Opinion

The comical incompetence of President Trump

Donald Trump is not good at being the world's most powerful person

President Trump is spending the last few days of 2018 in signature fashion, with a series of unforced errors and comical pratfalls around the world, any one of which would have been a multi-week scandal for any previous president. The government is shut down over total nonsense, and Trump's attempt to visit the troops for a quick propaganda coup instantly became a head-shaking discussion about his awful operation security and pointless lies.

It's worth remembering every now and then that Trump is horrible at being president. The basic tasks are as far beyond him as it would be for a parakeet attempting to operate the Large Hadron Collider.

Let's review. The United States is on the seventh day of a government shutdown sparked by Trump demanding $5 billion for The Wall. As many, many experts have argued at tedious length, any border wall is all but pointless for achieving its stated objective. Walls are easy to get around, and actually building one would ruin the lives and properties of many law-abiding citizens, in addition to presenting huge logistical and legal barriers. Anyway, since 2007 most people who immigrate illegally overstay their visas instead of crossing the border.

The Wall has always been a shiny bouncing ball, something to whip up the Fox News rubes and get cable news talking about Trump's favorite subject: himself. The reality of the thing is entirely beside the point. Indeed, Congress already allocated $1.7 billion for border barriers in 2017 and 2018, and the administration only spent 6 percent of it.

Democrats naturally wonder why they should more than double that appropriation. Yet not only has Trump provoked this shutdown — and got baited into formally accepting responsibility for it by the comically inept Chuck Schumer — in a matter of days he will face a Democratic-controlled House and thus an even worse bargaining position. He capped it all off by bizarrely lying that most of the furloughed federal employees are Democrats.

In the meantime, Trump lied some more about giving out a big wall contract while the Department of Homeland Security is closed, and Democrats are speculating about whether they might basically trick the president with some slippery terminology. (Ordinarily, they might try to keep such a strategy out of the newspaper, but today, why bother? It's not like Trump reads anything.)

That brings me to Trump's visit to the troops in Iraq. This was carried out in secret, in more-or-less the usual presidential fashion. But not only was Air Force One immediately spotted by amateur airline enthusiasts in Europe, political observers immediately suspected something was up when the president stopped his compulsive tweeting for a few hours. Never before has it been so easy to tell what the president is doing in real time by inference from his randomly-capitalized social media posts (usually, watching Fox News).

Once in Iraq — his first such visit, as he is plainly terrified of war zones — Trump immediately violated military regulations by using soldiers as campaign props and baldly lied to them about getting a 10-percent pay raise this year. A planned visit with the Iraqi prime minister had to be canceled because Trump didn't give him enough time to get there.

Trump seems to be immune to the sort of catastrophic, career-ending political damage that would happen to politicians in other countries who turned in his kind of constant failure. Yet that is because he is absolutely incapable of expressing shame, and because he heads a diseased political party. So long as he does not show any awareness of having committed wrongs, the rest of the Republican leadership will cover for him, and the Republican rank-and-file will automatically make excuses or simply refuse to believe their president has ever done wrong. That's why — unlike former French President Francois Hollande — Trump has yet to fall below 30 percent approval, and probably never will.

And yet, a clear majority of Americans do not like the performance Trump is turning in. The president is the most powerful person in the world, and whatever he does each day is a tremendous influence on millions of people around the world. The enormous reality (perhaps dimly perceived by Trump himself) is that the president is an incompetent dolt and all his ideas are stupid beyond belief.

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