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 many people are increasingly asking themselves about a president who constantly ignores the advice of those he hires to advise him and has no issue treating America’s allies like dirt while coddling its foes. 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 a dogged 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 of both parties to describe their mistakes and disagreeable judgments. Under Trump the word has taken on a sobering and more accurate connotation. It is his real inability to handle the job. While some instances of his lack of competence 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, not just in the decision he produced but by the process he used to arrive at that decision. 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 for him to fail to defend America against those who wish to undermine its values and institutions.
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 working to trigger the 25th Amendment and risk 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 goes 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 so he could not see or sign them in order to protect national security. In one particular account, Gary Cohn, then Trump’s chief economic adviser, swiped off the President’s desk a paper to be signed by the President ending a trade agreement with South Korea that would have jeopardized America’s ability to quickly detect possible nuclear missile launches in North Korea. Cohen never denied the incident and eventually quit the administration over Trump’s tariff policies.
The most damning form of incompetency by Trump involves outright criminal behavior. This year we learned that Trump is a coconspirator in committing campaign finance fraud 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 very likely Trump will face a mountain of legal woes once he leaves office.
Trump still has two more years left in his term. Given his behavior—the lack of moral compass, incompetence, and irrationality—things will get worse, not better for the White House and America.