By Bruce Bartlett

Trump's incompetence is a problem. His staff should intervene

June 6, 2017 - 9:29

Trump may not get any smarter any time soon, but he can act a lot smarter very quickly if he simply uses the resources at his disposal

The evidence is becoming overwhelming that Donald Trump lacks the temperament, basic knowledge or intelligence to be a minimally competent president. There are ways he can deal with this and compensate for it, but first he must become aware of it, and there is no evidence that anyone in his inner circle is going to tell him. The White House staff, the cabinet, and Republicans in Congress must learn how to adapt to this reality.
In recent days, there have been a number of press reports suggesting that President Trump is unable to absorb essential information needed to do his job. His attention span is too short, he won’t read anything longer than a page, and must be bribed with flattery to keep his mind focused. Writing in the New York Times on 18 May, Peter Baker asked those working at foreign embassies in Washington what they have learned from their interactions with Trump.
Said Baker: “Keep it short – no 30-minute monologue for a 30-second attention span. Do not assume he knows the history of the country or its major points of contention. Compliment him on his Electoral College victory. Contrast him favorably with Barack Obama. Do not get hung up on whatever was said during the campaign. Stay in regular touch. Do not go in with a shopping list but bring some sort of deal he can call a victory.”

 The briefing responsibilities

A few days later, a group of Washington Post reporters explained that Trump’s own staff have learned to deal with the unique challenges of briefing him, which revealed much about his limitations. As they wrote: “White House aides also have talked about having a rotating cast of staff brief the media, a group that could include officials such as national security adviser HR McMaster. Having several aides share the briefing responsibilities could help prevent Trump – who has a notoriously short attention span – from growing bored or angry with any one staff member.”
During his foreign trip, foreign leaders were taken aback by Trump’s ignorance of simple basics about the nature of the western alliance that date back more than 70 years. Pulitzer prize-winning foreign policy specialist Anne Applebaum noted in a Washington Post column that Trump clearly had no idea how NATO worked, apparently likening it to a club like his own at Mar-a-Lago where members pay dues.
Applebaum said that Trump also displayed gross ignorance about the nature of trade relationships in Europe. He criticized Germany’s trade policy and suggested a new bilateral treaty without realizing that as a member of the European Union it could not negotiate one. Any new trade arrangement would have to be negotiated through the EU.
Another Washington Post story reported that those briefing Trump daily on foreign intelligence are frustrated that they must simplify complex matters to an extreme degree, using “killer graphics” to hold his attention. “Yet,” the report went on, “there are signs that the president may not be retaining all the intelligence he is presented, fully absorbing its nuance, or respecting the sensitivities of the information and how it was gathered.”
Foreign countries like Britain and Israel have now become wary of sharing sensitive intelligence with the U.S. if it may come to Trump’s attention, for fear it will leak out in a late-night tweet.

The job of being president

The idea that Trump is just not up to the job of being president is growing among the general public, according to a May 10 Quinnipiac Poll. People were asked: “What is the first word that comes to mind when you think of Donald Trump?” The top answer given was “idiot,” followed by “incompetent.” Other popular terms from the poll were “unqualified” and “ignorant.”
While many of those holding such an opinion undoubtedly are liberals and Democrats, even some conservatives feel the same way. Erick Erickson, a founder of the popular Republican website RedState published an op-ed article on May 19 containing this remarkable paragraph: “The president exudes incompetence and instability. Divulging classified information to the Russians through bragging; undermining his staff’s defense of his conduct through inane tweets; even reportedly asking the FBI director to suspend an investigation of a former adviser — all these strike me not so much as malicious but as the ignorant actions of an overwhelmed man.
“Republicans excuse this behavior as Trump being Trump, but that will only embolden voters who seek greater accountability to choose further change over stability. The sad reality is that the greatest defense of the president available at this point is one his team could never give on the record: He is an idiot who does not know any better.”

Having worked in politics for many years, including at the White House, I know perfectly well that our elected representatives aren’t always the sharpest knives in the drawer. But many were, nevertheless, competent leaders and legislators. That is because they were aware of their limitations and compensated for them by hiring good staff, giving them a lot of latitude to act in their name, and avoiding extemporaneous statements on complicated issues.
Trump has a huge staff at his beck and call. He should use them to research issues for him rather than getting his briefings from Fox & Friends. He should let his staff draft statements for him and let them go through the normal vetting process, including fact-checking. And he must resist the temptation to tweet or talk off the top of his head about policy issues, and work through the normal process used by every previous president.
Trump may not get any smarter any time soon, but he can act a lot smarter very quickly if he simply uses the resources at his disposal.

(Source: The Guardian)

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