For Donald Trump, the easy part is over. Signing executive orders; insulting heads of state; threatening Iran, China, North Korea, and Mexico – one big reality show.
I wonder if Trump is aware that being president, even with an amenable Congress, means that one has to govern. Or that there is something called governance beyond issuing orders and snapping out sound bites, like an eight-year-old playing with imaginary friends. Does he realize that governing requires knowledge, reflection, and nuanced thought? And does he even know what those things are?
In foreign affairs, braying into a phone does not replace diplomacy. Despite its pettiness, posturing, and silly protocols, diplomacy involves the highest stakes. The immediate lead-up to World War I, for example, was marked by a series of trivial failures of communication among heads of state and their ministers. Yet the causes of World War I also lay deep in the 19th century. There is an inevitability to great catastrophes just as there is an “avoidability” in the immediate lead-up. The diplomatic failures that led to World War II continued into the first months of the war, when Britain and France’s unwillingness to attack Germany’s western front allowed Hitler time to prepare the blitzkrieg into France the following May.
Thus we owe the 20th century’s two great disasters to a string of diplomatic failures. A sequence of small blunders can trigger catastrophe. As with forest fires, too many spot fires – like too many brush fire wars – inevitably explode into a major conflagration.
We generally view politics based on the ten percent of the political iceberg represented by our public officials. And like the iceberg that sank the Titanic, it is often that visible portion that inflicts the damage. But it doesn’t exist without the 90% below. In foreign affairs, that 90% includes think tanks, scholars, journalists, the state and defense departments, intelligence agencies (16 plus Homeland Security in the U.S.), members of congressional committees, unofficial advisors and lobbyists, corporate and financial leaders, allied leaders, and a host of private contractors and all the many reports, articles, briefs, proceedings, etc. they publish.
No one can absorb it all so a president’s staff sift, extract, organize, edit, and present him with key points of fact and understanding. The degree to which these procedures are subject to political or financial agendas or ideology; the ability of staff to capture the powerful currents running below the surface of events; and the President’s ability to forge effective policy, can determine the fate of the world. The same may be said of domestic issues.
So far, nothing we have seen of Trump indicates the least awareness of what governance involves. It is absurd to say “Trump is a new kind of populist leader. He’s the CEO, he delivers the straight talk and tells his advisors what he wants done.” That’s how Trump has tried to define himself as president in order to cover over his deficiencies. Sadly for us, it’s all a lie.
Take his claim to oppose special interests. His administration is only special interests, including his own. Bannon’s career, for example, has been largely funded by Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah, billionaires who back nut-job candidates, climate denial, and Ted Cruz. They lost on Cruz but won big on Bannon.
Mike Pompeo, Trump’s new CIA Director, is a truly special case. He is, quite simply, bought and paid for by the Koch brothers. Why else would Trump nominate an obscure Kansas congressman with no credentials as Director of the CIA?
Pompeo “served” the Fourth Kansas Congressional district from 2011-2017. The Fourth is headquarters of Koch Industries. The Kochs pretty much dictate who the district’s representative will be. They contributed heavily to Pompeo’s campaigns. Before Pompeo, Todd Tiahrt was rep; Pompeo got the seat when Tiahrt ran unsuccessfully for Senate. Koch industries contributed $329,000 to Tiahrt’s campaigns during his 8-term tenure until he tried to win his seat back from Pompeo. The Kochs backed Mike. The Kochs’ man now runs the CIA. But Pompeo’s debt to the Kochs pre-dates his time in Congress. The company he founded in 1997, Thayer Aereospace, was funded in large part by the Koch brothers; after selling Thayer, he became president of Sentry Industries which partners with a Koch Industries distributor in Brazil.
The Kochs have more than a passing interest in areas where the CIA is deeply involved. Iran, for starters. Koch Industries illegally sold millions of dollars of petrochemical equipment to Iran as recently as 2007, as reported by Bloomberg News and covered by a host of media channels, including the major networks. Iran was then, as now, accused by the U.S. government of being a state sponsor of global terrorism. Quite a patriotic pair, those Koch boys.
The Kochs also made illegal payments in Africa, India, and the Middle East to advance their business interests (i.e., bribes). Now “the Congressman from Koch”, as Pompeo has been called, is in a key position to shape policy decisions and operations in those same core strategic regions. Strategic to the U.S., yes, and also to Koch Industries. As Congressman, Pompeo already refused to address questions as to whether he’d investigate the allegations. Perhaps that’s one reason why the International Business Times wonders whether Pompeo is a Koch puppet. But if you’re a Trump supporter, just listen to the Donald. In a July 30th tweet, Trump trashed Koch-supported politicians as “puppets”. Then he appoints one as head of the CIA.
Another lie is that Trump is draining the swamp. Lizards don’t drain swamps. They move in and take over. The Koch brothers, the Mercers, the Tea Party wack-jobs in Congress, Vladimir Putin, the energy cartels, and Trump’s other backers now own the swamp. They have no intention of getting rid of it.
Executive orders. Sound bites. Phone calls. Fun fun fun. But being a competent president requires the ability to grasp the subtle and complex forces that shape events. Without that, the president is likely to blunder into a war or major economic downturn, as George W. Bush did.
The presidency requires some sense of how diplomacy, intelligence operations, military actions, etc. will play out. The president can’t be an expert on everything, but he must understand the flow of events, the contention of multiple interests, the implications for our own country. His advisors should be (although often are not) free and clear of any conflict of interest between their duties to the nation and their own financial activities. In the 1950s, under President Eisenhower, some ten officials of United Fruit had prominent roles in his administration, including the Dulles brothers, John and Allen, Secretary of State and CIA Director respectively. Although the U.S. had intervened in Latin America before on behalf of corporate interests, the Dulleses and their United Fruit colleagues made regime change, assassination, and covert ops the norm, setting the stage for decades of terror, massacres, and assassinations by U.S.-trained leaders and their death squads. When Dick Cheney ran Halliburton, the company illegally broke U.S. sanctions against doing business in Iraq. (During Clinton’s presidency, Halliburton managed to sell heavy equipment there while vital food and medical supplies were prevented from reaching the needy and sick in the country, leading to the deaths and malnourishment of hundreds of thousands of children.
On January 25th, the entire senior administrative staff of the State Department resigned rather than serve under Trump. That sucking sound you hear is the rush of special interests eager to fill the policy-making vacuum, interests representing the most venal and destructive elements of American society. With planet Earth bristling with weapons and smoldering with an endless configuration of “small” wars and confrontations, and considering the devastating impact of inept diplomacy, do we really want this crew in charge?
Trump says he will rely on his advisors. He has to as he knows nothing about policy, the world, the working class he always goes on about, or government in general. “Advisors” mean Bannon and the Mercers, Pompeo and the Koch brothers, Ivanka and Jared and even Vladimir. And Cabinet secretaries who want to abolish their own departments, after they leave, no doubt. The reality of governing is setting in. A small cabal of extremists is not a legitimate government. Let the billionaires and tea party fanatics have Trump. The rest of us need a government.