As we mark the one year anniversary of Trump’s inauguration, the United States in the midst of a Crisis of Competence. Congress is unable to pass budgets (or budget extensions) needed to keep the government open. The British Parliament openly debated banning Trump from visiting one of America’s key allies. Centuries of expertise have been purged from critical departments, from State to the EPA. To compare the United State Federal government in 2017 to Rome burning would be a severe insult to Nero.
Worse yet, all of these crises are unforced errors. Trump’s GOP appear allergic to expertise. Whether this is Trump’s anti-establishment campaign promise coming to fruition or simply Trump’s complete lack of political experience impedes the executive from governing, the result is the same: fifty-two weeks of blunders, crises, and incompetence.
This long post examines the alleged successes of the Trump administration, the “to-dos” still on Trump’s agenda, and seeks an explanation of why and how this Crisis of Competence occurred. Spoilers: Trump realigned the United States along a new axis.
Trump’s Alleged Accomplishments
Partisans tend to spin a series of debatable points as accomplishments. Generally speaking, they are all spin. Using the list available at the worst place on the Internet, the subreddit /r/the_donald, here is a quick digest of Trump’s alleged accomplishments
Trump signed a tax reform bill in late 2017 that will impact the foundation of the American economy. Corporations and the extremely wealthy enjoy permanent benefits, while the middle-class enjoys short-term relief but will experience higher tax rates in a few years. Unfortunately, the working-class appears to be a net loser on the bill.
Strategically, one might question the economic strategy of a heavy fiscal when the economy is near full employment and on a seven-year run of growth. If one digs into the details, however, the tax bill is an incredibly terrible idea — one that will actually harm the economy in the short- ad long-runs. This is not really an accomplishment; if anything, it is a work in progress (at best) and likely a blunder-in-waiting (at worst).
War on Dreamers
Trump single-handedly dismantled the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a program to provide safe harbor for individuals brought to the United States as children without citizenship. Doing so started a ticking time bomb, where either a dysfunctional Congress acts to save the Dreamers or (more likely), the Immigration and Customs Enforcement would engage the largest forced migration since apartheid. This is not really an accomplishment; if anything, it is a work in progress (at best) and likely a blunder-in-waiting (at worst).
Trump claims credit for the implosion of the Islamic state. Most of the strategic decisions prosecuting the war were made under the Obama years — specifically the endgame siege of Mosul. Similar to the Supreme Court nomination, others beyond Trump deserve credit. This is not really an accomplishment; if anything, it is a negligible impact.
Appointing Justice Gorsuch to the United States Supreme Court.
Credit for this event more appropriately resides with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who trashed two centuries of tradition by hijacking the Senate confirmation process for Obama’s court selections. This is not really a Trump accomplishment, rather credit belongs with others.
Trump has escalated tensions in the Pacific theater to the extent that war is a potential outcome. With a gutted state department and public bickering with the nation’s top diplomat, Trump has literally devolved to online bullying as a form of foreign policy. Thankfully, North Korea and other regional powers have found a way to keep the peace. This is not really a Trump accomplishment; if anything, it is an abject policy failure.
Trump attempted to impose a travel ban on several majority Muslim countries, acting on the white nationalist and xenophobic tendencies of many Trump supporters. Granted, pretty much every court order regarding these executive order attempts have been struck down as patently unconstitutional. More importantly, these court cases ruled that Trump’s tweets are considered official government statements — which will likely have drastic impacts on the several investigations unraveling Trump’s relationship with hostile foreign actors. This is not really an accomplishment; if anything, it is an abject policy failure.
War on Federalism
Trump has effectively declared war sanctuary cities, with budget cuts and threats to send federal agents in to override local decision-making. Trump’s policy opposes research that shows lower crime rates in sanctuary cities — specifically for sex and violent crimes.
Trump has also declared war on state’s rights, specifically on the legalization of marijuana. Trump’s judicial department continues to threaten state governments with budget cuts and federal agents overruling state and local laws.
