Friday, April 14, 2017


Donald Trump doesn't read books, doesn't read briefing books, gets bored with memos that don't have a lot of pictures, and gleans what ideas he has about how the world works almost exclusively from cable TV, primarily Fox News. You know that and I know that. But Peter Baker of The New York Times wants us to believe that Trump's massive knowledge gaps are exactly what one would expect from any political newcomer elected to the presidency -- or from any new president at all. Thus Baker normalizes Trump's appalling ignorance.

Baker writes today:
For any new occupant of the White House, the early months are like a graduate seminar in policy crammed into every half-hour meeting. What made sense on the campaign trail may have little bearing on reality in the Oval Office, and the education of a president can be rocky even for former governors or senators. For Mr. Trump, the first president in American history never to have served in government or the military, the learning curve is especially steep.
That's right -- the problem isn't that Trump never learned basic facts about how our government works. It isn't that he never studied up on the problems government confronts. According to Baker, any new president would be at sea in the first hundred days, especially one with no government experience, because none of them would ever read a book or have an in-depth conversation with an expert.
... Just weeks ago, in the midst of failed efforts to scrap President Barack Obama’s health care program, he acknowledged that the issue was more involved than the repeal-and-replace mantra of a campaign rally. “Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated,” he said with amazement. Nobody except anyone who had spent any time in Washington policy making. But for Mr. Trump, never much of a policy wonk, it was an eye opener.
"Trump, never much of a policy wonk" -- that's like "Stalin, never much of a human rights campaigner" or "Jack the Ripper, never much of a feminist."
... “As he governs, he is realizing that the campaign talk doesn’t fit neatly into governing and he needs a different approach, one that gets results,” said Christopher Ruddy, the chief executive of Newsmax Media and a friend of the president’s. “So he will discard things and people that don’t work out, and those that do work, he will magnify. That’s how he became successful in business and entertainment.”
Oh, I see -- Trump is just embodying the old saying that no battle plan ever survived first contact with the enemy. It's not that Trump drew up his battle plan without ever participating in a battle, firing a gun, reading a book about war, or informing himself about combat in any other way apart from watching a John Wayne marathon on AMC.
... So much of this is new to Mr. Trump that only after he publicly accused Mr. Obama of having wiretapped his telephones last year did he ask aides how the system of obtaining eavesdropping warrants from a special foreign intelligence court worked.
Baker's entire article is about the inevitability of Trump's knowledge deficit -- how can a president, especially an outsider, possibly know everything on the first day? -- but as an example of this he includes a moment when Trump could have just learned what the facts were by asking people he works with every day, and he didn't. Instead, Trump tweeted what he wanted to be true without bothering to learn the truth.
... Fred P. Hochberg, who just stepped down as chairman of the [Export-Import Bank], said he was heartened by Mr. Trump’s reversal [of opposition to the bank], noting that Ronald Reagan and Mr. Obama had also opposed the bank only to rethink their positions.

“I’ve probably never met a chief executive who didn’t have a different perspective when they occupy that chair than when they’re on the outside, whether you’re a mayor or you’re running a company,” Mr. Hochberg said. “And we ought to applaud people when they learn and they change their minds.”
And thus Baker also ignores the fact that Trump outsourced all thinking in the White House to Steve Bannon for the first few weeks of his presidency, got lousy poll numbers, then decided that Bannon was the problem and instead outsourced all thinking to Jared, Ivanka, and a collection of Goldman Sachsers. (For foreign policy, throw in the generals.) This isn't Trump learning. The only thing he learned was that his approval rating was under 40%.
... Karen Hughes, who was White House counselor to President George W. Bush, said no president can be fully informed about all the issues that will confront him.

“Obviously, most presidents aren’t nuclear scientists,” she said. “What is important is that the White House provide a disciplined process for the experts to present their views, which are often differing. The president’s role as the chief executive and decision maker is to listen to, question and probe the expert recommendations, then apply informed judgment to the decision.”
Do you think Hughes is merely saying that "no president can be fully informed about all the issues that will confront him"? I think she's being polite, subtly pointing out that even a president who's less than fully informed needs to "provide a disciplined process" and ultimately "apply informed judgment." Does Trump do those things? It's not a matter of dispute that he doesn't, but Baker never acknowledges this. He just ends there.

This story is awful. I'm sorry, but much as I loathe her, I absolutely can't imagine Carly Fiorina displaying this level of ignorance in the first hundred days of her presidency. (Ben Carson inspires less confidence.) Mike Bloomberg didn't stumble around like this in his early days as mayor. You study before you're elected, you hire experts and listen to them, you keep reading, and you take the job seriously. None of this is happening now. But to Baker, everything we're seeing is just what would have happened to any outsider president.

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