A Measure of Chaos

Democrats know there’s nothing that can be done now. In a dozen days Donald Trump will be inaugurated – he will be our president. The French won’t be sending a delegation to the inauguration – but they don’t matter. They may think that he’s a dangerously uninformed fool who could ruin all of Europe, or give it to the Russians, or they may think that he’s simply gauche – a word that means “left” oddly enough – but they don’t matter. Paris may end up the only city in the world without a giant Trump Tower, with the gold-plated toilets and all the rest, but that’s their loss.

That means that Donald Trump is our gain, more or less. He insulted and offended almost everyone on earth and still won it all, perhaps because he did just that. America was in the mood to insult everyone, here and abroad. America decided it was time to swagger – it was time to mock losers everywhere, even the disabled, and take their lunch money. That may be why Trump is assembling a team of billionaires, and some things, for some people, are now settled:

“Sour grapes,” explained Bob Marino, 79, weighing in on the recent spycraft bombshell from the corner table of a local McDonald’s.

“Sour grapes,” agreed Roger Noel, 65, sitting next to him.

“Bunch of crybabies,” Reed Guidry, 64, offered from across the table.

The subject of conversation was the report released by United States intelligence chiefs on Friday informing President-elect Donald J. Trump of their unanimous conclusion that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia ordered an extensive, but covert, cyberoperation to help Mr. Trump win the election. The Russians had hacked and leaked emails, unleashed “trolls” on social media and used their “state-run propaganda machine” to spread stories harmful to Hillary Clinton.

That’s a big deal, or not:

In Washington, the report was viewed as extraordinary, both for its timing, raising sharp questions about the president-elect’s legitimacy on the verge of his taking office, and for its assertions, describing the operation as Russia’s boldest effort yet to meddle with American elections, to spread discontent and to “undermine the U.S.-led democratic order.”

But interviews with Trump supporters here in Louisiana, a state the president-elect won by 20 points, and in Indiana, a state he won by nearly the same margin, found opinions about the report that ranged from general indifference to outright derision.

This item goes on to chronicle all that, as if it matters, and it doesn’t. Lots of things don’t matter now:

Reince Priebus, chief of staff to Donald Trump, argued on Sunday that there was “no reason” to complete background checks on the president-elect’s cabinet appointments.

The Office of Government Ethics warned last week that background checks for Trump’s nominees would not be completed in time for confirmation hearings next week because the nominees have refused to provide financial disclosures.

They may be crooks and liars, but people did want change:

Fox News host Chris Wallace asked Priebus on Sunday if the Trump administration would consider delaying the hearings until the background checks were complete.

“No,” Priebus replied. “They have to get moving. I mean, they have to move faster. And they have all the information. These are people that have been highly successful in their lives. They need to move quicker.”

“The fact is there’s no reason,” he continued. “I mean, it’s the first week of January, they have all the details that they need. They have all the information that they need. It’s no different from any other new administration coming in and the American people demand it.”

“Change was voted for and change we will get.”

No, this is different. That’s why the Office of Government Ethics was howling. These may be people that have been highly successful in their lives, but so were Al Capone and Spiro Agnew, until they got caught. We will get change, but that may not be a good thing, unless ethics are also not a good thing.

That seems to be the unified message:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Sunday rebuffed Democratic calls to slow down rapid confirmation of Donald Trump’s Cabinet picks, even after a nonpartisan federal watchdog raised “great” concerns about moving ahead with hearings for nominees whose ethics reviews have not been completed.

Walter Shaub, director of the independent Office of Government Ethics, laid out his warning in a letter disclosed by Senate Democratic leaders on Saturday. Among Shaub’s concerns: Some of Trump’s nominees – particularly those with a complex web of financial interests and little background in public service – are left with “potentially unknown or unresolved ethics issues” before their hearings.

Yeah, well, get over it:

Despite those warnings – and calls from Democrats to delay hearings – McConnell wants Democrats to buck up and move on.

“I know how it feels when you’re coming into a new situation and the other guy’s won the election,” McConnell said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “What did we do? We confirmed seven Cabinet appointments the day President Obama was sworn in. We didn’t like most of them either. But he won the election, so all of these little procedural complaints are related to their frustrations.”

