Judging His Judgment

Late last year the Washington Post offered a list of the ten books on leadership to read in 2017 – including Mastering Civility: A Manifesto for the Workplace of all things. Donald Trump would laugh. That’s not him, and he’s now the president. He leads the nation and he leads his party, even if many Republicans find him an embarrassment. Civility isn’t his thing. Civility is political correctness. He hates political correctness. Just enough voters in just the right places hated political correctness too. There’s no point in being nice to anyone. Civility is for wimps. Civility is for losers. Call a spade a spade, and yes, spade is another word for nigger. Let the snowflakes clutch their pearls. Leaders tell it like it is.

Just enough voters in just the right places believed that, and that’s another way of saying they trusted his judgment. He was an embarrassment of course. His endless impulsive tweets caused no end of trouble – his anger and resentment and whining were excruciating – but his heart was in the right place. They also knew that there would be no wall, and that Mexico would never pay for such a thing, and he really wasn’t going to rid America of Mexicans and Muslims and gays, or put Hillary Clinton in jail. As many have said, they took him seriously but not literally. His heart was in the right place. You don’t have to like the guy. You don’t have to respect the guy – he was a crass fool a lot of the time. You just have to trust his judgment – and he was going to get rid of Obamacare once and for all. Well, maybe he wasn’t – but he was going to try.

At the moment that’s not going well:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Wednesday said the path forward for the legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare remains unclear, adding that he is unsure at the moment how such a measure will secure the requisite 50 votes from the GOP’s 52 senators.

“I don’t know how we get to 50 (votes) at the moment. But that’s the goal,” McConnell (R-Ky.) told Reuters in an interview. He said passing a repeal-and-replace measure, a campaign promise of GOP lawmakers for more than seven years and a key plank of President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, remains a top priority.

Work on repeal-and-replace legislation had already begun in the Senate well before the House managed to pass its own bill, dubbed the American Health Care Act. Multiple GOP senators have said that they do not intend to take up the House-passed measure but will instead work on approving their own bill.

Okay, write off the second House bill – there weren’t enough Republican votes to even hold a vote on the first one – and write a Senate bill – and because civility is for losers, don’t work with fools:

McConnell told Reuters that he does not intend to reach out to any Democrats in order to pass the Senate’s version of the healthcare bill because the gulf between the two parties on the issue is too great to overcome.

McConnell’s heart is in the right place too, if he has one, but Jonathan Swan and Mike Allen report this:

Republican leaders are coming to the bleak conclusion they will end summer and begin the fall with no major policy accomplishments. Privately, they realize that it’s political malpractice to blow at least the first nine of months of all Republican rule, but also realize there’s little they can do to avoid the dismal outcome.

In fact, they see the next four months as MORE troublesome than the first four. They’re facing terrible budget choices and headlines, the painful effort to re-work the health care Rubik’s Cube in the House (presuming it makes it out of the Senate), a series of special-election scares (or losses) – all with scandal-mania as the backdrop.

Trump’s impulsive uncivil leadership style seems to be the problem, as Sean Sullivan reports here:

It’s a simple question, but for Republicans in Congress, it’s not an easy one.

Do you trust President Trump’s judgment on major decisions?

“I’m not answering questions like that,” said Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) after hopping off an underground tram shuttling him from the Capitol to his Senate office building. “That’s ah…” He trailed off as he walked toward an elevator.

Four seconds later, the easygoing Arizonan picked back up: “The president is overseas. I don’t think we’re allowed to ask any questions while the president’s overseas.”

His party doesn’t trust his judgment:

Flake was one of a dozen Republicans from across the ideological spectrum asked this week to reflect on Trump’s judgment. Most of them weren’t eager to address the subject head-on. They diverted and demurred. They paused contemplatively before answering. Some grew visibly uncomfortable. Others declared their conviction in Trump – but then qualified their words or expressed confidence in the people around him.

They’d talk about McMaster and Mattis – Trump’s two generals, his national security advisor and his secretary of defense – and leave it at that. No one else in the White House seems to have any experience in how things really work, in the real work beyond New York real estate and whatever it is that Goldman Sachs does. They’re all new to this. Still, McMaster and Mattis would save the day.

That, however, isn’t working out:

When Trump revealed highly classified information to two Russian officials in the Oval Office earlier this month, senior White House officials took steps to contain the damage, placing calls to the CIA and the National Security Agency, according to a Washington Post report earlier this month.

And when Trump asked the director of national intelligence, Daniel Coats, and Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, to publicly deny the existence of any evidence of collusion during the 2016 election, both refused – deeming the appeal inappropriate, according to another Post report this week.

