This Is the Most Clueless, Incompetent, and Self-Defeating Administration in American History

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The Week

This Is the Most Clueless, Incompetent, and Self-Defeating Administration in American History

Top advisor to the president Steve Bannon (l) and White House chief of staff Reince Priebus. (Photo: Gage Skidmore/flickr/cc)

The continual meltdown of the Trump administration has reached, unbelievably, an even higher pitch over the last few days, with the hiring of financier Anthony Scaramucci as the new White House communications director.

And yet, the endless juicy personal drama surrounding President Trump is in some ways covering up for far worse failures and incompetence — particularly surrounding America's nuclear programs and arsenal. The hapless incompetence of this administration is virtually impossible to exaggerate.

But first, the drama. A mere five days after taking the job, Scaramucci was embroiled in a new seething controversy when Politico released a report detailing that, like practically every other top member of the Trump regime, he is stinking rich. He has up to $85 million in assets, plus a $5 million paycheck from his firm SkyBridge Capital and $4.9 million in capital gains from his ownership stake there in just this year alone.

Scaramucci immediately blamed White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, who had opposed his hiring, for the felonious "leak," and tweeted that he was going to report him to the FBI. But it turned out the form was public, a result of his previous post at the Export-Import Bank (as could be seen on the title of the form, which reads "Public Financial Disclosure Report"). Nevertheless, Scaramucci continued to insist that an investigation was needed, telling The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza that "Reince is a f--king paranoid schizophrenic, a paranoiac." (He also noted that "I'm not Steve Bannon, I’m not trying to suck my own cock.")

All this tomfoolery only slightly displaced the previous, still-ongoing personnel drama: Trump's campaign against Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The president told New York Times reporters he was upset that Sessions recused himself from the investigation into Trump's Russia ties, and is reportedly considering replacing Sessions with a loyal lickspittle who will squash the investigation. (Whether or not someone behaving this way has something to hide on Russia is left as an exercise for the reader.)

When trying to describe this endless parade of buffoonery, incompetence, and criminality, one problem is adequate description. One instinctively reaches for comparisons from fiction, but the problem is that the darkest black comedy satires of government incompetence do not remotely approach the reality we're living through. The scene in In the Loop where an American general is constructing a war plan with a child's toy calculator seems like a portrayal of earnest, responsible professionalism compared with our current cretin-ocracy.

A free and independent press is essential to the health of a functioning democracy

But that isn't the half of it. A much more alarming aspect of the incompetence of the Trump regime can be found in a Vanity Fair story by Michael Lewis, who has been reporting at the Department of Energy for the past few months. The rather obscure agency is tasked with many things, but its primary one is safeguarding America's nuclear stockpile, securing and cleaning up nuclear waste, and securing loose nuclear material around the world. "In just the past eight years the DoE's National Nuclear Security Administration has collected enough material to make 160 nuclear bombs," Lewis writes.

The depth of the intellectual rot in the Republican Party is embodied in the selection of former Texas Gov. Rick Perry to run this department. This man's legendary stupidity first became a national punchline during a Republican presidential debate in 2011, when he was attempting to list three Cabinet-level agencies he would abolish, naming the Departments of Commerce and Education but forgetting Energy. After Trump appointed him to run the agency, it turned out that he still had no idea what the department did — assuming, Texas-style, that it was all about oil and gas. Oops.

But as Lewis writes, Perry is running the department almost alone. In his increasingly terrifying article, Lewis describes the scores of Obama-era bureaucrats who waited patiently after the election for the Trump transition team to send their new people over, so they could describe the complicated but vital programs and finances of the department, as Bush-era people had done for them. (The department has a budget of about $30 billion and employs 110,000 people.) Almost nobody showed up — and many of those who did were wet-behind-the-ears ideological hacks who demanded to know who was researching climate change. To this day only four out of 22 political appointee positions at Energy even have nominations — and Perry is the only one that has been confirmed.

Extraordinarily sensitive nuclear, waste cleanup, and energy security programs are being neglected or simply left to rot. Meanwhile, Trump's proposed budget would cut spending on electrical grid security by half, as well as zero out an extraordinarily successful research division, a green loan program that underwrites things like Tesla's new cutting-edge factory, cancel all climate change research, and force layoffs of 6,000 scientists.

Any random schlub who was yanked off the street to become president would almost certainly be convinced of the vital nature of DoE programs by the world-class scientists working there. But Donald Trump has a virtually unique combination of total ignorance, total confidence, and endless trashy scandals to distract from his fundamental incapacity to govern.

This kind of thing could quite easily get thousands and thousands of people killed. There are worse things than national humiliation when being governed by the most corrupt, incompetent president in history.

Ryan Cooper

Ryan Cooper is a national correspondent at TheWeek.com. His work has appeared in the Washington Monthly, The New Republic, and the Washington Post.

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