A military term defines the White House – SNAFU

People who have served in the military have a unique language to define poor management of situations. Borrowing from their vernacular, they might define the modus operandi of the current White House as a SNAFU. The first three letters reference “Situation Normal All,” with the last two letters referencing a more colorful way of defining “screwed up.”

Last year, conservative columnist David Brooks defined the White House as “equal parts chaos and confusion.” It has gotten increasingly worse over time with rampant turnover and turmoil, but now it is in full meltdown mode. The last grown up has announced his resignation – General James Mattis.

To be frank, I have viewed the biggest threat to national security to be Donald J. Trump. Now, my concerns have heightened. The last of the defense filters will be leaving and we will be left with an even more unfettered, mercurial and uninformed man calling the shots.

I would encourage people to read “Fear” by two-time Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Bob Woodward. It is based on over 750 hours of taped interviews with White House personnel. It defines Trump as an unhinged man who does not have the patience or willingness to listen to others or know the details of any issue. Narcissists like to he told they are right, so sycophants who know this, get the President’s ear and he closes others out.

The first key takeaways from the book is Trump’s lack of good faith dealing with others regardless of rank. His word means nothing and he will demean anyone who openly disagrees with him. In business, this is a ominous management style. If you don’t want to know the truth, then any decision will prove problematic. Time and again, people went to great pains to brief him, only to have him ridicule them and the process.

The second is the recognition by everyone that the President is untruthful. There are several colorful ways that people defined this, but the cleanest version came from former National Economic Advisor Gary Cohn who simply said Trump is a “professional liar.”

As the various investigations heat up further and get closer to Trump, he will become further unhinged. And, he will make more impulsive decisions to either appease his base or distract the media. Plus, many of his decisions are based on bumper-sticker assessments of problems and simplistic solutions. When this transactional view is combined with his lack of respect for allied relationships, we end up in a worse place.

The rashness of decisions will be less tempered without Mattis. The President does not understand or appreciate what it takes to execute decisions. The Syria withdrawal caught everyone by surprise and went against the advice of others. But, one thing is for certain, the echo effect has not been fully vetted. Just this morning, I heard the Kurds will have to release 3,000 ISIS prisoners as they have nowhere to keep them. Yet, this is just one example of not studying a problem and getting input from others (think travel ban fiasco that was pulled after two days).

As I shared with Senators by email, this will get worse as the noose tightens. The SNAFU descriptions may undersell the amount of chaos, confusion and imcompetence. This frightens me.

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Saving ourselves from the whimsy of a mercurial man

I don’t agree with some of what conservative columnist Ramesh Ponnuru writes about, but I found myself in agreement with his latest editorial, “Keeping the US Economy safe from Trump’s feelings.” The key theme is the President’s whimsical tweets and statements regarding various policy statements can be harmful to the economy. In my view, it goes even further than the economy factoring into global relationships, climate change inaction, civil rights abuses, etc., but let’s start there.

Ponnuru notes that the President cannot say he was not forewarned by GM about the impact of his tariffs, as the company said in June the tariffs “could lead to fewer jobs, lower wages for our employees” and risked “undermining GM’s competitiveness against foreign auto producers.” He notes the reasons for the downsizings are more than just the tariffs, as demand for sedans is much lower than anticipated and interest rates are picking up. But, GM is not the only company to forewarn the President about his tariffs.

Yet, he notes the President is trying to convince GM to keep plants open using power he does not have. He cannot take away subsidies for electric cars, only Congress can do that. He cannot keep plants open as promised during the campaign, as market forces dictate that and publicly traded companies must respond to shareholders. Plus, he should not be commenting on the actions of any specific company, nor threatening one who do something that he does not like.

It should be noted that the two Senators in Ohio noted in the spring that the government should find ways to help GM retool and update their plants to do SUVs and electric cars rather than gas-powered sedans. This request for action before things got worse was not heeded. That would have been the time to step up to help. Now, his comments are just staging.

Ponnuru used a phrase that is on point to define the President’s actions. He said, “Trump tends to make policy decisions spasmodically.” He further notes the“President keeps adding to his reputation for making idle threats, and even self-canceling ones.”  The White House staff and various departments have been trying to manage the mercurial President’s whimsy. The resulting turnover has been pronounced. Decisions either have no substance because they are beyond the purview of the Presidency or they are unwound because of the next whimsical decision. Or, the staff may hope he forgets one of his inane pronouncements.

The best example of this is from Bob Woodward’s book “Fear: Trump in the White House.” On a totally different subject related to Trump’s attempted ban of transgenders in the military, he was set to meet with more than a dozen members of his staff including his Joint Chiefs of Staff on the subject. Great pains were taken to develop four ideas, noting how constitutional each was, and other pros and cons for the President’s consideration. As they waited that morning for the President, he noted he would join them soon. In the interim, the President sent out two tweets making his decision, noting that everyone was in agreement, which was not a true statement. He also picked the least constitutional action and a court has held up the change.