GOP lawmakers, meanwhile, have labored to project at least some semblance of unity with the White House over the first four months of Trump’s presidency, in hopes of salvaging their legislative agenda.

But now, amid a Russian meddling probe that has reached a current White House official and questions about whether Trump tried to stifle that investigation that unity appears to be faltering.

The only thing to do is put a brave face on this:

“I thought the president gave a great speech in Saudi Arabia,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said, deflecting a direct question about the president’s judgment. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman wasn’t willing to comment more broadly.

“Those kinds of questions are no…” he said, going silent for five seconds before concluding that he was facing a “gotcha” question.

The question of the soundness of Trump’s judgment seems to be a difficult question for these guys, but not all of them:

One popular approach: List some facts about whether Trump can do what he is doing, rather than opine on whether he should do what he is doing.

After chewing over the question of whether he trusted Trump’s judgment on big domestic and national security decisions as he descended an escalator, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) used this strategy.

“He has the responsibility and so therefore, ah, I respect the result of the election. I respect the constitutional authority that he has.”

That won’t wash, not with what Nancy Youssef reports in BuzzFeed:

Pentagon officials are in shock after the release of a transcript between President Donald Trump and his Philippines counterpart reveals that the US military had moved two nuclear submarines towards North Korea.

“We never talk about subs!” three officials told BuzzFeed News, referring to the military’s belief that keeping submarines’ movement stealth is key to their mission.

While the US military will frequently announce the deployment of aircraft carriers, it is far more careful when discussing the movement of nuclear submarines. Carriers are hard to miss, and that in part, is a reason the US military deploys them. They are a physical show of forces. Submarines are, at times, a furtive complement to the carriers, a hard-to-detect means of strategic deterrence.

Trump, new at the job, didn’t seem to realize that, or much of anything:

According to a transcript of the call, released Wednesday, Trump called Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte April 29 to discuss, in part, the rising threat from North Korea. During that call, while discussing ways to mitigate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s nuclear ambitions, Trump said: “We have two submarines – the best in the world – we have two nuclear submarines – not that we want to use them at all. I’ve never seen anything like they are but we don’t have to use this but [Kim] could be crazy so we will see what happens.”

During the same call, Trump also called the North Korea leader a “madman with nuclear weapons” and celebrated Duterte for doing an “unbelievable job on the drug problem,” even as the Filipino leader has supported the alleged extrajudicial killing of 8,000 people since taking office in June, part of his purge to rid his nation of drugs. Duterte has bragged about committing murder himself, called former President Barack Obama a “son of a bitch” and once threatened to suspend the bilateral agreement between his nation and the United States that allows US troops to visit the Philippines.

“Keep up the good work, you are doing an amazing job,” Trump told Duterte during the call.

That’s a judgment call – Duterte has bragged about committing murder himself – and that’s bad judgment. The whole thing was bad judgement:

By announcing the presence of nuclear submarines, the president, some Pentagon officials privately explained, gives away the element of surprise – an irony given his repeated declarations during the campaign that the US announces far too many of its military plans when it comes to combatting ISIS.

Moreover, some countries in the region, particularly China, seek to develop their anti-sub capability. Knowing that two US submarines are in the region could allow them to test their own military capabilities.

Finally, it is unclear why Duterte would need to know the specific number of subs in the region. The Philippines is not a part US military efforts to deter North Korea so why would Duterte need to know such details?

Donald Trump is an impulsive guy. That’s the only answer, and that’s trouble:

The reason behind the April 29 call is unclear. It began with Trump congratulating Duterte on his approach to tackling illicit drugs in the Philippines before discussing the emerging North Korean threat. It ended with Trump repeatedly urging Duterte to visit him in Washington.

“If you want to come to the Oval Office, I will love to have you in [the] Oval Office. Anytime you want to come,” Trump said, according to the transcript, later adding: “Work it out with your staff. Seriously, if you want to come over, just let us know.”

Most of our government is now explaining to Trump, slowly and carefully, using small words, that’s beyond unwise. Maybe he’ll get it, but that’s not all:

Theresa May will confront Donald Trump over the stream of leaks of crucial intelligence about the Manchester bomb attack when she meets the US president at a NATO summit in Brussels on Thursday.

British officials were infuriated on Wednesday when the New York Times published forensic photographs of sophisticated bomb parts that UK authorities fear could complicate the expanding investigation into the lethal blast in which six further arrests have been made in the UK and two more in Libya.

It was the latest of a series of leaks to US journalists that appeared to come from inside the US intelligence community, passing on data that had been shared between the two countries as part of a long-standing security cooperation.