These two issues are traditionally wedge issues for social conservatives. Unlike previous generations with a relatively even split in popular opinion, survey research consistently shows public support for both sanctuary cities and legalized marijuana. It will be interesting to see how Trump’s policy will fare in the face of such unpopularity. This is not really an accomplishment; if anything, it is a work in progress (at best) and likely a blunder-in-waiting (at worst).
War on the Environment
Trump approved the Keystone Pipeline, violating several treaties with Native American groups and potentially violating hundreds of families’ property rights. Multiple alternatives to the Keystone Pipeline were already afoot – many of them with less negative externalities than the existing plan. This is not really an accomplishment; if anything, it is a negligible impact.
War on neoliberal trade
Trump has disrupted several foreign trade deals, including the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. TPP was already dead in the Senate, so claiming any impact is laughable. NAFTA renegotiation, however, is a high-stakes game, where both Canada and Mexico seem poised to profit more from a new agreement. As leaks come from the ongoing negotiations, it appears as though the United States might lose potential profitability due to new demands from our neighbors. This is not really an accomplishment; if anything, it is a work in progress (at best) and likely a blunder-in-waiting (at worst).
Trump issued an executive order to increase the number of border patrol agents in February. That said, the number of agents has actually dropped, as the new hires can not keep up with the labor churn within the department. This is not really an accomplishment; if anything, it is a negligible impact.
Revitalizing the Coal Industry
Trump has falsely claimed that coal “is back” due to his anti-environmental regulation agenda. In reality, coal industry jobs are on par with the last years of the Obama administration, despite Trump mortgaging the environment’s future for decades to come. This is not really an accomplishment; if anything, it is a negligible impact.
Jobs, jobs, jobs
Although the Dow Jones Industrial Average continues to increase (generally following the same pattern immediately prior to a market correction), job growth under Trump is actually down compared to year-over-year growth under Obama. Trump tends to cite specific instances, like a Carrier plant in Indiana, where bribes and subsidies prevent companies from outsourcing jobs. Unfortunately, nearly all of these examples end in the same story: after the press goes away, the jobs get outsourced anyway — wasting taxpayer money on those bribes and subsidies. This is not really an accomplishment; if anything, it is a negligible impact.
Trump held up the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, by going back on American commitments for military and economic resources for the alliance. This decision has strained relations with several of America’s key allies while fanning the flames of Trump-Russia conspiracy theories. This is not really an accomplishment; if anything, it is a foreign policy blunder.
War on Women
Trump has issued a handful of executive orders to limit access to abortion. These executive orders are likely going to be struck down due to Roe v. Wade and other case law. Many of these executive orders are just as sloppy at the Muslim ban/travel bans. This is not really an accomplishment; if anything, it is a work in progress (at best) and likely a blunder-in-waiting (at worst).
Trump’s lack of accomplishments
Mexican-Funded, Big Beautiful Wall
Trump promised to build a “great wall” to prevent illegal immigration and impede drug cartels moving drugs from Mexico. Trump’s plan was to get Mexico to pay for the wall. This plan is essentially dead, with multiple advisers suggesting that Trump “discovered” that a wall will not work and Mexico’s government unsurprisingly declining to fund the project. This political plank is dead in the water. (Thank God.)
Trump roughly endorsed vigilante justice — especially when conducted by white males — multiple times on the campaign trail. This message has diminished, but has bubbled up during social crises like the Charlottesville protests where a neoNazi killed anti-neoNazi protestors. Trump effectively defended the neoNazi, attempting to place blame for the violence on “both sides.” Besides the occasional gaffe, however, a pro-vigilante justice policy has not yet materialized. This political plank is dead in the water. (Thank God.)
On the campaign trail, Trump routinely demanded better care for veterans. The record is surprisingly mixed. While various reforms aim to privatize many VA services, several cases of the VA service providers sending homeless veterans into the cold have appeared in the headlines. These cases appear to be happening more often and more egregiously by the month. This is not really an accomplishment; if anything, it is a work in progress (at best) and likely a blunder-in-waiting (at worst).