The key point of this story is not the subject matter. It is the lack of good-faith dealings with others. He said your opinion does not matter and then lied about them being in agreement. The other key is this type of decision-making is not an isolated occurrence. Using Ponnuru’s term it is “spasmodic.” Another conservative writer, David Brooks’ refers to the White House as “equal measures of chaos and incompetence.” I would add that it shows a lack of respect for his subordinates and is not the actions a true leader would take.

As we have painfully learned, the mercurial man is not prone to change. Saving ourselves is another story. Fortunately, the courts help as more than a few things Trump does are not constitutional. The other is to pressure Congress to remember their oaths. The Senate is quite concerned by the President’s blowing off the human rights issues surrounding the MSB’s knowledge of the murder of a journalist and Saudi Arabia’s atrocities on the Yemeni people. Another is to read and watch better news outlets. The media is not the enemy of the people, but many so-called news organizations are not unbiased.

We should also pay heed to conservative voices who have been critical and disowned by Trump’s followers. Ponnuru is not alone, but is less critical of the President than other conservative voices – Brooks, Gerson, Erickson, Will, Douthat, to name a few. These voices are important to echo as the President has done a tremendous sales job on his followers noting it is the media and Democrats who just don’t like him. When I am accused of this, I reiterate my independent status, but when that fails, I say what I dislike is people lying to me and then making decisions off the lies.

A Day in the Life of Trump

I am currently reading the excellent book “Fear: Trump in the White House,” by twice Pulitzer Prize winning author and Watergate reporter Bob Woodward. The book is excellent and very believable with its depth of reporting and consistency with known facts.

Many things jump out while you read, but I felt the following two abridged examples of a “day in the life” of the Trump White House are revealing of his modus operandi. I will reserve judgment until after the anecdotes.

First, is the infamous tweet Trump sent out which said the military would no longer accept or allow transgender people “after consultation with my Generals and military experts.” This is a blatant lie.

This tweet was sent at 8:55 am and followed up by two more tweets at 9:04 am and 9:08 am. These times are important as he agreed earlier in the morning to meet with his Generals and Defense Director at 10 am to discuss the pros and cons of four options Trump might want to consider. The options ranged from the more legally supportable to what Trump announced on his own before the meeting which was later ceased by four federal courts.

Trump not only surprised his Generals, he lied and said they agreed. The sad truth is there are numerous stories like this about how this man flies by the seat of his pants and drags others down with him.

Second, after grave concerns over Trump’s open disdain for NATO, the EU, trade agreements and our allied relationships that have kept us safe and prosperous, the Generals, Rex Tillerson, James Mattis et all invited Trump to a retreat at the Pentagon to go over why these are important. After listening for awhile, prodded by Steve Bannon, Trump went on one of his rants, as an attendee described in Woodward’s book.

“The president proceeded to lecture and insult the entire group about how they didn’t know anything when it came to defense or national security. It seems clear that many of the president’s senior advisors, especially those in the national security realm, are extremely concerned with his erratic nature, his relative ignorance, his inability to learn, as well as what they consider his dangerous views.”

This is the meeting where Tillerson uttered his famous criticism due to his frustration over how the Generals were treated. He said Trump is a “f**king moron.”

These two examples paint a picture of a dangerous loose cannon who bullies and lies. We are not safer with this man in charge. And, the sooner his sycophants listen to voices who know better and have the courage to act, the safer we will be.

A call out

In an effort to be diplomatic, but brutally frank, let me call out a few items.

– There have been five advisors to Donald Trump who have been found guilty of crimes and not one of them is a witch. From what I gather, there is more to come and the ones bandied about don’t seem like witches either.

– I have seen Bob Woodward, one of the most credible reporters in the world, interviewed three times about his book “Fear,” which is s best seller here and in Europe. The stories and anecdotes about the Trump White House are detailed, consistent and believable.

– An underreported story is Russia and China doing a joint military exercise, including the involvement of Putin and Xi making Russian pancakes for the participants. A reason cited for this effort is the anxiety over the tensions from the US President. The actions of this President have aided an ascendant China and allowed Russia to cheat others.

– It has been reported that both Scotland and Ireland are continuing to find anguish over a forthcoming Brexit. This is not new, but it has resurfaced as a concern. Given this knowledge, you would think a new Brexit vote might be in order. Just yesterday, the London mayor asked for a new Brexit referendum.

– Russia has now been accused of sending an electronic ear worm that debilitated US and Canadian embassy people in Cuba. I also learned yesterday that the Russians have been able to successfully jam communications of US soldiers in Syria. And, yet our leadership is pretty silent about this. The new war does not seem to be physical, it is cyber-warfare and through social media.

There is so much more to mention, but this is enough to call out for now.

