Brooks and Krugman

Everyone has questions this morning.  Bobo’s, in “The Coming Incompetence Crisis,” is what if the Trump administration runs out of errors?  Oh, Bobo, I’m sure that can’t happen.  For them getting out of bed in the morning is an error.  And “Dana” from Santa Monica will have something to say.  Prof. Krugman, in “The Bad, the Worse and the Ugly,” asks the following:  What makes Trump different from the rest of his party?  Here’s Bobo:

I just read that the Trump administration has filled only 22 of the 553 key positions that require Senate confirmation. This makes me worry that the administration will not have enough manpower to produce the same volume and standard of incompetence that we’ve come to expect so far.

Granted, in its first few months the administration has produced an impressive amount of ineptitude with very few people.

On his worst days Sean Spicer can produce more errors than 10 normal men on their best days. Kellyanne Conway can flail her way through television confrontations 24/7 and still have the stamina to lose to the Teletubbies on Saturday morning.

The White House staffing system is successfully answering the question, How many scorpions can you fit in a bottle? And in general, the personnel process has been so rigorous in its selection of inexperience that those who were hired on the basis of mere nepotism look like Dean Acheson by comparison.

But still, I worry that at the current pace the Trump administration is going to run out of failure. So far, we’ve lived in a golden age of malfunction. Every major Trump initiative has been blocked or has collapsed, relationships with Congress are disastrous, the president’s approval ratings are at cataclysmic lows.

But can this last? By midsummer, during the high vacation and indictment season, we could see empty hallways in the West Wing and a disorienting incompetence shortage emanating from Washington.

The executive branch could simply go dark. CNN’s ratings will plummet. Columnists will wither and die. Liberals will have to go without the delicious current of schadenfreude and their daily ritual baths of moral superiority.

Now I’m not underestimating the president’s own capacity for carrying on in an incompetent manner almost indefinitely. I don’t think we’ve reached peak Trump.

The normal incompetent person flails and stammers and is embarrassed about it. But the true genius at incompetence like our president flails and founders and is too incompetent to recognize his own incompetence. He mistakes his catastrophes for successes and so accelerates his pace toward oblivion. Those who ignore history are condemned to retweet it.

Trump’s greatest achievements are in the field of ignorance. Up until this period I had always thought of ignorance as a void, as an absence of knowledge. But Trump’s ignorance is not just an absence; it is a rich, intricate and entirely separate universe of negative information, a sort of fertile intellectual antimatter with its own gravitational pull.

It’s not so much that he isn’t well informed; it’s that he is prodigiously learned in the sort of knowledge that doesn’t accord with the facts of our current dimension.

It is in its own way a privilege to be alive at the same time as a man who is the Albert Einstein of confirmation bias, a man whose most impressive wall is the one between himself and evidence, a man who doesn’t need to go off in search of enemies because he is already his own worst one.

But even Trump will eventually hit the limits of human endurance. I know what it is like to be profoundly incompetent, and it is exhausting.

Just to take a small example by way of illustration, in the days before GPS I was (and remain) profoundly incompetent at comprehending driving directions. I would ask for directions and all would start off normally: “Go down Fourth Street and take a right on Poplar.”

But then all would slide into a fog of incomprehensibility and I would keep nodding furiously to try to persuade the person that I could follow what was being said: “Then you toggle over that spur of the thruway that goes under the overpass before the six roundabouts of the gargle.”

By this time entire hemispheres of my brain had shut down, and as the person kept talking, my entire existence slipped into a catatonic mist: “After that it’s just six wheedles up the perplex and after a quick stop at the bolint it’s the 27th driveway on the right.”

The incompetent person in the Trump administration has to live in that stupor shroud every day.

So I hope the Trump team learns to delegate — carelessness in one office, backbiting in another. I hope the president continues to play golf (I don’t get those progressive critics who say Trump is ruining the world and then they complain because he takes time off). I hope his team continues to take advantage of the fact that it takes only one inexperienced stooge to undo the accomplishments of 100 normal workers.

And I hope it continues to negatively surpass all expectations. I remain a full-fledged member in the community of the agog.

One of the things I’ve learned about incompetence over the past few months is that it is radically nonlinear. Competent people go in one of a few directions. But incompetence is infinite.

The human imagination is not capacious enough to comprehend all the many ways the Trumpians can find to screw this thing up.

Gosh, he’s a regular stand-up comic is our Bobo…  Here’s what “Dana” from Santa Monica had to say:

“This liberal takes no pleasure on Trumps grotesque ignorance. I have no schadenfreude toward the people who voted for him. What I am is outraged and disgusted that millions of people voted for an ignorant con man to be president. I am disgusted that we have a populace who find scholarship and learning suspect while viewing Trumps ignorant nonsense as credible. I am sad that we as a nation are so ignorant that millions think that experts in diplomacy and policy are merely government hacks who add no more value than Ivanka Trump. And worst of all, I am terrified by the fact that China, Russia and many other countries are well aware that we have a fool for president. Their leadership rely on policy experts and careful studying of issues to promulgate a well thought out agenda. Meanwhile, we are at the whim of a madman who has no thoughts deeper than his own vanity and no interest in relying on actual experts for guidance. That is the incompetence that should terrify us all”

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

This week’s New York Times interview with Donald Trump was horrifying, yet curiously unsurprising. Yes, the world’s most powerful man is lazy, ignorant, dishonest and vindictive. But we knew that already.

In fact, the most revealing thing in the interview may be Mr. Trump’s defense of Bill O’Reilly, accused of sexual predation and abuse of power: “He’s a good person.” This, I’d argue, tells us more about both the man from Mar-a-Lago and the motivations of his base than his ramblings about infrastructure and trade.

