs of Sean Spicer, a press secretary unable to stumble through a sentence without mispronouncing a visiting foreign dignitary’s name; Stephen Miller, a policy advisor with an authoritarian streak and a demeanor about as pleasant as a stab wound; Michael Flynn, the treasonous former National Security Advisor who obsessed for months with his son over a nonexistent pizza-based conspiracy; Rick Perry, a nominee for Secretary of Energy who doesn’t know what his department does; Betsy DeVos, the grizzly bear-fearing Secretary of Education whose department misspelled both W.E.B. DuBois’ name and the word “apologies” in the subsequent correction; and above all, a president with no policy knowledge who was duped into demoting the Joint Chiefs of Staff in favor of Steve Bannon, his white nationalist chief strategist.

Unsurprisingly, the symphony of avoidable mistakes performed by this crew would make a kamikaze pilot jealous. Press conference transcripts read like grocery lists whose writers have heard of neither groceries nor lists. Articles detail presidential aides’ inability to find the light switches to rooms in the White House. The terrace of the president’s country club is used, Japanese Prime Minister in tow, to confer about sensitive information on North Korean missile tests under the glare of iPhone flashlights. A Mar-a-Lago member who posts pictures of this conference on Facebook then poses for a photo-op with the soldier who guards the codes to the United States’ nuclear arsenal. The executive branch leaks information in much the same way Yellowstone’s geysers can be said to leak water. In sum, it would be disingenuous to say that the inmates are running the asylum. The inmates have merely been dropped behind desks and are now struggling in vain to figure out what desks are and how they work.

The upper echelon of the most powerful government in the world is spending its formative weeks sitting in the corner wearing a dunce hat that once served as a Klansman’s hood. It should be abundantly clear very soon, if by some depressing miracle it is not clear already, that Trump and his preferred network of parrots, puppets and clones would not know organizational efficiency if it hit them straight in the face. And as so often happens, fools beget fools. The former Secretary of Energy has a Ph.D. in theoretical physics from Stanford University. The current nominee preceded his with a stint on “Dancing With the Stars.” The former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development was a political scientist and graduate of Harvard University Law School. The current nominee was chosen for his post because the president equates inner cities with black people. The list goes on. In the face of all this, is it too much to ask that the people responsible for our health, economy and security actually know what they’re doing?

The only weapon capable of breaking down confident idiocy is a self-assured commitment to fact, logic and organization. The only antidote to a poison that kills by disinformation is a steadfast support of truth and a free press. There is no doubt the Trump administration threatens basic American values and institutions, but we who oppose it should count ourselves lucky — we could have found ourselves confronting a schoolyard bully who actually knew how to land a punch. Instead, we are up against a Goliath that has managed to repeatedly slingshot rocks at itself. The countless scientists, foreign policy experts and current and former officials who have condemned this executive branch are certainly better than the president they lambaste, but self-congratulations will not advance the cause of liberty. Only action and continued pressure will ensure America’s present flirtation with disaster ends up nothing but a historical anomaly. Our leaders are morons, but we must put autocracy to bed before someone more capable steps up to claim its mantle.