Our New Vulnerabilities

Donald J Trump

Now that we have a new President elect, maybe it is worth asking ourselves how Donald Trump’s strengths and weaknesses will serve our nation. I am not sure his strengths are conventional ones, because he hasn’t lived a life similar to most of us. To my knowledge, he hasn’t ever had to apply for a workaday job. He hasn’t built a career under a series of sadistic or negligent bosses or people who were not grooming him for success.

I wish I could easily set aside the opinions I have formed of the man over the past year and a half or so. It is hard to do. An exercise I have tried with some degree of success is to put Donald Trump on retrospective mute. If I ignore nearly every utterance or tweet he has issued and rely on accounts that others have made of his character, as well as observations of his business activities, it is easier to see the positives. This is a bridge further than I would have to cross for most people, but it is essential to avoid viewing his ascension to the White House as a national embrace of cynicism.


Trump’s ability to manipulate people and situations is an enormous factor in his success. He has been able to get deals done and at least some of that is due to him being able to figure out what motivates his business associates. He can think big and visualize very large projects while not getting mired in details. This ability to ignore details is a hurdle for many of us. If we rise to the top of our field, for most of us, it is because we learned to sweat the details. We learned the technical aspects of our work and were promoted along the way. Donald Trump has no such baggage.

Let’s not trivialize his personal financial success. In my estimation, he has been quite shrewd in protecting his own interests. He has suffered setbacks and he has found ways to survive them. Some of his biggest projects have failed spectacularly and he managed to come back from the edge of financial ruin. Facing a failure with the scope of the Trump Taj Mahal, I would imagine would cause a lot of normal humans to lose continence, if not confidence.

Donald Trump does not lack confidence. It is this very confidence that has helped him to decide that he was the right person to lead the nation.

Trump’s comfort in working people is actually an art form. Commandment of facts and depth of knowledge over a broad spectrum of topics is not required to make people want to do business with you. However, one thing that really does make people want to do business with you is something that Trump has in spades- money, or at least access to financing. As the president of the United States, he has access to untold fortunes and sets priorities, but he is not really the guy who gets to decide where to spend it when it comes to the US government.


If there is one weakness that seems to emerge with some regularity, it is a lack of self control. It is clear that he can’t seem to back down from even the smallest snub or slight. The New Year’s Eve tweet that was so famous is a small example.

Celebrities who deign to criticise him could be ignored, but they get his full and undivided attention. This is surprising. There are, meanwhile, a great many things he could be spending more time on.

The second noticeable weakness is a very shallow grasp of the facts concerning complex policy issues. The simplistic view is, no doubt, appreciated by folks who think that most big problems can be solved by common sense. Additionally, leading by principle is beguiling. By distilling the issues down to black/red tokens you can make decisions without knowing the details.

The major problem with this notion is that, as a leader of a country, there are many people, foreign and domestic, who are trying to manipulate you. From all that is apparent in the public domain, Donald Trump was surprised by the controversy presented by a phone call with the President of Taiwan. After some incredulity and a protest from China, Trump posted this:

The upshot here was that who called whom was the salient information rather than the public announcement of the call in the first place. It is also interesting that he passed this off as a phone ringing out of the blue that he was somehow compelled to pick up. In fact, it has since been widely reported that this call was a long time in the works and brokered, at least in part, by none other than Bob Dole.

This sort of fumbling was a very sad turn of events. It was an opportunity to alter the course of foreign policy, or to graciously accept a call and not publicize it. In the end, it did neither. Trump came across as being unaware of the situation. From China’s point of view, this was the equivalent of a call from the mayor of Shanghai. Trump did not seem to appreciate the nuance and so he created a precursor to an international incident without any of the benefits.

Now, this is important, because in retrospect, it isn’t even clear that Donald Trump knew that this call was more important or had more significance than any other congratulatory call. So why did it happen? Who wanted it to happen? Would he have made the call if he had known that it would potentially strain US/China relations? Maybe so, but perhaps he wouldn’t have responded with a who-called-whom tweet.

There are any number of economic, defence, environmental and social issues facing the country where he has a similarly shallow depth of knowledge. It seems that he is highly vulnerable to manipulation by cynical elements who are being hired into the highest levels of government.

He is appointing an Education Secretary in Betsy DeVos who seems less interested in public education and more interested in clearing the way for public funding for religious education through vouchers. He appears to have selected a climate change denier in Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency. An oil executive as secretary of state? Why not? Rick Perry is slated to head the Department of Energy which is, as we might recall one of the three federal agencies he claims he would have eliminated were he elected president.  The list goes on. It seems hard to imagine that Trump could have, without help, dropped such bombs on these departments.

One might ask where all these names come from, and the answer seems to be “…from very close.” He has picked his own business attorney as the ambassador to Israel. Steve Bannon as Chief Strategist, His son-in-law and his daughter are taking senior jobs in the administration as well. The people who are providing Donald Trump with his world view seem to be coming off of an extremely shallow bench.

A principled leader does need something around which to form principles. It seems as likely that Donald Trump had little knowledge of the inner workings and responsibilities of these cabinet positions. He’s hired loyalists over bureaucrats. Which, seems to be sort of the opposite of draining any kind of swamp. Hiring your buddies and people who supported you has been behind some of the biggest mistakes made in DC.

It comes across as a broad lack of interest in the day-to-day running of the executive branch. Naturally, Donald Trump had, until recently, never aspired to do so. At any rate, the attention span and details required to deliver effective governance will continue be the biggest blind spot for our new President.

I keep hearing the words of George W. Bush praising his FEMA appointee Michael Brown, who had no experience running a government agency before Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana.

Donald Trump is setting the table in such a way that sooner or later he will probably find himself uttering a phrase that sounds a lot like “Heckuva job Brownie.”

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