McConnell added: “We need to sort of grow up here and get past that.”

That’s it. Grow up. But some people won’t grow up:

“This is not an issue that pits Republicans against Democrats – it pits Republicans against all Americans and an independent ethics agency that is tasked with ensuring the President’s Cabinet follows the law,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Sunday in a statement in response to McConnell’s comments on CBS.

“Until these nominees have fully cooperated with the ethics review process, the hearings and confirmation schedule should not be rushed.”

Republicans control the Senate. Republicans control the relevant committees. Schumer is out of luck here. This is procedural. The votes to confirm will be immediate. Perhaps the president’s new cabinet will sneer at the law and do all they can to make themselves even richer. Get over it. Grow up.

And don’t worry about Russia either:

The majority leader again dismissed concerns about Trump’s attitude toward Russia, noting that his incoming national security team is composed of officials who are not “conflicted with the view that Russians are not our friends.”

“I don’t think it’s all that unusual for a new president to want to get along with the Russians,” McConnell said. “My suspicion is, these hopes will be dashed pretty quickly.”

That was the unified word too, that the Russians are our deadly enemy, and we should hook up with them:

President-elect Donald Trump tweeted Saturday morning that having a “good relationship with Russia is a good thing,” adding that Russia will have far more respect for the U.S. when he is president.

“Having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing. Only ‘stupid’ people, or fools, would think that it is bad!”

There he goes again. Those who disagree with him are stupid. Those who disagree with him are fools. He alone is neither stupid nor a fool. He’s the only one who isn’t. That’s the all-American swagger that won him the presidency, and dismays and offends the French, and that will make for an interesting inauguration speech, which may be no more than a thorough and comprehensive listing of stupid fools, domestic and foreign. His inauguration speech will probably be just like his reality show. You’re fired! That will be America’s new message to its citizens and to the world – grow up – get over it.

Count on that. Trump isn’t changing now. That’s what John Cassidy explains here:

If there were people expecting that Trump would use the lengthy interregnum between Election Day and Inauguration Day to offer reassurances about what lies ahead, he has gone out of his way to disabuse them. For the past two months, he has spent his time publicly congratulating himself on his victory (while greatly exaggerating its scale) and taunting those he defeated; putting together a Cabinet of conservative ideologues, billionaires, and generals; blithely dismissing calls for him to divest his business interests; and – this almost every day – running his mouth on Twitter. In short, it has been a distinctly Trumpian transition.

Perhaps, as the Times’ David Brooks has suggested, we should regard Trump’s online efflorescences as nothing more than perishable Snapchat messages or Baudrillardian simulacra. It is a challenge, though, to be cavalier about a President-elect one day issuing menacing statements about North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and the next day publicly trashing the intelligence services whose job it will be to inform him about nuclear proliferation and other global dangers. Evidently, Trump doesn’t think he needs much professional advice: he already regards himself as an expert on foreign-policy issues, including nuclear negotiations.

Cassidy, by the way, is referring to that French semiotic philosopher Jean Baudrillard and this:

As he developed his work throughout the 1980s, he moved from economic theory to mediation and mass communication. Although retaining his interest in Saussurean semiotics and the logic of symbolic exchange (as influenced by anthropologist Marcel Mauss), Baudrillard turned his attention to the work of Marshall McLuhan, developing ideas about how the nature of social relations is determined by the forms of communication that a society employs. In so doing, Baudrillard progressed beyond both Saussure’s and Roland Barthes’s formal semiology to consider the implications of a historically understood version of structural semiology.

Simulation, Baudrillard claims, is the current stage of the simulacrum: all is composed of references with no referents, a hyperreality. Progressing historically from the Renaissance, in which the dominant simulacrum was in the form of the counterfeit – mostly people or objects appearing to stand for a real referent (for instance, royalty, nobility, holiness, etc.) that does not exist, in other words, in the spirit of pretense, in dissimulating others that a person or a thing does not really “have it” – to the Industrial Revolution, in which the dominant simulacrum is the product, the series, which can be propagated on an endless production line; and finally to current times, in which the dominant simulacrum is the model, which by its nature already stands for endless reproducibility, and is itself already reproduced.