First, however, here’s a question: How much difference has it made, really, that Donald Trump rather than a conventional Republican sits in the White House?

The Trump administration is, by all accounts, a mess. The vast majority of key presidential appointments requiring Senate confirmation are unfilled; whatever people are in place are preoccupied with factional infighting. Decision-making sounds more like palace intrigues in a sultan’s seraglio than policy formulation in a republic. And then there are those tweets.

Yet Mr. Trump’s first great policy and political debacle — the ignominious collapse of the effort to kill Obamacare — owed almost nothing to executive dysfunction. Repeal-and-replace didn’t face-plant because of poor tactics; it failed because Republicans have been lying about health care for eight years. So when the time came to propose something real, all they could offer were various ways to package mass loss of coverage.

Similar considerations apply on other fronts. Tax reform looks like a bust, not because the Trump administration has no idea what it’s doing (although it doesn’t), but because nobody in the G.O.P. ever put in the hard work of figuring out what should change and how to sell those changes.

What about areas where Mr. Trump sometimes sounds very different from ordinary Republicans, like infrastructure?

A push for a genuine trillion-dollar construction plan (as opposed to tax credits and privatization), which would need Democratic support given the predictable opposition from conservatives, would be a departure. But given what we heard in the interview — basically incoherent word salad mixed with random remarks about transportation in Queens — it’s clear that the administration has no actual infrastructure plan, and probably never will.

True, there are some places where Mr. Trump does seem likely to have a big impact — most notably, in crippling environmental policy. But that’s what any Republican would have done; climate change denialism and the belief that our air and water are too clean are mainstream positions in the modern G.O.P.

So Trumpist governance in practice so far is turning out to be just Republican governance with (much) worse management. Which brings me back to the original question: Does the appalling character of the man on top matter?

I think it does. The substance of Trump policy may not be that distinctive in practice. But style matters, too, because it shapes the broader political climate. And what Trumpism has brought is a new sense of empowerment to the ugliest aspects of American politics.

By now there’s a whole genre of media portraits of working-class Trump supporters (there are even parody versions). You know what I mean: interviews with down-on-their-luck rural whites who are troubled to learn that all those liberals who warned them that they would be hurt by Trump policies were right, but still support Mr. Trump, because they believe that liberal elites look down on them and think they’re stupid. Hmm.

Anyway, one thing the interviewees often say is that Mr. Trump is honest, that he tells it like is, which may seem odd given how much he lies about almost everything, policy and personal. But what they probably mean is that Mr. Trump gives outright, unapologetic voice to racism, sexism, contempt for “losers” and so on — feelings that have always been an important source of conservative support, but have long been things you weren’t supposed to talk about openly.

In other words, Mr. Trump isn’t an honest man or a stand-up guy, but he is, arguably, less hypocritical about the darker motives underlying his worldview than conventional politicians are.

Hence the affinity for Mr. O’Reilly, and Mr. Trump’s apparent sense that news reports about the TV host’s actions are an indirect attack on him. One way to think about Fox News in general, and Mr. O’Reilly in particular, is that they provide a safe space for people who want an affirmation that their uglier impulses are, in fact, justified and perfectly O.K. And one way to think about the Trump White House is that it’s attempting to expand that safe space to include the nation as a whole.

And the big question about Trumpism — bigger, arguably, than the legislative agenda — is whether unapologetic ugliness is a winning political strategy.

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One Response to “Brooks and Krugman”

  1. Russian Sage Says:

    Well today’s Brooks article took me from Dean Acheson to Alger Hiss, Polonius, The Book of Judges, Bernard Baruch, and finally Jephthah not in that order. Not as masterful as trying to keep up or I should say in shouting distance of nearly anything Mr. Krugman writes. I got as far as OCR and OCA, floating rates and decided to print the Icelandic paper out when I can’t take it anymore. What Mr. Krugman does is prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that smart people should be relied on instead of a Rick Perry (what department is that?) and just about anybody else in the cabinet. I don’t know what to make of Tillerson. I bring lots of skepticism to any approach at understanding when it involves a CEO who isn’t Elon Musk and that may be my own predilection. It scares me that within days the administrations Sec of State and his boss can go from complete apathy for Assad to an incongruous attack. Thank the Gods of War that Israel’s attack on Syrian chemical warfare sights just a week ago came with little fanfare. Tiny Israel using its F-16’s from good old General Dynamics days dared Syria to take down a single jet with their newly installed Russian defenses. That’s the extent of my military expertise. Zilch.
    So when the news was made that we launched from three Mediterranean missile destroyers 59 Tomahawks I was reminded by my son who works at an unnamed R&D attachment for the US Navy that it’s laughable that we have a Commander in Chief who can’t recite from memory the nuclear triad but who is certain we need more nuclear bombs. It’s public information that each sub of ours carries 18 nuclear capable missiles each with some number between x and x to the nth warheads for the Coming of Nuclear Winter. So when I thought of Bannon being disposed of because we don’t need a politicized NSC and the lies cast at Susan Rice (a la Liz Warren- “shut up you you woman you” [sic], by M.McConnell) and the appointment of Perry to the NSC I knew no one has any idea where yesterdays bombing in Syria would take us.
    Friedman through in his devil may care safe zone analysis sans rebuttal. Trump I am certain has something in mind to do with sanctions, Ukraine, ISIS and god only knows what else.
    You see Brooks, the directions are on the bottle. You just have to do the math.

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