Americans are learning the limitations of electing a president with little experience, interest, or knowledge in running the federal government.
No doubt many who voted for Donald Trump in November saw his antics on the campaign trail mostly as show. Even many who didn’t vote for him assumed that he would buckle down, grow up, and act presidential once in office.
Yet, after nearly three months in the White House, the disappointing truth is becoming all too apparent. Donald Trump has not risen to the occasion.
That reality was painfully apparent during the aborted effort by House Republicans to pass their much vaunted “repeal and replace” of the Affordable Care Act last month. On the campaign trail, then-candidate Trump had promised he’d repeal the ACA and replace it with “something terrific.”
Nobody would define the hastily-assembled GOP plan as terrific. Horrific would be a closer approximation for a plan that would have sent insurance premiums skyrocketing for middle-aged Americans and prompted 24 million Americans to lose their coverage. Even many Republicans wouldn’t vote for it.
President Trump, who ultimately supported the plan, had no idea what the so-called American Health Care Plan would actually do. As White House staffers later conceded, the president would see criticism of the plan on cable news and required constant reassurance from his advisors that the plan wasn’t as bad as everyone was saying. Inherent in that scenario is that the president was either unwilling to do the work of understanding the bill he was backing, or simply wasn’t interested in the issue beyond simply notching a political “win.”
We don’t require presidents to be policy experts, of course, but we do expect that they have the basic competency and knowledge to at least play a role in its development. President Trump clearly lacks both.
Incompetence and ignorance can be addressed to some degree when a president has sound guidance at his disposal— and makes use of it. President Trump has thousands of very capable and experienced civil servants within the federal government, to whom he could turn for advice and information to benefit his decision-making. Rather than do so, however, he surrounds himself instead with a small group of family members and advisors from the far outer fringes of the political spectrum, who engage in little more than daily palace intrigue and futile efforts to manage the president’s volatile moods.
While many Trump voters were attracted by his populist rhetoric, enacting a populist agenda requires an actual leader with knowledge of the political process, an understanding of policy, and a real commitment to breaking the grip of big money in American politics.
President Trump meets none of these qualifiers. And he has filled his administration with a who’s who of the super rich, many with long-time connections to Wall Street. It is not the administration of a populist by any stretch. And certainly President Trump will find little support for any populist initiatives from the Republican-dominated Congress, which is currently focused on approving more tax cuts for the wealthy.
Trump is not a populist, nor is he a leader. He’s letting a divided GOP Congress set the agenda and he follows their initiative, with little understanding of what is actually happening around him. It’s a recipe for disaster. Trump is isolated, and dependent on a tiny cadre of ill-equipped advisors with conflicting agendas and interests. He ignores the nation’s intelligence officials, diplomats, and experienced policymakers across the board. He knows so little, and cares even less, about the nation’s food system that he has yet to even submit paperwork to the Senate to consider his proposed Secretary of Agriculture.
There’s little reason to think the administration will get better, at least not with President Trump in charge. To him, politics is really about being perceived as a winner, and little else. Actually improving the lives of Americans barely rates as an afterthought to a man focused on his own vanity and who, it turns out, is in way, way over his head.