U.S. President Donald Trump gestures as he arrives at the Congress Center on the closing day of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Jan. 26, 2018. (Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg)

Trump’s Ineptitude Is No Joke

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- It’s hard to imagine a better quick story summing up the Donald Trump administration than the one that broke Sunday night about a bill the White House was preparing to, as Jonathan Swan at Axios put it, “declare America’s abandonment of fundamental World Trade Organization rules” by giving the president authority to unilaterally break those rules.

Let’s see … 

  • The policy is nuts; virtually all experts, both in trade and in foreign policy, believe global trade is very good for the U.S.
  • In fact, according to Swan’s reporting, almost everyone in the White House thinks the bill “is unrealistic or unworkable.”
  • Why does it exist, then? Because Trump ordered it, and sometimes the best way to mollify a president is to give him what he wants — very slowly, and without anything actually happening. Apparently this thing has been kicking around for months.
  • The bill has virtually no chance whatsoever of being enacted into law.
  • The draft bill has a title, the United States Fair and Reciprocal Tariff Act, which yields an acronym that had every Twitter wag making fart jokes Sunday night.

On that last point, political scientist Brendan Nyhan made the crucial point: There are actually two perfectly plausible explanations. The ridiculous title could be just another sign of an administration that routinely botches basic tasks; after all, official White House communications have been plagued by typos ever since Trump took office, and just a few days ago a prankster claiming to be New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez managed to get a call through to the president. But it’s equally possible it was a malicious effort to undermine the policy by someone in the White House or an executive-branch agency; all administrations leak, but none before this have leaked so often with information that looked this bad for the president. 

So to summarize: The president ordered something inept; he’s not going to get what he wanted; and everyone in the administration has egg on their faces over it. 

What’s even more amazing about this is that Trump seems to be oblivious to all of it. For all we know, he really thinks that North Korea is giving up its nuclear weapons (it isn’t), the border wall is under construction (nope), and that he’s going to get his Space Force (seems extremely unlikely, even if Trump thinks wars against the Pentagon bureaucracy are good and easy to win). 

He remains such a weak president that he has to select a Supreme Court nominee from a list supplied by an interest group. But he doesn’t appear to realize it — and he certainly isn’t demonstrating any ability to change the situation. Meanwhile, he’ll just keep ordering people to do things that (most of the time at least) will never happen, while the few competent people he’s somehow managed to put in place will continue to do things in his name whether he likes it or not. I could add a fart joke, but the whole thing really isn’t very funny. 

1. Stephanie Carvin at the Monkey Cage on Trump and Canadian foreign policy.

2. Seth Masket takes me to task over the importance of hypocrisy. Where I’d agree with him is that I do think it’s important, as he says, for politicians to offer reasons for the things they do — reasons more public-oriented than simply doing it because they want to. 

3. My Bloomberg Opinion colleague Brooke Sutherland on GM and Trump’s trade war.

4. Alec MacGillis on Mitch McConnell’s legacy

5. Jonathan Chait on Lawrence Kudlow and the federal budget deficit. The update at the bottom is the best part. 

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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