Paul Krugman has never made his contempt for Donald Trump a secret. He takes on the incoming president’s dangerous incompetence in Friday’s column. The parade of ignorance has been amply on display with Trump’s cabinet appointee hearings. Betsy DeVos showed her cluelessness about education policy and even basic educational terms during her testimony and Rex Tillerson casually suggested an action that could start a war with China. Meanwhile, plagiarist Monica Crowley had to withdraw from contention for a national security job, and most of the national security staff positions remain vacant.
Is it clear to Trump voters yet that their allegedly smart, competent, get-things-done businessman president is not what he appeared to be, Krugman wonders. Worse still, in his egomaniacal insecurity, he is surrounding himself with people much like himself.
So the typical Trump nominee, in everything from economics to diplomacy to national security, is ethically challenged, ignorant about the area of policy he or she is supposed to manage and deeply incurious. Some, like Michael Flynn, Mr. Trump’s choice as national security adviser, are even as addicted as their boss to internet conspiracy theories. This isn’t a team that will compensate for the commander in chief’s weaknesses; on the contrary, it’s a team that will amplify them.
Why does this matter? If you want a model for how the Trump-Putin administration is likely to function (or malfunction), it’s helpful to recall what happened during the Bush-Cheney years.
People tend to forget the extent to which the last Republican administration was also characterized by cronyism, the appointment of unqualified but well-connected people to key positions. It wasn’t as extreme as what we’re seeing now, but it was striking at the time. Remember “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job”? And it caused very real damage.
In particular, if you want some notion of what Trump governance is likely to look like, consider the botched occupation of Iraq. People who knew anything about nation-building weren’t wanted; party loyalists — and corporate profiteers — took their place. There’s even a little-known connection: Betsy DeVos’s brother, Erik Prince, founded Blackwater, the mercenary outfit that, among other things, helped destabilize Iraq by firing into a crowd of civilians.
The Trump administration is shaping up to be Bush-Cheney-like, on steroids. Blind ideology, blind loyalty, contempt for knowledge, nuance and expertise, and lack of ethics are the values the incoming president rewards.
No doubt there will be a crisis in pretty short order that reveals the true costs of such an approach. Some candidates, Krugman suggests, are collapsing health care, a trade war, or an actual military standoff with the much-baited China.
Or some really bad weather, like Katrina. Or something completely out of left field.
In any event, it won’t be a problem you can solve with a tweet, or by manipulating the media with your friends at the FBI and the Kremlin.