Instead of labels, consider these thoughts

I do not like labels. I think they are shortcuts to demean. There are plenty of labels used by people Trump appointed that are quite caustic as they crudely define Trump’s relative smarts and inconsistent truth-telling, some from Woodward’s book and some from earlier reporting. Rather than repeat those labels, I would prefer to cite comments about his actions from people who have worked with Trump or know of his organization.

From Woodward’s book, there are two stories attributed to Gary Cohn which I find telling. Cohn, who is Jewish and was the head of the White House Economic Council, said the biggest mistake he made was not resigning after Trump’s comments on Charlottesville which gave the White Supremacists a hall pass. The other is he is one of the people who took things off Trump’s desk. Mind you, Cohn was one of Trump’s most proficient hires, who openly disagreed with his tariffs and trade policies. Cohn resigned over the latter issues.

The other one I often cite comes from Thomas Wells, an attorney who worked for Trump for years. Among many other observations around his lack of interest in understanding issues and job requirements, he said “Donald Trump lies everyday, even about things of no consequence.” Mind you, there are far more succinct quotes in the Woodward book that state this premise, but I prefer Wells’ comments as they focus on the act of lying not the person lying. If his base would react to more succinct critique, I refer them to what his attorney John Dowd said in the Woodward book.

The final one came from a contractor familiar with the Trump organization who was asked in a voter panel, what he thought of candidate Trump. He succinctly said, “Word on the street is if you deal with the Trump organization, get paid up front.” This is consistent with a modus operandi of Trump stiffing contractors because of bad service. Wells noted if Trump did this a few times, that would be one thing, but he regularly cited bad service to get out of paying, one reason for the large number of Trump’s lawsuits. Many a contractor got stiffed, accepted less payment or went out of business because of one Donald J. Trump. What the contractor panelist did was corroborate what has been published.

The above paint a picture with actual examples. I do wish Cohn had resigned with the Charlottesville issue, as it would have been a major statement. I also like the contractor’s statement as it tell us a story that is at odds with his “I am on your side” message to supporters. From what I have observed and read, Trump is only on one side – Donald J. Trump’s.

Not so Freaky Fridays anymore

It seems that news people recapping the week are in a continual, almost weekly, loop saying the President had a difficult week. One week it was the appropriate backlash on his Helsinki acquiescence to Vladimir Putin. Another week was the conviction and confession of two of his cronies. Earlier it was the detention of migrant children away from their parents. And, there are many others.

This past week started last Saturday with the funeral of a true hero and honorable public servant, an event to which he was purposefully uninvited. Not being invited to the national mourning of Senator John McCain was bad enough, but his modus operandi was appropriately criticized without mentioning his name by more than a few speakers.

By itself, this event would warrant a bad week, but it was followed by the release of excerpts from highly credible reporter Bob Woodward’s book on the disruptive White House environment. For younger voters, Woodward was 1/2 of the team that broke the Watergate story. While nothing surprising about Trump was revealed, it was reassuring that the President’s people do their best to keep him between the white lines.

While the White House was in full damage control mode, an anonymous op-ed was published in The New York Times by an insider which echoes much of what Woodward’s book reveals. It should be noted that the both pieces echo some earlier books that were also denounced by the White House, as well as previous leaks and actual observations by reporters.

A few comments are in order:

– Many GOP legislators are painfully aware of these shortcomings of the President, but choose not to act. Right now, supporters are ignoring the consistent message and focusing on the messenger.
– A plausible reason the anonymous op-ed writer has not gone to Congress is it would likely not do any good given the willingness of too many GOP sycophants wanting to save their tribe and not do their job.
– The President’s boorish behavior is not a secret, except to his base, who water down the criticism. What is known by fewer folks is what conservative columnist David Brooks noted as early as last year regarding various mismanaged events when he said the “White House is equal parts chaos and incompetence.”
– But, his offensive behavior and poor management predates his campaign and White House. Five biographers note Trump’s problems with the truth and financial reporters have lauded his sales skills, while being critical of his poor management skills. It is easy to see why he is deemed a poor manager given his ego, temper and lack of attention to detail.

What frustrates me as well, I have consistently reached out to Senators and members of Congress usually after various missteps or misstatements by the President. Two questions I often ask are “is this the man you want to spend your dear reputation on?” and “what will it take for Congress to act?” Seeing us bully our allies and forego our global leadership role is highly frustrating. Seeing us make changes that favor corporations and wealthy is another. Seeing us ignore climate change and our building huge debt are yet more concerns. But, the lying, denigration, name-calling, admiration for autocrats and disdain for democratically elected leaders takes the cake.

You may have noticed I have not mentioned the Russian collusion issue or his historical sexual misconduct. More will come out on these issues, but I find it of interest the lone constant in both issues is the story changing by the President. This is a key reason he did so poorly on a mock deposition in preface to a possible real one with Robert Mueller. The contradictions abounded.

So, I leave you with the questions I asked the GOP legislators above. Apparently, this is the horse they are going to ride. My added question is where will he lead you? And, us?