Time to start over.
Trump throws Sessions under the bus? But does he really? He tells the Times he is disappointed the A.G. recused himself from the Russian affair and would not have chosen him had he known he would. This is far from the buck-stops-here-lead-from-the-front you would expect of a president.
But by now Mr. Sessions surely knows his man; he expresses displeasure and frustration and he vents; then it blows over. Is this Caesarism? The end of rule-of-law as we have known it? But if someone had overheard the prez fulminating about meddlesome priests, would it not have been leaked by now? Mr. Sessions has not been fired. No journalists have been jailed. If this is tyranny-in-the-making, it sure does not look like it has legs. Maybe it is time to bring down the curtain on the political show and start the next act, policy. If Mr. Trump wants to, he can announce, “Enough time wasted on what the fakers say I did and the losers say I am. Let’s talk about policy — what do you think of my policies?”
For half a year the media have, overwhelmingly, concentrated on transmitting scandal news, personal spats, and have done little reporting on what may change, or what already has, in real fact and on the ground.
Are we going to secure the borders and develop a sensible immigration policy? Are we going to rethink the grand strategy of the Republic and build, or rebuild, the means to carry it out? Are we going to sustain the best health care in the world and make it available to as many people as possible? Will economic and fiscal policies remove disincentives to wealth creation?
These are some of the main issues. There are others: Can the federals — or the states, or the private sector — launch and see through needed infrastructure repairs? These range from broken streets and roads and bridges and tunnels to electrical grids, “cyber highways,” mass transportation, ports and harbors, space research.
There is education, both public and, by means of incentives including tax breaks, private and parochial. There is advanced education and research, meaning essentially adult and professional education, from elementary, remedial education — why should we have large swathes of adults in this country who are practical illiterates? — to the most advanced, frontiers-of-knowledge work done at the NIH or NASA; and much besides.
There is crime control.
You can add to the list at will, you are welcome. You have to consider even the “pre-program program”, i.e., the development of a plan to do what you want to do. For instance, the Trump administration may have the notion that federal involvement in education is largely a wasteful, and even harmful, intrusion. What do they propose instead, given the way Americans are educated and miseducated?
It may be that those whom we elected feel our foreign policy establishment is bloated and inefficient and tripping up our grand strategy and should be reduced. But we scarcely see even the beginning of a plan to just think about what do, how to do it, and what to follow it through with.
We vaguely recall a short editorial written after the election suggesting the Trump inner circle retreat to Bermuda or Florida or for that matter Camp David and just sit down for a month, even three months, and do nothing but talk, think, draft plans, tear them up, try again, until they know what they want and how to do it. The word would be, to the permanent civil service: just do your job, follow all existing policy directives, and stay honest. We’ll come back with a program, a list of personnel changes at the higher levels of government, and we’ll explain the deal to the American people, publish all possible accounts, actual and projected of what we want to do what it will cost and will require in terms of human resources, roll up our sleeves, and get to work.
Our modest advice was not even acknowledged and instead the political classes, elected and non-elected, descended into a kind of collective food fight, rendered more vicious and nasty and childish by the inability of the anti-Trump factions, on both the conservative and liberal sides, to acknowledge that the election was over and done with, the people had spoken, and criticism now should be civil, respectful, motivated by the search for accuracy and the public interest. This did not happen, partly due to the Trump people’s own ineptness, for sure, but also due to a kind of subversive movement within the federal bureaucracy, including at very high levels, to paralyze and perhaps even replace the new administration.
Ineptitude is not a crime (notwithstanding the clever aphorism by a 19th-century diplomat, “It’s worse than a crime, it’s stupid,” regarding a badly botched matter of state); subversion is. The leaks, in particular, which have flooded the capital and seem to have created a swamp worse than the one Trump promised to drain during the campaign, with feverish consequences unseen since the Nixon and Clinton years, are in violation of specific statutes that can send the perps to jail.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration still has not sat down and figured out exactly what its plan is, what its priorities, who its people. In this regard, just by way of example, I find the stance of Elliott Abrams a worthy example of civic decency. Mr. Abrams, who served in high positions under Ronald Reagan and both presidents Bush, was preferred by Rex Tillerson to serve as his deputy, but the president turned him down. Fair enough, but what matters here is that Abrams’ reaction was not to respond with a leak-attack (he has been in Washington long enough to have access to the kinds of contacts a leaker requires, short of spinning the whole leak out of vapor, which of course is possible too), nor write sore loser editorials in the local press, but simply to say, those are the breaks and I’m always ready to answer the call to serve my country.
Admirable. And, at the rate things are going, the call may come sooner than he thinks, because while the administration has enunciated a basic axiom of foreign policy that makes sense, it has not, with the exception of some improvements in the defense budget which are said by experts to be both quantitative and qualitative, done much. The administration may be right that the State Department is bloated and is doing things that are not only useless but ill-advised, but this makes the presence of individuals like Abrams on the management side all the more important.
Why are they so inept? The short answer, of course, is that they have not had time to think through what they want to do, in what order of urgency, with what human and budgetary means. And it will continue if they do not take a deep breath and say, “Better late than never, let’s go to Bermuda and start over.”
As they pack their bags, they can let it be known that they agree in principle with the Article-V movement, as it might be called, call a Constitutional Convention and fix the root causes (now there’s an idiom) of our national governance crisis, get the wheels back on the political system, and, yes, keep America great, not again, but forever.
The Reefs, Bermuda (Wikimedia Commons)