Last week on CNN former Secretary of Defense William Cohen was asked if he felt President Trump was fit to be Commander in Chief. The question is one that more people than ever are asking themselves about a president who behaves and arrives at decisions erratically. Cohen answered the question directly, “In my judgement, no.” The following evening former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was asked if he agreed with Cohen. He answered, “…I think Bill Cohen is right. [Trump] is just not equipped on any level to be President of the United States.” The reaction from the two former secretaries and erstwhile Republican legislators came on the heels of the resignation in protest of current Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis after Trump’s shocking decision to pull out of Syria… a decision this blog described as undoubtably incompetent.
It is incompetence that has been an underlying theme for President Trump throughout 2018. And this is no ordinary use of the word which has been traditionally thrown around by critics of past presidents to describe their mistakes and disagreeable judgments. Under Trump the word has taken on a sobering connotation. It is his real inability to handle the job in ways that are even remotely normal given the circumstances. While some instances of his incompetence could be shrugged off as his lack of political experience before coming to the highest office in the land, the decision to pull out of Syria last week demonstrates that nearly two years after taking office he is not grasping fundamental aspects of the job. It is not just in the decisions he produces but also by the process he uses to arrive at those decisions. Some may even feel incompetence is too light a word to use with this president. As we learned this year, often Trump’s incompetence is laced with ill-intent.
In July we saw President Trump, standing by Vladimir Putin’s side during a press conference in Helsinki, take the Russian president’s word that he and his government did not interfere with the 2016 U.S. elections. This came despite the unanimous decision by the entire U.S. intelligence community that the Russian government did indeed try to manipulate the election and the indictment of 12 Russians in U.S. federal court for their roles in the operation. The indictments were part of the Mueller investigation which Trump described as a “disaster for our country” and “a total witch hunt” while standing by Putin’s side in front of the international press. Trump’s performance cannot be dismissed as a bad day at the office. It was willful negligence, or just as alarming, a complete detachment from reality.
And it is not only those outside of the Trump Administration who worry about his competency for the job. In September we read the op-ed in the New York Times by an anonymous senior official in the Trump White House titled, “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration.” In that piece we learned that members of the President’s senior staff had contemplated the use of the 25th Amendment over concerns of his mental stability and his ability to handle the job. Instead of risking a possible constitutional crisis, officials “vowed” to do what they could “to preserve our democratic institutions while thwarting Mr. Trump’s more misguided impulses until he is out of office.”
We also learned in September detailed examples of just how far Trump’s own staff go to keep him from inept and dangerous decisions. That month Bob Woodward published his behind-the-scenes book, “Fear: Trump in the White House” in which he detailed examples of senior staff conspiring to steal documents off Trump’s desk to protect national security from the president himself. In one particular account, Gary Cohn, then Trump’s chief economic adviser, swiped from the President’s desk a paper to be signed by the President ending a trade agreement with South Korea. The ending of that agreement would have jeopardized America’s ability to quickly detect possible nuclear missile launches in North Korea. Cohn, who had quit his job over Trump’s tariff policies, never denied the incident.
The most damning form of incompetency by Trump involves outright criminal behavior. This year we learned that Trump is a coconspirator in a felony when his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, plead guilty to campaign finance violations. Court filings show Trump ordered Michael Cohen to make hush-money payments to Trump’s mistresses during the election in violation of the law. While this happened before Trump became president, it does involve his choices to achieve that position. It is likely that Trump will be indicted at some point in the future for his role in working with Cohen to break campaign finance laws, but not as a sitting president. Not to mention, it could be used to garner support for impeachment proceedings if more presidential wrongdoing is revealed by Robert Mueller’s investigation.
Trump’s presidency is not a normal American presidency, nor ever could it be given its performance over the past two years. The acceptance of Putin’s word despite all the evidence against it at Helsinki, senior staff seriously discussing the 25th Amendment, the formation of a “resistance” inside the White House out of fear of the president’s policies and behavior, a president caught red-handed in a prosecutable felony, and abandoning key American allies with only a few days warning (Syria) are all signs of an inept president unfit for office. While labeling President Trump incompetent and unfit for office might not be new to many people who suspected it all along, 2018 is the year that made it clear for all to see.