Opinion

Trump's careening presidency

On the deteriorating situation in the White House

We've been told many times that "President Trump thrives on chaos." He likes things unpredictable, freewheeling, fast and loose. You never know what will happen, it's a crazy ride, but in the end everybody gets rich.

Except there's one person who doesn't want people to believe it. "So much Fake News about what is going on in the White House," the president tweeted at 6:38 a.m. Wednesday morning. "Very calm and calculated with a big focus on open and fair trade with China, the coming North Korea meeting and, of course, the vicious gas attack in Syria." Yes, if there's anything that characterizes this White House, it's that it's "Very calm and calculated." It may have sounded familiar, because a month ago Trump tweeted, "The new Fake News narrative is that there is CHAOS in the White House. Wrong! People will always come & go, and I want strong dialogue before making a final decision. I still have some people that I want to change (always seeking perfection). There is no Chaos, only great Energy!"

If that's the case, there is some seriously great "Energy" coming out of the White House right now. Recent departures include Trump's communications director, his national security adviser, his secretary of veterans affairs, his homeland security adviser, and probably a few more people nobody ever heard of. Meanwhile, his personal lawyer just had his home and office raided by federal agents, Trump's starting a trade war almost everybody thinks is a terrible idea, he's about to bomb Syria, and he's trying to figure out how to fire the special counsel while members of his own party tell him doing so would be "suicide" and "the beginning of the end of his presidency."

Funny how this pattern keeps repeating itself: Stories portraying the White House as a cauldron of backstabbing, resentment, and incompetence, where barely a week goes by without the departure of one or more senior aides, followed by the president's insistence that in fact everything is going great.

If the president is right, and as he once said, "This administration is running like a fine-tuned machine," he may be the only person who realizes it. Here's how an anonymous Republican congressman described Trump to conservative pundit Erick Erickson:

"It's like Forrest Gump won the presidency, but an evil, really f---ing stupid Forrest Gump. He can't help himself. He's just a f---ing idiot who thinks he's winning when people are bitching about him. He really does see the world as ratings and attention." [The Maven]

To repeat, that's a Republican member of Congress, who added, "I say a lot of sh*t on TV defending him, even over [the Mueller investigation]. But honestly, I wish the motherf---er would just go away. We're going to lose the House, lose the Senate, and lose a bunch of states because of him." Now I'm sure most elected Republicans don't feel quite as angry or contemptuous of Trump, although we shouldn't forget that his own secretary of state did call him a "f---ing moron." Something about him just seems to inspire profanity among his putative allies.

Questions about the president's intellectual firepower aside, eventually someone will write a book about managements lessons of the Trump White House, and it will be mostly about how to avoid doing everything Trump did.

There are many reasons, but if we're lucky, our first real businessman president should forever kill the pernicious idea that what we need in politics is more businessmen. In fact, many of the management problems Trump has created can be directly traced to his business experience, combined with his lack of political experience, and of course his personality. As the CEO of a private company, not to mention someone who grew up rich, Trump was not used to being told "no." And if there's one thing that makes an effective president, it's the ability to understand and navigate the constraints placed on the one who occupies that office.

That may seem odd, given that the president of the United States is in many ways the most powerful person on earth. But as George W. Bush said, "If this were a dictatorship, it'd be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I'm the dictator." In fact, he said it just before he was inaugurated; perhaps he understood from his father what the office held in store.

The president is surrounded by people, forces, and institutions that limit his power and attempt to push him where he might not want to go. There are 535 members of Congress, each with their own agendas. There are laws and regulations that keep him from doing what he wants to do. There's a career bureaucracy that can work against him. There's a news media that criticizes him and focuses on conflict. There are state governments and foreign governments and intractable social problems and unexpected crises, all hemming him in.

And in Donald Trump's case, there's also a special prosecutor poking around in his business, which makes him angriest of all.

While it's still early in the Trump presidency — though yes, these last 15 months have felt like 15 years — there isn't much evidence that Trump is learning to deal with all those constraints and challenges. If anything, as time has gone on the White House has become more chaotic, the president more erratic, and the possibility of real catastrophe more acute. So don't fool yourself: Things can get worse, and probably will.

More From...

Picture of Paul WaldmanPaul Waldman
Read All
Did Trump prove Obama wrong about America?
Obama posters and President Trump.
Opinion

Did Trump prove Obama wrong about America?

MS-13 is Republicans' new Willie Horton
Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
Opinion

MS-13 is Republicans' new Willie Horton

Jeff Flake's 2020 kamikaze mission
Jeff Flake.
Opinion

Jeff Flake's 2020 kamikaze mission

How Democrats should tackle Trump in the midterms
Nancy Pelosi.
Opinion

How Democrats should tackle Trump in the midterms

Recommended

Biden's SCOTUS commission gives Democrats a rallying cry
The Supreme Court.
Samuel Goldman

Biden's SCOTUS commission gives Democrats a rallying cry

Why Biden's team is pushing for a death penalty he won't execute
President Biden.
Picture of Joel MathisJoel Mathis

Why Biden's team is pushing for a death penalty he won't execute

Kyrsten Sinema's poll numbers should terrify her
Kyrsten Sinema.
Picture of David FarisDavid Faris

Kyrsten Sinema's poll numbers should terrify her

Arizona attorney general flaunts nunchuck skills
Mark Brnovich.
talent show

Arizona attorney general flaunts nunchuck skills

Most Popular

The American 'Great Resignation' by the numbers
Help wanted sign
Help Wanted

The American 'Great Resignation' by the numbers

Madonna makes Jimmy Fallon sweat, remove coat in 'disturbed' interview
Jimmy Fallon and Madonna
'Life is not just about interviewing kitties'

Madonna makes Jimmy Fallon sweat, remove coat in 'disturbed' interview

Queen expresses irritation with world leaders talk but 'don't do' on climate change
Queen Elizabeth II
God Save the Green

Queen expresses irritation with world leaders talk but 'don't do' on climate change