Trump’s actual impact
The most unfortunate outcome of Trump’s tenure is the reconstitution of public white nationalism in the United States. Commentators on Fox News routinely defend neoNazis on the air while the rest of the far-right (and Russian Intelligence-supported) media echo racist stories to wedge unassuming conservative viewers away from minorities. The resulting culture has brought white nationalism back into the public eye — and worse yet, Trump has legitimized it time and time again. This trend is extremely dangerous because it undermines the legitimacy of the republic.
One can not review the Trump administration without noting the ongoing investigation into the 2016 election cycle, particularly the impact of alleged coordination between the Russian government and Trump 2016 campaign. Multiple campaign officials have plead guilty to various conspiracy charges, and the sentences are lenient enough to speculate that bargains for future testimony occurred.
One legal question that has emerged is who has jurisdiction over Trump if Trump illegally coordinated with a hostile foreign actor to impact an election. This discussion is indicative of an incredibly sad moment in national integrity; this trend is extremely dangerous because it undermines the legitimacy of the republic.
Loss of Institutions
Trump has consistently attacked institutions that hold power to check the Oval Office. From the courts, to Congress, to the media, to foreign powers, to existing law, Trump has sought to undermine opponents. This scorched earth approach has eroded faith in critical institutions, like the free press. This trend is extremely dangerous because it undermines the legitimacy of the republic.
Crisis of Competence – nobody knows anything
In summary, Trump is claiming successes that are either not his, not complete, or complete disasters. All the while, dangerous trends continue to develop — each seemingly aided by Trump’s decisions. One might ask — how did this happen?
Postmodernism on Parade
Trump is ultimate product of a postmodernism.
Extremely simplified, postmodernism is a philosophy that rejects reason and reality. Postmodernism is generally a response to a late nineteenth, early twentieth century philosophy modernism. Modernism highlighted the ability for humans to create and reshape their environment for social progress through reason, science, and technology. Modernism generally suggests that facts exists, and if humans can understand enough relationships among facts, then they can reason through and solve problems. Postmodern takes an extremely skeptical approach, highlighting relativism rather than objective reality.
“Alternate Facts” and the rejection of facts are the penultimate articulation of the postmodern movement. While Trump is extremely unlikely to have read many if any postmodern works, his attacks on institutions are patented postmodern critiques of reason and reality. By deconstructing the known and the unknown into fragments of fact and alternate fact, Trump and his cronies have created an environment where the debate is over reality.
What is real and what is unreal is today’s debate. Gone are the days of good versus better policy. Gone are the days of liberal versus conservative. Gone are the days of ethical versus unethical. Today, we have a world of fact versus alternate fact.
Kakistocracy, not Technocracy
Trump’s administration not only rejects objective fact and reality, the Trump administration also rejects reason. This rejection has led to a widespread purge of experts throughout the government, from lifelong diplomats with critical connections in various foreign powers to elite scientists who continue to push the cutting edge of human knowledge.
The resulting government is devoid of expertise, leaving incompetence to run amok. In Trump’s postmodern world, there is no way to identify (much less implement) expertise. The highly unqualified govern critical posts. The guy who fought the EPA runs the EPA. The guy who fought the budget manages the budget. The gal who fought public education runs the department of education. Even the competent are miscast.
Previously, the US Government functioned like a fairly well-oiled machine on the backs of some of the best minds trained at the best universities refined by the best institutions implementing the best practices. The technocracy built by Clinton, Bush, and Obama has been systematically destroyed and replaced by Trump’s kakistocracy.
Trump realigned the United States in the 2016 election cycle. Instead of tilting the liberal-conservative axis, Trump realigned along a new one: technocratic/modern verses kakistocratic/postmodern. Considering the durability and philosophical hegemony postmodernism has today, it is highly likely that Trump’s realignment will be extremely durable.