Friday, August 4, 2017

Buying a pig in a poke.

In our democracy it is quite acceptable for candidates to misrepresent themselves. No one is terribly outraged if, once elected, politicians act in ways contrary to their promises during their campaign. Obama got elected on slogans like "Change." He gave the impression of being concerned about the middle class – people who work hard but barely earn enough to get by. As soon as he got elected he chose his advisers from Wall Street, from Goldman Sachs, where concern about the middle class is not high on the agenda. This change did not arouse a great deal of protest. We have allowed our politicians to misrepresent themselves for a long time. We accept that kind of deception.
It is not terribly surprising that, once inaugurated as president, Donald Trump’s primary allegiance is to millionaires instead of to the working people to whom he appealed during his campaign.
Nor is it surprising that he proves inept in his relationships with Congress or the Republican Party of which he is now the nominal head. His experience as a real estate tycoon did not give him the opportunity to acquire political skills. We have always known that. We should not be surprised that the candidate elected because he is not a politician will then lack some of the skills politicians acquire in the course of their careers.
Trump in office has been notorious for his misrepresentations of facts. He does not hesitate to distort reality. He is willing to claim polling numbers, or approval by the public, or phone calls from leaders all of which are completely false. Anyone who followed him on the campaign trail is not going to be very surprised by that although the extent of his untruthfulness is startling.
And anyway, politicians have low regard for the truth. Remember – as one notorious example of government lying – the weapons of mass destruction that the Bush administration had pictures of to justify the invasion of Iraq? It turned out there were no such weapons.
But Donald Trump in the White House shows himself to be incapacitated in ways that we did not have reasons to expect.
Many voters thought that managing a multi-million dollar real estate empire would prepare him for managing the US government. But it turns out that he is completely incapable of doing that. Managing a large enterprise requires planning. A view of goals, of accepted management practices, of constructing a staff to execute the leader's commands – that and more is needed for running a complex set of institutions. During the campaign Trump promised all sorts of actions in order to create jobs, in order to preserve jobs, in order to ease conflicts in foreign affairs. There were suggestions of action plans.
But those turn out to be nonexistent. Trump is flailing around following momentary impulses. He has not managed so far to construct an administration that is unified around a set of plans. In order to understand the trajectory of this new administration one must study chaos theory. What is happening is incomprehensible. What will happen is unpredictable.
Not only does the Trump administration not seem to have any clear plans about how to run the country, it appears that the president is unable to stick to one thought while he's talking. Even his pronouncements lack focus. The beginning of the paragraph often addresses government policy and before you know it, Trump is talking about his popularity and how much everybody loves him.
Here is one example of how the president talks
: "Asked about his tax policy, Trump said, “I want to achieve growth. We’re the highest-taxed nation in the world, essentially, you know, of the size. But we’re the highest taxed nation in the world. We have - nobody knows what the number is. I mean, it used to be, when we talked during the debate, $2.5 trillion, right, when the most elegant person - right? I call him Mr. Elegant. I mean, that was a great debate. We did such a great job...”" (Dianne Williamson in the Worcester Telegram and Gazette, 8/3/2017)
This kind of incoherence is not only alarming because it is not limited only to the president's speech but pervades his career as a president so far. It appears that this man is unable to focus.
I do not think that that was obvious during the campaign. There are important aspects of the person of Donald Trump that the ordinary voter was unable to see.
That raises worries that go far beyond the person and career of the current president. His trajectory suggests that the way we go about selecting candidates allows them to conceal effectively shortcomings which would definitely disqualify them from the job for which they are running. If it had been clear during the campaign that this man is unable to focus on any particular thought for more than 30 seconds, some people would have voted differently for fear that this inability to stick to a topic would disqualify him from being at the head of our government. But I don't think many people knew that.
The presupposition of our democracy is that voters are informed about their choices before they cast their ballot. Uninformed voting does not make a democracy. Political campaigns are supposed to allow the voters to inform themselves about the candidates.
But now it seems that the kind of campaigns we run leave the voters ill informed. It seems that our kind of campaigns have just allowed us to elect a president who lacks elementary requirements for the presidency – the ability to hone in on a subject and to remain attentive to it for more than 30 seconds.
The election of Donald Trump as president shows that serious handicaps of the candidates may remain hidden from the voting public. It demonstrates a major weakness in our political processes. It is quite unclear at the moment how to change those in order to avoid further elections of people unqualified for the office.