An Insightful Analogy

On Fareed Zakaria’s GPS on CNN last Sunday, a guest introduced a clever analogy to describe what is going on in Washington since Trump took over. He likened the situation to a group of pirates who have captured a massive treasure ship operated by one of the great maritime powers. There are far too few of them to operative such a large vessel, and they are somewhat unfamiliar with its sails and rigging. As a result they dragoon the ship’s crew to assist. Not unexpectedly, these captives are not exactly enthusiastic, and as a result the ship stays close to its original course and speed even though the pirate captain wants to divert to his home base. So he rages at his cohort in a vain attempt to achieve better control. His crew is understandably upset as they expected easy going and great rewards from this marvelous prize. So they squabble among themselves about the best way to “right the ship”. Being pirates, used to enforcing their will by force of arms, the internecine strife quickly turns bloody.

The consequences of such a situation are very unpredictable. The original crew might take advantage of the internal disagreements of their captors and seize control again. Or perhaps the ship, under uncertain and disputed management, might run aground and result in disaster for all concerned. It’s even possible that the pirates might get their act together, perhaps by making a deal with the original crew, and finally achieve their objectives. And lurking in the background is the possibility that privateers commissioned by enemies of the flag under which the treasure ship sailed might meddle with the outcome.

You probably can see the parallels with the political situation facing the fledgling Trump administration. At this point I wouldn’t choose any of the listed outcomes as most probable, though my hope is that the first prevails.


Is competence really optional?

Suppose you need some small home repairs or to have your nice new home entertainment system installed. You could try to do it yourself, but often it is best to find an expert. He or she would have relevant experience and would know how to best do the job. This is almost always faster and it often avoids expensive mistakes. Doesn’t that make sense? The same principle applies if you have a medical problem, some important financial transaction, or a legal issue. It is true that consulting an expert costs money but generally it is well spent, assuming you do your homework in choosing the right person. And when picking someone to treat your kid’s broken leg, I hope and assume that you restrict your search to credentialed medical professionals and don’t consider having your gardener take his best shot.

This may seem obvious, but evidently it isn’t for Donald Trump. Although I can’t believe that he hires auto mechanics to design his golf courses or shoe salesmen to run his hotels, when it comes to the business of government the only relevant criterion seems to be personal loyalty.

He just selected a hedge fund manager to be the White House Communications Director. His choice to head the HUD office for the region that covers New York and New Jersey is a party planner. The best person he could find to be the Chief Scientist of the Agriculture Department has degrees in political science and public administration. While obviously not exactly a dummy, he is a decidedly square peg in a round hole. And then there are all those close Trump relatives managing White House affairs. They seem to be talented and successful individuals, and they are probably kind to children and small animals. But running our government isn’t an amateur exercise, or it wasn’t until last January 20th. I am fairly confident that we will outlast this experiment in incompetence, but it is likely to be rocky ride.

The Trump Titanic has sailed!


After less than four weeks in office the Trump administration is already beginning to fray at the edges. I suspect the future is bleak. Today’s firing of Lt. General Flynn as National Security Adviser is just a minor example. And do you remember that Deputy Attorney General holdover who was fired by Trump for not backing his immigration executive order? Well, she warned the administration weeks ago that Flynn was a problem and that his ties to Russia expose him to the threat of blackmail. So was that a factor in her dismissal? Expect Congressional hearings to pursue this possibility.

Presidential Advisor Kellyanne Conway has been making a public laughing-stock of herself. Her claim of “alternative facts” that support risible Trump claims of widespread voter fraud is a gift to comedians that just keeps on giving. There comes a point where her slavish devotion gets old. Trump is unlikely to fire her but her usefulness is starting to wane.

Now there are reports that the nomination of Andrew Puzder as Labor Secretary is in dire jeopardy. Four Republican Senators have indicated that they will oppose him, and Trump can only afford to lose two, assuming Democrats stand together. Aides are scurrying around trying to solve this problem but the outlook is dim.

