Sunday, July 30, 2017

Sunday Week in Review, Staffing Edition

What else did Donald Trump do this week?

He had some issues with underlings, or people he regards as underlings.

The FBI. Trump appeared to forget who it is that has the power to fire the acting FBI director, tweeting on Wednesday his confusion as to why his beleaguered attorney general failed to fire the acting director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe. This amounted to a two-fer in Trump's quest to fire people without actually firing them, a subject he seems to find more difficult as an actual executive than in fictional TV role.

For the record, Jefferson Sessions did not fire Andrew McCabe because, under the present circumstances, only the president can do that.

The Justice Department. As part of an ongoing--and suddenly urgent--campaign to draw attention away from the Russia conspiracy investigation, Trump has renewed his calls for the Justice Department to open an investigation into unspecified crimes he claims to believe his political opponent Hillary Clinton committed.

As Republicans and Democrats alike pointed out, both law and custom in the United States (or any other working democracy) prevent the president from simply using the Justice Department as his own personal investigative arm or enforcement squad. While it's most likely that Trump is simply trying to distract from the investigations that he himself is the subject of, he has shown confusion in the past about whether Sessions and other DOJ lawyers represent him personally. (They do not.)

The Senate. Today, still smarting from the defeat of his attempt to repeal the ACA, Trump once again ordered the Senate to end the filibuster. As in the past, he insisted on a 51-vote threshold after losing a vote with fewer than 51 votes. Trump's campaign against the Senate--and, indeed, mostly against Republican senators--has yet to yield much cooperation from the chamber, which tends to take seriously the fact that it is part of a separate and co-equal branch of government.

The general insubordination of the Senate was exemplified in its bipartisan consensus that Trump is mentally unstable, captured Tuesday on a live microphone.

The Mooch. One person who is unquestionably Trump's to boss around is his new communications director, Anthony Scaramucci. While Scaramucci's actions this week alone virtually defy summary--and this blog takes no position on autofellatio--his arrival does seem to signify the start of a uniquely Trumpian purge of insufficiently loyal pro-Trump Republicans from the White House. The departures of Sean Spicer last week and Reince Priebus this Friday were in reaction to Scaramucci's hiring, but there were also more involuntary departures as a result.

For example, in Scaramucci's first and apparently unsuccessful attempt to learn what "off the record" means, he told Politico that he was about to fire press aide Michael Short--then condemned the "leak" of that information when Politico duly reported it. When confronted with the fact that he himself was the "leaker"--all the more ironic since he intended to fire Short as a suspected leaker--he said, "Let’s say I’m firing Michael Short today. The fact that you guys know about it before he does really upsets me as a human being and as a Roman Catholic." Short, apparently tiring of waiting for the ax to fall, resigned later in the day.

For all the headlines he generated, though, Scaramucci seems to have pleased the only person whose opinion matters. Trump, who is increasingly obsessed with "loyalty" as the Mueller investigation proceeds, will find it difficult to doubt the loyalty of a man who skipped the birth of his own child in order to hear Trump speak to the Boy Scouts this week. Scaramucci and his wife are divorcing because of his obsession with infiltrating the Trump administration.

UPDATE, 7/31: WTDT acknowledges the inaccuracy of the prediction that Scaramucci would hold Trump's favor, given that he was removed from his position within a day of this post.

The upside. Trump, for his part, put a positive spin on his administration's reputation for backbiting, infighting, and palace intrigue, calling it "fighting over who loves me the most."

Why are these bad things?

  • A president who is too afraid or politically weak to fire unsatisfactory employees is a president who cannot do his own job.
  • Demanding purges of political opponents is what authoritarians do.
  • A president who continually fails to understand that Congress does not work for him will continually fail to get his legislative agenda passed.
  • It's bad if even members of a president's own party think he's unstable.
  • Incompetent staff reflect on the competence of the President who hires them.
  • Believing that everyone loves you is a form of egocentrism, and it's not a sign of good mental health.