A senior Whitehall source said: “These images from inside the American system are clearly distressing to victims, their families and other members of the public. Protests have been lodged at every relevant level between the British authorities and our US counterparts. They are in no doubt about our huge strength of feeling on this issue. It is unacceptable.”

Now our whole government is as careless and impulsive as Donald Trump:

Only hours earlier Amber Rudd, the home secretary, had rebuked the US security services for leaking the bomber’s name to American media before it had been made public in Britain, but her warnings appeared to have had no impact.

“I have been very clear with our friends that that should not happen again,” Rudd had said.

Theresa May will confront Donald Trump over this. He’ll stare blankly at her. What’s the problem? Leaders tell it like it is. The government he leads tells it like it is. Get over it, you silly woman.

And here at home, of course Obamacare will be gone, replaced by something wonderful – insurance for all, cheaper for everyone and covering everything. That was not a judicious thing to say, repeatedly, and now that’s gone south too:

Health-care legislation adopted by House Republicans earlier this month would leave 23 million more Americans uninsured by 2026 than under current law, the Congressional Budget Office projected Wednesday – only a million fewer than the estimate for the House’s previous bill.

The nonpartisan agency’s finding, which drew immediate fire from Democrats, patient advocates, health industry officials and some business groups, is likely to complicate Republicans’ push to pass a companion bill in the Senate.

The new score, which reflects last-minute revisions that Republicans made to win over several conservative lawmakers and a handful of moderates, calculates that the American Health Care Act would reduce the federal deficit by $119 billion between 2017 and 2026. That represents a smaller reduction than the $150 billion CBO estimated in late March, largely because House leaders provided more money in their final bill to offset costs for consumers with expensive medical conditions and included language that could translate to greater federal spending on health insurance subsidies.

There’s no getting this right. There’s only this:

Instead of addressing the future number of uninsured Americans under the Republican plan – projected to immediately jump in 2018 by 14 million – House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) on Wednesday chose to focus on the CBO’s estimate that premiums overall would fall under the AHCA.

“This CBO report again confirms that the American Health Care Act achieves our mission: lowering premiums and lowering the deficit,” Ryan said in a statement. “It is another positive step toward keeping our promise to repeal and replace Obamacare.”

That’s not quite true:

Congressional analysts concluded that one change to the House bill aimed at lowering premiums, by allowing states to opt out of some current insurance requirements, would encourage some employers to maintain coverage for their workers and get younger, healthier people to buy plans on their own. But those gains would be largely offset by consumers with preexisting conditions, who would face higher premiums than they do now.

“Their premiums would continue to increase rapidly,” the report found.

The CBO estimated that states seeking waivers to strip the ACA’s “essential health benefits” would affect roughly one-sixth of the population and that obtaining maternity coverage outside a basic plan, for example, “could be more than $1,000 per month.”

Sarah Kliff makes it simple:

There isn’t any magic to how the Republican bill cuts premiums. There is not a secret plan in here to lower the price of doctor visits or get people to use less health care. There is a plan to make health insurance so expensive for people who are sick and people who are old that they can no longer afford it.

Others get that:

Democrats and their allies have pilloried the American Health Care Act as a massive tax cut for the rich paid for by ripping away coverage from low-income Americans. Polling has shown the bill to be deeply unpopular, and Republicans have weathered combustible town hall meetings filled with angry constituents,

Democrats immediately blasted the bill in response to the much-anticipated CBO findings.

“No wonder the Republicans were afraid of the CBO analysis,” said Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Democratic whip. “Trumpcare 2.0 will still force millions of Americans to lose their health insurance, raise premiums, and put critical health care services beyond the reach of hard-working families. All of this to give a GOP tax cut to the wealthiest.”

“Donald Trump and Congressional Republicans want to bring us back to the days when health care was only for the healthy and wealthy,” echoed California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, in a statement. “This is President Trump’s and House Republicans’ brave new world. Less health care, less money in their constituents’ pockets.”

That’s painfully obvious now, but as David Weigel reports, those who ask about that will pay a price:

Greg Gianforte, the Republican candidate in Montana’s special congressional election, was accused Wednesday night of assaulting a reporter for the Guardian who had been trying to ask him a question. Gianforte, who is seen as the slight favorite in a race that ends Thursday, left what was supposed to be a final campaign rally, at his Bozeman headquarters, without making remarks.

The Gallatin County sheriff’s office said Wednesday evening that it was “currently investigating allegations of an assault involving Greg Gianforte.” At a press conference, Sheriff Brian Gootkin said that witnesses were still being interviewed, and that four other people had been present for the incident.

