Ezra Klein describes Donald Trump's fights with his own goverment on vox.com.
On Monday, President Trump tweeted something strange. “The Justice Dept. should have stayed with the original Travel Ban, not the watered down, politically correct version they submitted to [the Supreme Court],” he wrote.
You would think, reading this missive, that Trump was still a candidate for president, or a New York billionaire raging against the Obama administration. There is a powerlessness in his formulation, an impotent anger at the distant, impersonal bureaucracy he’s criticizing.
But “the Justice Dept.” is really Trump’s Justice Department. It is run by a man Trump handpicked to lead it. The revised travel ban — which was an effort to save Trump’s policy from total defeat before the Supreme Court — was crafted with the input of the White House, and only released after Trump’s top advisers cleared it.
All of which makes Trump’s tweet a very peculiar artifact. If Trump didn’t want the revised travel ban released, why was it released? Isn’t he the boss? Is he going to fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions? Or ask Sessions to fire someone else? And what kind of leader acts like this, litigating frustrations in public and dodging responsibility for the actions of the organization he runs?
Trump ran for office posing as a savvy corporate executive who would manage the government like a business. But since winning the presidency, he has proven alienated and confused by the government he runs. He criticizes it in public in ways that make clear he doesn’t understand how to manage it in private. Harry Truman famously had a sign on his desk saying, “The buck stops here.” Trump isn’t sure where the buck stops, or how to find it, or even whom to ask about it. He doesn’t run the government so much as fight with it.
“Trump sees ‘the Trump administration’ as himself, his Twitter account, Jared and Ivanka, and a few close staffers at the White House,” says Ron Klain, who served as chief of staff to Vice Presidents Joe Biden and Al Gore. “He will always think of everyone else as ‘the government’: some nameless force that does not answer to him, and that he does not manage in a conventional sense.”
This was predictable. Trump was never the omnicompetent CEO he played on television. His core business was licensing his name out to other people who actually ran businesses. He’s a genius marketer, not a genius manager. The “Trump” brand appeared on steaks, on vodka, on eyeglasses, on lamps, and on fragrances, to name just a few. But he didn’t run those companies or manage the people who did. He didn’t take responsibility for those products or those teams.
Sometimes the results were comical, as with Trump’s steak company. Sometimes the results were disastrous, as with Trump University, or those Florida condos. Sometimes he just made a quick buck, as with his line of neckwear. Trump was so successful as a marketer in part because he was unusually disinterested in the companies he endorsed. One reason athletes and celebrities don’t sell their brands more widely is it’s hard to exert quality control over too many products. Trump didn’t care about the quality of the products he backed, and that let him cash a check from many, many more of them.
The result is a president who doesn’t understand the full scope of his job, a bureaucracy that doesn’t trust its leader, and the most powerful country in the world being managed in the most dysfunctional way possible. It has long been a trope in American politics that the government needs to be run more like a business, but no board of directors would allow a business to be run like this.
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