Politics & News
David Brooks: Chaos In The Presidency; Combination Of Semi-Competent Staff And “Intellectually Unstable President”

PBS NEWSHOUR: Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including a tumultuous week at the White House, President Trump’s surprise announcement of a tariff on imported steel and aluminum and political polarization in Congress over gun control.

JUDY WOODRUFF, HOST: It’s been one more whirlwind week in Washington, another high-profile departure from the White House, fresh scrutiny over the president’s son-in-law, and an escalation in the war of words between Mr. Trump and his own attorney general, all this as the president made surprise declarations on trade and gun control.

That brings us to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Welcome, gentlemen.

So, so much going on this week, I barely know where to begin.

At the White House, Mark, the president’s closest aide announced she’s leaving. He has a son-in-law who is under a lot of scrutiny over alleged conflicts of interest. He has a chief of staff who is raising questions again about his — how he handled the firing of an aide over domestic abuse, and on and on.

The leaks seem to just be flowing a gusher every day. What matters in all of this?

MARK SHIELDS: What matters is chaos in the White House is bad for the United States and bad for the world. There’s no rational order.

I mean, for example, what you have described, the morale at the White House, from every report, is just incredibly low. To work in any White House, Judy, is an act of both self-sacrifice and self-interest. You miss birthdays. You miss anniversaries. You miss your children’s recitals.

But there’s a sense of mission, a sense of history, a sense also that it’s special. You’re part of something special. You get status and recognition.

All that is missing here. This is a civil war in a leper colony. There is no sense of direction. The steel quotas being a perfect example. There was no preparation — tariffs, rather — there was no preparation politically, there was no preparation for making a case, there was no preparation for the press, there was no preparation within the White House.

There’s nothing organization. It’s all act on impulse and chaos and sort of the whim of the president himself.

WOODRUFF: There’s almost a temptation, David, to look at this as some kind of sideshow. But there are real consequences, aren’t there?


I’m actually thinking — I’m trying to think of historical parallels, when we have had this much chaos in the American presidency. Richard Nixon had some bad days at the end there, but he had a very high-quality staff around him. Woodrow Wilson had a stroke.

I’m going through the list. I can’t think of anything quite like this, where we have the combination of a semi-competent or a missing staff and an emotionally and intellectually unstable president.

Reince Priebus, the former chief of staff, said in an interview not long ago that, when you look from the outside, it’s actually 50 times worse from the inside. And we’re getting a glimpse of that.

And one thing that leapt out at me — and I think this is the key thing, the most important thing — that it has real-world consequences. We’re not just fighting over whether he has a military parade or not.

The steel tariff thing has real consequences. And the word that leapt out at me that one of his staffers said, one of his allies said, he made the decision because he became unglued.

And so we have a president makes a decision because he becomes unglued, a decision totally in avoidance of the entire process. And then to combine the chaos of it, he issues a tweet this morning which to me was a topper even by Trump standards that a trade war is good and easily won, a concept that no economist of any stripe and no historian of any stripe could possibly think is anything other than crazy.

And so it’s extremely disorienting right now…

WOODRUFF: But, David, I mean, if that’s what he was trying to do, I think a lot of Republicans didn’t get the message, because, right and left, they are today asking — asking him to reconsider, saying this is not a good thing, we don’t need a trade war.

He’s gone in exactly the wrong direction, they’re saying.

BROOKS: Well, Republicans have, A, a historical belief in free trade.

B, a lot more people work for companies that use steel than work for companies that make steel. And so everybody who uses steel is hurt. Those few who make are helped.

Now, this is not the first time that a Republican president had done this for political reasons. George W. Bush did it. And it was an economic disaster. And they repealed it. And he knew he was doing it for economic reasons.

But at least George W. Bush did it within the context of trying to expand trade generally. He made this one buckle to give a special interest what it wanted. But he was trying to expand trade.

The difference with Donald Trump is, he just has a zero sum mind-set. It’s very hard for him to understand trade, because it’s not a zero sum game. There are winners or losers, but most people win.

And he just has never thought that way. It’s always, if somebody’s winning, then I’m losing. And going back to the 1980s, he has always talked about that way in the zero sum mentality.

And that — I think, ultimately, whenever he got angry at whoever he got angry and made this impromptu decision, that was probably in the back of his mind…

WOODRUFF: And I should say we’re seeing that on trade.

David, we’re also seeing it to some extent on the question of guns. Here we are, what, a little over two weeks since that terrible school shooting in Florida. Those students went back to school this week.

There’s continued discussion here in Washington about what to do. No sign that anything …read more

Read more here: David Brooks: Chaos In The Presidency; Combination Of Semi-Competent Staff And “Intellectually Unstable President”

About the author

Leave a comment