Within days of Donald Trump taking office as our 45th president, political junkies began speculating about when the first dramatic White House shakeup would take place. Surely with this much incompetence, backstabbing, leaking to the media, and general chaos, heads would have to roll — and soon.
Other than erstwhile National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who was elbowed out in a matter of weeks, the dramatic shake-up hasn't really happened yet. Still, the situation hardly seems tenable, with at least three centers of power: the hapless Reince Priebus, the sinister Stephen Bannon, and the apparently extraordinary Jared Kushner.
Yesterday we learned that Bannon has lost his place on the National Security Council's "principals committee," a coveted perch from which he could have no doubt advanced his far-reaching vision of a clash of civilizations ending in the caucasian West's ultimate victory through fire and blood. His ouster apparently came at the insistence of new National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, who may be the only person in the White House who actually knows what he's doing. One anonymous official told The Wall Street Journal that "Steve was put there as a check on Flynn," so his services were no longer needed, which bears a moment of consideration. Does that mean that the first person Trump put in charge of national security was so out of control that he needed a minder?
Apparently so. Bannon himself put out a statement saying that, essentially, his work there was done. "Susan Rice operationalized the NSC during the last administration," Bannon said. "I was put on to ensure that it was de-operationalized. General McMaster has returned the NSC to its proper function." Under no definition of the word "operationalize" is it possible to figure out with any certainty what the hell Bannon is talking about, but it appears that he means that some sort of damage was done to the NSC, and it has now returned to its proper smooth functioning.
After Bannon first got placed on the NSC, it was reported that Trump was not aware that the executive order he signed gave his senior adviser that privilege. In any case, that deed is undone, leaving more room for power to be consolidated around Kushner, who is apparently the world's most talented man. How else to explain the fact that this thirty-something whose daddy bought his way into Harvard has been charged with, among other things, reinventing government, managing relations with China, reforming the criminal justice system, solving the opioid crisis, and oh yeah, finding a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? What a stroke of luck that this once-in-a-generation genius just happened to be the president's son-in-law.
While most sons-in-law don't enjoy quite that level of trust from their wife's father, it's no surprise that Trump has given his family members powerful positions. Ivanka Trump, after denying for months that she'd be working in the White House, now works in the White House. And as Eric Trump recently said, "Nepotism is kind of a factor in life." So true.
But it's not just the personnel; President Trump's own weaknesses can be seen in how policy gets done. Could a president who knew or cared about the details of policy, not to mention one who had any knowledge about how Congress works, have produced a legislative debacle like the one the administration just went through when it tried to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act? Put the blame on Speaker Paul Ryan if you like (he certainly shares it), but a different president might have been able to salvage the American Health Care Act from becoming such a disaster.
Trump's inattention to detail is being felt throughout the administration. According to The Washington Post's appointment tracker, Trump has not even nominated people to fill 486 of the 553 key appointed positions in the executive branch, leaving department after department unable to function. Much like Trump Steaks, there's a showman at the top thinking a lot about his own image, but not much in the way of quality meat underneath.
If you're looking for a silver lining, you might predict that a chaotic, incompetent White House will do less damage than one that knows what it wants to accomplish and how to go about it. We can hope.