Will any of the people advising Trump dare to speak truth to power? And if so, will the new president ever listen? If the answer to both questions is “no,” then Trump will rule more like a monarch than a president.
Mitt Romney said in a letter to the editor published in the Salt Lake Tribune that he was “more than a little surprised” that President-elect Donald Trump reached out to him to discuss the possibility of the 2012 GOP nominee becoming Secretary of State. Romney believed this to be “a welcome sign that he will be open to alternative views and even to critics.”
If only there were any indication of that being the case. Instead, all signs point to Trump surrounding himself with people who agree with him or whose opinions he can easily disregard if they conflict with his own.
While we could make a lot of quips about Trump being a mere puppet of Vladimir Putin, the fact is that he will be the world’s most powerful person on January 20th — even though Forbes magazine recently bestowed that honor on the Russian leader.
The question now is how Trump, who will be the least experienced White House occupant in generations, will wield that immense power.
There are plenty of reasons to be concerned. Of Trump’s top six appointments, only one, prospective Attorney General Jeff Sessions, has more civilian government experience than Trump, who has none. Chief of Staff Reince Priebus lost the only race for state office he ever ran, Rex Tillerson (State) is an oil executive, James Mattis (Defense) and Michael Flynn (National Security Adviser) are retired generals and Steven Mnuchin (Treasury) is an investment banker and executive.
Other appointments have gone to big donors and early supporters, such as wrestling executive Linda McMahon (Small Business Administration), restaurant chain executive Andrew Puzder (Labor), Amway billionaire Betsy DeVos (Education), and investor Wilbur Ross (Commerce).
Of course, Trump’s real inner circle seems to consist mainly of his children and son-in-law Jared Kushner.
In other words, Trump has largely surrounded himself with loyalists with no government experience. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with either. Trump has to rely on his cabinet and advisers to help him run the country, so he needs to trust them. And government outsiders, such as executives, generals, scientists, doctors, etc., can play a valuable role in providing new perspectives.
But it is entirely unclear whether anybody will dare to speak truth to power in the new administration. And even if somebody did, there is no indication that Trump will listen.
Last week, he dismissed the findings of the entire intelligence community that Russia had influenced the US elections and said because he is “smart” he will not need daily intelligence briefings. On the campaign trail, Trump announced that he knows more than the generals about ISIS.
Famously thin-skinned, Trump also has a long history of going after critics and dissenters as well as real and perceived adversaries — either by threatening to take them to court or, most recently, by tweeting about them and unleashing a horde of alt-right trolls to go after such enemies.
There is lots of evidence that Trump will only listen to Trump. And “truth” is not his strong suit. There has never been a candidate who has said as many demonstrably false things as he has. Appallingly, this barrage of untruths helped get him elected.
World affairs, however, is not an election or a reality TV show. Facts matter when dealing with international partners, adversaries and crises. Somebody needs to tell Trump that he won’t be able to bullshit his way through the situation in Syria, an economic crisis or a trade war with China.
But who would risk that? Instead, it seems as though his advisers, such as Steve Bannon or Kellyanne Conway, are simply trying to steer and manipulate Trump to do their bidding.
As to what Romney called a “welcome sign,” sometime Trump adviser Roger Stone has a different take on what transpired: “Donald Trump was interviewing Mitt Romney for Secretary of State in order to torture him.”
The cartoon above was created by DonkeyHotey for WhoWhatWhy from these images: Donald Trump caricature (DonkeyHotey / Flickr – CC BY-SA 2.0), Melania Trump caricature (DonkeyHotey / Flickr – CC BY 2.0), oval office (National Archives), Emperor Napoleon (Wikipedia) and gilt (pussbigeyes / Flickr – CC BY 2.0).