Trump has the government teetering on the edge of chaos. Is anyone surprised?
In the 21st century tech era, "disruption" has become a buzzword. We've been trained to think of disruption as unambiguously positive — messy, maybe, but always done in the service of upending staid and outdated approaches best left behind. Reality, though, is more complex: Disruption can have good or bad consequences; often, it's a mix of both. Disruption is often painful, and the people who feel the most pain are usually not the instigators of the chaos. If done for its own sake, without a larger vision to guide, the forces of disruption can be likened to a toddler knocking over a pile of blocks just to see what happens — briefly interesting, but ultimately kind of pointless.
That brings us, naturally, to President Trump.
The United States has reached a moment of high, extreme disruption: a stock market in free fall, a government poised to shut down, and a national security establishment in uproar. Each of these developments is at least partly the result of the president's actions: The already-nervous markets are being made even more jittery by the ongoing budget fight. That fight seems likely to lead to a shutdown since Trump, under pressure from his right wing, has announced he won't sign a budget bill that doesn't include his border wall funding. And Defense Secretary Jim Mattis resigned in protest over the president's decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria.
All of this, and Special Counsel Robert Mueller is still lurking out there, somewhere.
We were promised that America would be made greater. Instead it seems like the country and its governance are teetering on the edge of chaos.
That Trump's presidency has arrived at this fulcrum wasn't just predictable — it was kind of the point. When his candidacy gained steam during the early weeks and months of 2016, some supposedly smart conservatives hopped on board the bandwagon quickly and, seemingly, a bit cynically: They didn't think Trump was a good man or a smart man, necessarily. But they looked at what the elite establishment had created over the previous 15 years — America was trapped in unending wars abroad, the economy at home was sluggish even in recovery — and decided that Washington's pile of blocks needed a good toppling.
Besides, what were they going to do — vote for Hillary Clinton?
This logic was most memorably — and nihilistically — demonstrated in "The Flight 93 Election," published two months ahead of Trump's upset victory. "A Hillary Clinton presidency is Russian Roulette with a semi-auto," wrote Michael Anton, who went on to serve on Trump's National Security Council. "With Trump, at least you can spin the cylinder and take your chances."
Read that paragraph again. It likens a vote for Trump to the probability of shooting oneself in the head. And that was the case for his presidency.
Disruption was the rationale for Trump; it may also be all he's actually capable of doing. For all his stagecrafted reputation as a developer and dealmaker, the president doesn't seem capable of actually building or creating anything. (His private-sector bankruptcies, failed ventures, and lawsuits should've been red flags here.) Trump makes no attempt to persuade, believing he can bluff and bully his way to victory.
Most of the time, he can't. The result is that Trump can only break things; the adults are left to try to distract him from the valuables and hope the rest can be repaired or replaced with ease.
This presidency is thus characterized by several factors: Trump's apparent unwillingness or inability to understand why things are the way they are in the first place; an often-wrongheaded belief that "different" is automatically "better"; his disregard of possible downsides to his actions — some decisions will have impossibly hard tradeoffs no matter what; and an impulsive decision-making style that alienates the very people who are supposed to carry out his orders. These characteristics link his actions on the border wall, the "Muslim ban," the trade war with China, and more.
Even when Trump has a potentially good idea, he executes it badly. For example, there are reasons to think America's continued involvement in Syria and Afghanistan actually isn't helpful or to the nation's ultimate advantage. Trump might've softened the blow by making a deal with Turkey to protect America's Kurdish allies there. Instead, he almost impetuously tweeted his withdrawal announcement, and a day later, Mattis resigned in disgust.
We'll see if the market is ready to recover or if stocks will keep falling. It's likely that a good portion of the government will shut down. Abroad, America's allies will spend the weekend wondering if there's anybody left in the executive branch to advocate for the country's alliances.
This is a crazy, scary, disruptive moment — which means the Trump presidency is working out precisely as designed.