What? Don’t worry about it. In short, all of what Trump says may be pop-culture counterfeit – or something. Semiotics is difficult, but that ephemeral counterfeit could get us all killed, when it’s Trump:

He’s just days away from gaining access to codes that could be used to launch a nuclear attack within minutes – a prospect that has many Americans and citizens of other countries unnerved. The Ploughshares Fund, a venerable arms-control organization, has circulated a petition urging Obama to take U.S. nuclear missiles off high alert before he leaves office. “It’s too late to stop Donald Trump from becoming president,” Joe Cirincione, the president of the Fund, wrote recently. “But it is not too late to stop him from impulsively blowing up the planet.”

That’s a possibility, and Cassidy offers a stroll through history:

To be sure, other men who were ill-qualified, ethically challenged, or potentially unhinged have occupied the Oval Office during the Republic’s long history. John Tyler and Millard Fillmore, two mid-nineteenth-century Whigs, are sometimes cited in the first category. During the nineteen-twenties, Warren G. Harding brought the stench of corruption right into the West Wing, where he played poker with his cronies from Ohio, some of whom were busy enriching themselves at federal expense. And, when it comes to addled Presidents, we have the accounts that have been handed down of Richard Nixon as the Watergate scandal reached its climax – brooding, cursing, drinking heavily, driven to the edge of madness.

But historical comparisons to Trump only go so far. Tyler and Fillmore, the tenth and thirteenth Presidents, were both experienced politicians who were serving as Vice-Presidents when their bosses died. (Tyler had been the governor of Virginia and also represented the state in the U.S. Senate. Fillmore was a former chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.) Although Harding’s name will forever be associated with the Teapot Dome scandal, which involved the secret leasing out of federal oil reserves, he wasn’t accused of lining his own pockets. Nixon, a Shakespearean figure racked by personal insecurities, was also an intelligent man blessed with great powers of concentration. According to Arthur Burns, the economist he appointed to head the Federal Reserve, Nixon could have “held down a chair in political science or law in any of our major universities.”

Trump is none of that:

He has no experience in elected office – in these demented times, that was part of his popular appeal. His reputation as a hugely successful businessman has little basis in fact, as does his claim of being worth ten billion dollars. Until he launched his Presidential campaign, in which he showed some genuine skill as a rabble-rouser, his talents had lain in attracting other people’s money, promoting himself in the media, and playing a role on reality television – the role of Donald Trump, the great dealmaker.

And there’s this:

If Trump has any ethics, they are self-serving ones. In his business dealings, he has a record of chiseling suppliers; bankrupting public companies; and operating a private outfit, Trump University, that recently settled charges that it was little more than a scam designed to part Americans of modest means from their savings. For many years, it seems, Trump exploited a loophole in the tax code to avoid paying any federal taxes. At times, he has associated with alleged mobsters and shadowy foreign businessmen, including rich Russians who have invested in some of his real-estate projects. Although Trump poses as a champion of the common man, he is a prime exemplar and beneficiary of oligarchical capitalism.

He is also, as he displayed many times over the past year and a half, an inveterate bully who views the world almost exclusively in terms of winning and losing. Tony Schwartz, who ghostwrote Trump’s book “The Art of the Deal,” which helped define Trump’s public brand, has described him as a compulsive liar and a sociopath. Trump’s history of denigrating minorities, inciting racial fears, promoting birtherism, and boasting about sexually assaulting women surely doesn’t need recounting, but one lesser-known incident is perhaps worth recalling. In 2000, after some family members went to court and challenged his father’s will, Trump cut off health coverage to a nephew’s young son who was suffering from a chronic neurological disorder that caused violent seizures and brain damage. Asked by the Times why he took this action, he said, “I was angry because they sued.”