Also, the word is out that the most visible member of the Trump team, Sean Spicer, is due for the chop. His problems at the podium are not entirely his fault. He has been trying to hold down two key jobs, Press Secretary and Director of Communications, either of which would consume a full day’s work. The only thing holding him up is that a replacement isn’t obvious. And who in their right mind would want the job of explaining administration actions, not to mention the Twitter-in-Chief’s latest outbursts, to an increasingly restive press corps? It is a bit like that old joke about the job of President itself, “Anyone who actually wants it is probably too mentally damaged to succeed.

As I have long expected, Reince Priebus is floundering as Chief of Staff. He is a square peg in a round hole and he has the hardest staff job of all. His primary role is to set up and enforce procedures to make the White House run smoothly and to prevent anything important from falling through the cracks. So how well has that worked so far? See below for my take if you don’t already know the answer. They desperately need an old pro for this crucial position, but that goes against all of Trump’s instincts. A political pro who has Trump’s confidence is an oxymoron. What is desperately needed is a reincarnation of James Baker. Know anyone who qualifies?

Key positions just below the top are not just empty, they don’t even have viable candidates willing to serve. And the current turmoil would discourage even the most adventurous. Thus no legislation is being readied for Congress, just more ill-prepared executive orders. Nothing is happening on the Obamacare front or on tax reform or on infrastructure spending, and a budget is far beyond current capabilities. Of course Congress will begin to take up the slack, but that will make the administration even more irrelevant. Trump will devote more and more time to tweet tirades and responses to perceived personal affronts. Watch his body language when he makes his infrequent and brief public appearances. He hates this job. Ladbrokes, the premier British bookmaker, has the odds of him completing his term of office at only slightly better than even money. And, unlike the TV talking heads, these are pros who put their money where their mouth is.

Consider for a moment what these weeks of effort have brought forth: a border fence whose cost estimate now exceeds $21B, with Congress gagging on the expenditure; associates seen as stumbling over blatant lies and missteps; an immigration executive order whose roll-out is reminiscent of Obama’s ACA web site disaster; forced recantation of bold threats against China and the one-China policy; building evidence that an alliance with Russia to resolve international threats is the same false hope that mesmerized previous Presidents; recognition that driving a stake through Obamacare is much harder than was thought and may even be impossible to achieve; town hall meetings across the country flaring into shouting matches as his policies are debated; and one-by-one his bold campaign promises either fade from sight or are mired in the realities of actual legislation.

Things might be different if they had a real plan and the skill and sense of purpose to bring it to fruition. Evidently they don’t. And what they boast about achieving would be difficult even with a cooperative Congress. Yet in spite of controlling both Houses, cooperation will be a faint hope. Democrats are taking what may become infamously known as “The McConnell Option“. Just before the 2010 midterm elections, then Minority Leader Mitch McConnell stated that the Republicans’ number one priority is to ensure that there was only one term for their despised foe. Of course, Democrats are not as stupid as McConnell was, baldly announcing his intentions on the Senate floor. However I have little doubt that Chuck Schumer and his allies are whispering similar thoughts among themselves, with sly glances and wicked smiles.

Trump Administration Snapshot

I have been following President-elect Trump’s choices to lead his administration with great interest. When the list is reasonably complete, I plan to write a summary assessment of his picks and what they may mean for our future. In the meantime, I thought it amusing to summarize the demographics of this unusual and diverse group. At this writing, there have been 28 selections. So far, Trump has not ordered a group portrait, so I thought I would toss in a substitute for now. These are winners of Trump’s famous TV show, The Apprentice.


