Thursday, January 19, 2017

Looking Toward An Uncertain Future

The day I've been dreading is almost here.  Tonight is the last night that Barack Obama will be president, and tomorrow the world's most famous eight-year-old-trapped-in-a-seventy-year-old's-body will succeed him.  I really have no idea what to expect for the next four years, but if I had to make a wager, I'd go with something between Bush-era failure and absolute disaster.  Hopefully I will be pleasantly surprised, but very little about the transition period gives me confidence that will be the case.  In fact, this Jonathan Bernstein column lends credence to my wager position:
There's no Trump appointee for any of the top State Department jobs below secretary nominee Rex Tillerson. No Trump appointee for any of the top Department of Defense jobs below retired general James Mattis. Treasury? Same story. Justice? It is one of two departments (along with, bizarrely, Commerce) where Trump has selected a deputy secretary. But no solicitor general, no one at civil rights, no one in the civil division, no one for the national security division.
And the same is true in department after department. Not to mention agencies without anyone at all nominated by the president-elect.
Overall, out of 690 positions requiring Senate confirmation tracked by the Washington Post and Partnership for Public Service, Trump has come up with only 28 people so far....
First of all, the government actually does things, and without all the jobs filled it's not apt to do them very well. Even if there's no catastrophic failure, lack of leadership will, as should be no surprise, yield inertia and low morale, leading to steadily worse performance....
If I had to guess, however, I'd say that the failure to get his administration up and running on time isn't a deliberate choice by Trump; he just has no idea what he's doing, and hasn't surrounded himself with people well-equipped to translate his impulses and his campaign commitments into a full-fledged government. This isn't exactly a surprise.
To drive home this point, farmers and rural voters were absolutely essential to getting Trump elected, and he didn't get around to announcing a Secretary of Agriculture until today.  Even worse, the career politicians in the Republican Party also have little to no interest in actually governing, and I would anticipate a train wreck to result from the "united" government we got out of the disastrous election of 2016.

On the other side of the aisle, the situation is just as bleak.  The Democrats have seemingly lost their collective minds over the election results.  They put on their tin foil hats and have been wailing and gnashing their teeth over the supposed Russian interference in the election.  I believe the Russians may have been behind hacks of the DNC, but I'm pretty sure they had less impact on the general election than the phase of the moon (which, if you've read previous posts, I put little faith in for anything).  Many of my neighbors were solidly Trump since the first Republican debate in August of 2015, and almost all of them were anti-Hillary since 1993.  Nothing that came out in September or October was going to change how they were going to cast their ballots.  Even worse for the Democrats, their party is more dead than Elvis in rural areas throughout the country.

While I am pretty pessimistic about the near-to-medium term outlook for our political situation and for civil society in general, I would like to take a minute to thank President Obama for his eight years of service for our country.  In the face of unprecedented opposition from Republicans, he was able to lead the nation with grace and dignity.  Even though I think he made some serious miscalculations, especially in believing he would be able to convince Republicans to work with him, I believe that history will judge him as one of the best Presidents of the post-WWII era. 

In closing, in order to highlight the general decency of Obama, and of the American people in general, and to distract you a little bit from the narcissistic con man who will replace him at noon tomorrow, I would suggest you read this extremely well-written article about the people who sorted the letters and emails that Americans wrote to President Obama, and who decided which ones to pass on to the President to read, and who later drafted responses to these letters.  (h/t to my former boss for highlighting this story).  The article caused my eyes to fill with tears several times.  I challenge you to imagine the next President in soon-to-be citizen Barack Obama's place, and how he will handle the same kind of correspondence.  I wish our nation good luck as we proceed beyond tomorrow's change in leadership.  I really think we'll need it.

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