Thursday, April 5, 2018

President Trump is Not Authorized to Speak for Himself

National Guard troops outside Hidalgo, TX, in 2011. AP photo via MPR.

Yesterday, in the wake of Trump's announcing to a press availability on Tuesday that he was pulling all the US troops out of Syria and "The White House" clarifying a few hours later that no, that was not in fact the case ("President Trump," they did not add, "is not authorized to speak for the Trump administration"), BooMan wrote,
He may be crazy and flat wrong on many details, but he is the president and if he wants to end our commitment to the region, you’d think that he could force a change in policy. But he can’t. Obama found himself handcuffed in some respects, too. If there is such a thing as the “deep state,” this is how it manifests itself. Even presidents have to bow to them on occasion.
I thought that was exaggerating both the existence of a "deep state" and this president's involvement in the government:

Yes, they're absolutely ignoring him. I've been using #MrTrumpIsNotAuthorizedToSpeakForTheWhiteHouse. But it isn't because they're the dread Deep State in my view, it's because of his own incompetence.
Trump doesn't have any idea how to mobilize power except by screaming at people. He issues a tweet and thinks it's an imperial rescript, but it doesn't make anything happen. He doesn't understand the forms for that, and he's losing everybody who has a clue, or they're learning how to ignore him.
The national security apparatus has to do without him, essentially, not in the first place because they want to, but because he's basically AWOL. He won't pay attention and he won't speak coherently. They have to figure out what to do thejmselves and convince him it's what he asked for. Of course they also don't literally want to blow up the world or the US economy except for the random stupid hires like Miller or Bolton or that ass Navarro. Those who are moderately responsible try to evade him, and Pruitt and Carson and Sessions do what they want, if they happen to want to do anything.
And when he really fucks up publicly and demands something they can't pretend to be doing at all, this happens. Or they try to do half of it. It's getting to be a bigger problem, with the Kim invitation and the Putin invitation and the trade war.
It's not like Obama though, where they were fighting him and he understood what was going on and fought back. Trump's in bed watching Fox and yelling and having no idea what his own responsibilities are.
Later in the day, more of the same: the looming trade war between the US and China probably won't take place; looks like Trump was speaking out of turn again:
"Yes, it's possible," National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow told reporters when asked if there was a chance measures meant to punish alleged Chinese trade abuses would not go into effect. The actions could be a tactic to get China to negotiate on trade practices.
"It's part of the process. I mean, I would take the president seriously on this tariff issue," he added. "You know, there are carrots and sticks in life, but he is ultimately a free trader. He's said that to me, he's said it publicly. So he wants to solve this with the least amount of pain."
Here you've got two huge agencies working at cross-purposes, Wilbur Ross's commerce department preparing its massive list of new tariffs and Kudlow's council whisking it away and explaining that Trump has said in public what he hasn't in fact ever said. Negotiations are in fact ongoing, there won't be any actual tariffs levied until sometime in the summer, and it's likely not to happen at all. The stock market took a deep breath and leapt off again.

The whole intellectual tone of the tariff movement is reflected in the language of Peter Navarro, the crank Jared Kushner found through Amazon to serve as Trump's trade advisor, trying to explain to NPR's Noel King how taxing products that have nothing to do with intellectual property is going to stop China from stealing US intellectual property:
KING: But if we're talking about industries of the future, might it not make sense to slap the tariffs on or to focus on intellectual property, and not worry about aluminum and steel and back and forth over pork and fruit and soybeans? Why not just go for the intellectual property, the technology sector?
NAVARRO: That's exactly what we are doing. But let's not conflate the issue of steel and aluminum versus what the China issue is. The steel and aluminum issue is a separate matter related to national security. It involves tariffs on over 20 countries [nearly all of which have been exempted, so far] simply to defend our industries, as president Trump has said correctly. We can't have a country without an aluminum and steel industry. But with respect to what we're doing with China, we're targeting technologies. What China is doing to try to weaken our will and resolve is try to target our agricultural sector because they think that they can do that for political reasons and somehow President Trump will not be resolute. Then...
It's exactly what they're doing, it's just that what they're doing is something different, but my guess is they probably aren't doing that either.

Whether the National Guard is going to the Mexican border (not armed, doing any law enforcement activities, or having any contact with the immigrants, which would be legally prohibited—they could help with aerial surveillance or man the towers, freeing more Border Patrol agents to wander around on the ground), we'll see. Trump howled that he wanted to "send the military", the staff scrambled to think of something he could mean that wouldn't be insane, and this is what they came up with, so it's not terribly expensive, and at least some of the governors being asked to help will be willing. Governor Kate Brown of Oregon has said she won't; Jerry Brown of California is waiting for details before he'll say.

A day after Trump signed the proclamation they cooked up for him, we don't really know if anything will happen at all, though we know if it does it will cost $60 million or $100 million and accomplish nothing. Except Trump will have shown he's "resolute". Unless you've been paying attention to what he does and doesn't do.

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