  • 4 Ayn Rand fans: Trump, Tillerson, Puzder, Pompeo
  • 3 Goldman Sachs alumni: Mnuchin, Bannon, Cohn
  • 4 Retired Generals: Flynn, Mattis, Kelly, Kellogg (no West Point graduates)
  • 8 Lawyers: Pompeo, Sessions, Priebus, Puzder, Pruitt, McGahn, Friedman, Mulvaney
  • 6 Holders of MBA degrees: Trump, Chao, Ross, Flynn, Bannon, Zinke
  • 4 Harvard alumni: Chao, Ross, Pompeo, Bannon
  • 4 Other Ivy League alumni: Mnuchin, Carson, Crowley, Friedman
  • 2 Surgeons: Price, Carson
  • 4 Billionaires: Trump, DeVos, Ross, McMahon
  • 2 Governors: Haley (currently serving), Perry
  • 6 Women: Chao, DeVos, Haley, McMahon, Crowley, McFarland
  • 3 Non-Caucasian: Chao, Haley, Carson
  • 8 Top business executives: Trump, DeVos, Pompeo, Puzder, McMahon, Bannon, Tillerson, Cohn
  • 1 Foreign born: Chao
  • 4 Congressmen: Price, Pompeo, Zinke, Mulvaney (all currently serving)
  • 1 Senator: Sessions (currently serving)
  • 2 Ran against Trump: Carson, Perry

President Trump’s Administration


It is no longer unthinkable. Donald Trump is now the odds-on favorite to win the Republican nomination for President. While his likely opponent, Hillary Clinton, should be favored, I can no longer discount the possibility that the wily, bombastic entrepreneur could emerge victorious. So, I thought I might take a shot at forecasting what a Trump Administration might look like. I have no clue whether my personnel selections would accept their nominations, but their public positions and accomplishments seem appropriate to Trump’s goals and priorities. First, we have the cabinet.

  • State Department: John Bolton
  • Treasury Department: Peter Schiff
  • Department of Justice: Rep. Trey Gowdy
  • War Department (restored name of Defense): Gen. Jack Keane
  • Homeland Security: Rudy Giuliani
  • Health and Human Services: Dr. Ben Carson
  • Energy Department: Sarah Palin
  • Interior Department (see below): Scott Walker
  • Transportation Department: Travis Kalanick
  • Department of Veterans Affairs: Jim Webb
  • Education Department: (disbanded)
  • Labor Department: (disbanded)
  • Commerce Department: (disbanded)
  • Agriculture Department: (disbanded)
  • Housing and Urban Development: (disbanded)
  • Religion and Moral Affairs (new department): Mike Huckabee

Some agencies in the disbanded departments, like the Census Bureau and Food Safety and Inspection Service, are retained and moved into an enlarged and reinvigorated Interior Department. Also, some current funding of projects and organizations under these departments is retained as block grants to the states. The Transportation Department is also a candidate for termination and absorption into Interior.

With Republican control of the Senate in doubt, sitting Republican Senators are probably off the table for a Trump administration. However, a sly move might be to retain the disbanded departments as Potemkin Villages and to offer their positions to vulnerable Democratic Senators.

There are several White House positions that hold the status of Cabinet-rank. This is under the discretion of the President and changes or additions may occur.

  • White House Chief of Staff: Corey Lewandowski
  • Director, Office of Management & Budget: David Stockman
  • United States Trade Representative: President Donald Trump
  • Chairman, Council of Economic Advisors: Lawrence Kudlow
  • Head, Small Business Administration: Juanita Duggan
  • Head, Environmental Protection Agency: (position terminated)
  • Ambassador to the United Nations: (position terminated)

Ivanka Trump is a wild-card choice for Chief of Staff. She certainly has her father’s confidence but he probably would need her to run the family business enterprises in his absence. The EPA will be disbanded. Our United Nations membership will be ended and the UN will be ordered to leave US soil as soon as alternative siting can be found. NASA will be auctioned off to private industry. The IRS will eventually contract into a minor clerical activity in the Treasury Department when the flat tax is fully implemented. The nominee to replace Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court will be Maryanne Trump Barry, President Trump’s older sister. She is eminently qualified and is known to be a favorite of retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.