He was personally insulted. Let the kid die. Some love that sort of thing, some don’t, and that’s our new president:

This is the man about to join the lineage of Washington, Lincoln, and Roosevelt. In the coming days and weeks, some cynical Republican leaders who have made their self-serving peace with Trump will put on a show of support for him and claim that all is proceeding normally. Obama himself, whether out of a desire to go by protocol or in the hope of exercising some restraining influence, has so far avoided making any public criticisms, even though Trump has shown little sign of heeding the advice Obama offered a few days after the election, when he said, “There are going to be certain elements of his temperament that will not serve him well, unless he recognizes them and corrects them. Because when you’re a candidate and you say something that is inaccurate or controversial, it has less impact than it does when you’re President of the United States.”

Ah, the office will change the man, or it won’t:

Such a possibility can’t be entirely discounted, I suppose. But, at this stage, does anybody really believe it will happen?

That’s a rhetorical question – asked and answered, and Doyle McManus says chaos almost surely lies ahead:

“Trump is farther behind on taking control of the bureaucracy than any president in recent history,” Paul C. Light of New York University, one of the nation’s preeminent scholars of public management, told me last week. “He’ll be ready to move in on inauguration day, but he won’t have much that’s ready to go, except for cancelling a lot of Obama’s regulations.”

That’s because nothing is ready, because it couldn’t be ready:

The problem begins with the man at the top. The president-elect comes to the job with the habits of an entrepreneur and a showman, not a manager of large organizations. He’s known for making decisions based on the last advice he heard. He makes policy pronouncements on Twitter, often without his aides knowing in advance. And he’s impatient with hierarchy.

“You’ll call my people, you’ll call me. It doesn’t make any difference,” he told tech executives last month. “We have no formal chain of command around here.”

Fine, but a formal chain of command is necessary:

In the White House, dozens of issues jostle for attention and crises constantly threaten to derail long-term strategy. Usually, it’s the chief of staff’s job to act as a gatekeeper; he controls the president’s meetings and flow of information to make sure the chief executive can focus on his priorities.

In Trump’s case, that will be Priebus, a seasoned political operative who rose from the Wisconsin Republican Party to become chairman of the Republican National Committee and won Trump’s confidence in the process.

But Priebus may not be fully in charge. Instead, aides have described a structure with three top aides: Priebus, political strategist Stephen K. Bannon, and communication strategist Kellyanne Conway. That’s a recipe for confusion.

It also doesn’t help that two of them hate each other:

Priebus – who’s close to House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) – represents the institutional Republican Party of orthodox conservatism. Bannon, former chief executive of the Breitbart media organization, has said he wants to “hammer” the GOP establishment and oust Ryan as speaker.

Nor is it clear which version of Trumpism the president-elect wants. Trump’s campaign never produced a policy blueprint to settle the question.

Earlier administrations did. “We weren’t confused about what the policy priorities were,” Joshua Bolten, a former chief of staff for George W. Bush, said last month. “We had a 450-page policy book that spelled it out. My concern for the current transition is that they’re not in that sort of position.”

Now add this:

Despite its recent personnel announcements, the Trump team has also been slower than most administrations in filling out its staff.

“They didn’t name a director of personnel until this [last] week,” Light noted. “Most campaigns have one by July or August. He’s got something like 3,300 appointments to make. That’s going to take a lot of time.”

And while Trump’s appointees have business experience, political campaign experience, and military experience, few have any experience in the executive branch.

“Trump has never dealt with a bureaucracy like this,” Light said. “His businesses are flat, and that’s fine. But the federal government is arguably the least flat organization there is; it has 63 layers of executives and managers.”

“He’s got nobody around him with a deep understanding of how to manage the bureaucracy to support his policies.”

That is the job after all, and this will not go well:

A measure of chaos is the norm for any inexperienced president, and can quickly engulf his administration. President Clinton, for example, had a terrible first year – and he had been a governor for more than a decade.

White House aides like to quote Dwight D. Eisenhower, who ran a large organization – the U.S. Army in Europe – before he became president:

“Organization cannot make a genius out of an incompetent,” Eisenhower wrote. “On the other hand, disorganization can easily lead to disaster.”

Well, disaster is change too. Change was voted for and change we will get. Do the word substitution.

France is not sending a delegation to the inauguration. This is ours alone.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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