Rampant incompetence in the White House

This article argues that in addition to the Trump administration being full of people with damaging agendas, there is also a high level of incompetence.

That’s in part because, as his first term comes to a close, the professionals around Trump are not all that professional. It is now the exception in key staff and Cabinet posts to have people whose experience would be commensurate with that of people who have typically held those jobs in previous administrations of both parties. This major weakness has been revealing itself in a barrage of minor errors that summon Casey Stengel’s incredulous question about the 1962 New York Mets: Can’t anybody here play this game?

This phenomenon goes beyond matters relating to Trump’s personal health or politics to matters of foreign policy on which previous administrations have previously operated on the assumption that, when the world is watching, it is critical to speak with precision and clear purpose.

Robert O’Brien, Trump’s national security adviser, told a university audience on Wednesday that the U.S. would draw down troop levels in Afghanistan to 2,500 by “early next year,” only to be contradicted by Trump a few hours later in a tweet that the U.S. would have all troops out of Afghanistan by Christmas.

Another issue many current White House aides face is a lack of knowledge of internal processes that are there for a reason: to ensure good outcomes and avoid making everyone look bad.

“They don’t have as full an understanding internally how the White House works, and they don’t have a full understanding of how the White House and the press work together during these sorts of crisis moments, which is different from during normal times in the White House when the relationships are more normalized,” said one former administration official.

The source of much of the poor staffing in the White House and the administration that comes up time and time again in conversations with folks inside and outside the administration is the problematic role played by the Presidential Personnel Office, now headed up by 30-year-old former Trump body man Johnny McEntee, who’s viewed as the “keeper of the flame” in parts of Trump world, but despised in other corners for foisting unqualified, but sycophantic, young appointees — some even without college degrees — onto their agencies.

Chris Whipple, author of “The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency,” said a hobbled White House staff at the end of Trump’s first term is not surprising.

“This was a White House that was totally broken and dysfunctional long before the pandemic came along, and this was inevitable,” he said. “And it would be hard under Donald Trump to get high-caliber White House staffers prepandemic but during a pandemic, it’s mission impossible — especially when they basically abandon any protocols to keep people safe.”

This, of course, raises a conundrum. If you think that an administration’s policies are really harmful, is it better or worse to have people who are incompetent in charge of implementing them?


  1. ardipithecus says

    Depends on what they are incompetent at. If they are incompetent at their jobs, that does not prevent them from being competent at subverting the agency or department for their own personal advantage.

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