In an audio recording published by the Guardian, the reporter, Ben Jacobs, can be heard asking Gianforte to respond to the fresh Congressional Budget Office score of the American Health Care Act, a bill Gianforte has said he was glad to see the House of Representatives approve. According to Alexis Levinson, a reporter for BuzzFeed, Jacobs had followed the candidate into a room where a camera was set up for an interview, before the event began.

Asking about the new Congressional Budget Office score of the American Health Care Act set this Republican off:

“We’ll talk to you about that later,” Gianforte says in the audio.

“Yeah, but there’s not going to be time,” says Jacobs. “I’m just curious about it right now.”

After Gianforte tells Jacobs to direct the question to his spokesman, Shane Scanlon, there is the sound of an altercation, and Gianforte begins to scream.

“I’m sick and tired of you guys!” Gianforte says. “The last guy that came in here did the same thing. Get the hell out of here! Get the hell out of here! The last guy did the same thing. Are you with the Guardian?”

“Yes, and you just broke my glasses,” Jacobs says.

“The last guy did the same damn thing,” Gianforte says.

“You just body-slammed me and broke my glasses,” Jacobs says.

“Get the hell out of here,” Gianforte says.

After that, Jacobs can be heard on the tape promising to contact the police, which he did.

Donald Trump is not the only impulsive guy around, and even Fox News was not on his side:

In an article published Wednesday night, Fox News reporter Alicia Acuna wrote that Gianforte punched Jacobs after pulling him down.

“Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him,” Acuna wrote. “At no point did any of us who witnessed this assault see Jacobs show any form of physical aggression toward Gianforte.”

And then there’s civility:

Gianforte’s Democratic opponent Rob Quist heard about the incident while holding one of his final pre-election events at a campaign office in Missoula. After it wrapped, and before the audio was published, he told reporters that he would not comment on what happened.

“That’s a matter for law enforcement,” he said. “I’m just focused on the issues that are facing the people of Montana.”

Quist has mastered civility – maybe he read that odd leadership book – but that may not matter:

Some Democrats quietly fretted that the alleged assault would not change the race – or would help Gianforte with his base. Last month, a voter at a Gianforte town hall pointed out a reporter in the room; then, according to the Missoulian, the voter called the media “the enemy” and mimed the act of wringing a neck.

“It seems like there are more of us than there is of him,” commented Gianforte.

Gianforte may win this by being Donald Trump – even if he was formally charged with misdemeanor assault later that evening – but Nate Silver reports on some odd data:

A widely held tenet of the current conventional wisdom is that while President Trump might not be popular overall, he has a high floor on his support. Trump’s sizable and enthusiastic base – perhaps 35 to 40 percent of the country – won’t abandon him any time soon, the theory goes, and they don’t necessarily care about some of the controversies that the “mainstream media” treats as game-changing developments…

But the theory isn’t supported by the evidence. To the contrary, Trump’s base seems to be eroding. There’s been a considerable decline in the number of Americans who strongly approve of Trump, from a peak of around 30 percent in February to just 21 or 22 percent of the electorate now. (The decline in Trump’s strong approval ratings is larger than the overall decline in his approval ratings, in fact.) Far from having unconditional love from his base, Trump has already lost almost a third of his strong support. And voters who strongly disapprove of Trump outnumber those who strongly approve of him by about a 2-to-1 ratio, which could presage an “enthusiasm gap” that works against Trump at the midterms. The data suggests, in particular, that the GOP’s initial attempt (and failure) in March to pass its unpopular health care bill may have cost Trump with his core supporters.

In short, they took him seriously but not literally. His heart was in the right place – but now they don’t trust his judgment. More and more of them are not taking him seriously or literally. Nate Silver is right, no one expected this, and that could lead to all sorts of things.

Andy Borowitz suggests this:

Donald J. Trump’s foreign trip hit a snag on Tuesday, when the remaining countries on his itinerary announced that they would rather “wait a month” and meet with the next President instead.

“It makes no sense for us to roll out the red carpet for Trump when there is going to be a completely different guy in the White House in a month,” Hendrik van der Valde, a travel minister for the Belgian government, said. “We very much look forward to hosting the next U.S. President, be it Mike Pence or Paul Ryan or whoever.”

Citing the exorbitant costs of hosting a President, the Belgian said it “would be insane” to spend such sums on someone who “only has a few weeks left” in office.

“When a President comes to your country, you have to feed not only him but a whole plane full of people that he brings,” the minister added. “Jared Kushner, for example, eats a ton, and no one even knows what he does.”

That’s satire. Or it’s not. When no one takes a leader seriously or literally, that leader’s days are numbered. One can hope.

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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