Monday, November 14, 2016

Tentacles! Flashy tentacles!

"And here's a handy rule: don't go for the flashy tentacles just because they're waving 'em about trying to get attention."

-- Buffy the Vampire Slayer's Xander Harris, explaining how to cover the Trump administration to a naive Washington press corps.

Imagine this: You've just won a presidential election by railing against the DC establishment, including the leadership of your own party. You've drawn crucial support from voters who see you as a walking, talking "F-you!" to the status quo, as "none of the above" in a hand-tailored suit. But you want to appoint the leader of the GOP establishment -- the chairman of the Republican National Committee -- as your White House Chief of Staff. Yet you want the press to keep writing about what an outrageous guy you are, because that's how you win. What do you do?

On Sunday, Donald Trump, continuing to teach his master class in leading-the-media-around-by-the-nose, showed us his solution: you appoint the Executive Chairman of Breitbart News to an important-sounding, made-up "strategy" job at the same time. And, demonstrating that it has learned nothing over the past year, the press has done exactly as the Trump team had hoped, exploding with outrage about something that could not matter less, while completely ignoring the bit of the story with actual consequences.

So what is this "Chief of Staff" job anyway? Here's one way to think about it. The U.S. Executive Branch is probably the world's largest bureaucracy but, more importantly, it is also among the most rigidly formalized. The process of nailing down an actual Presidential decision is very, very structured -- and it's structured around the flow of papers to and from the President's desk. Which pieces of paper the President happens to sign his name to has enormous consequences, up to and including life-and-death for millions of individuals worldwide. Paper, in the White House, is a very big deal. And it's the White House Chief of Staff who decides which pieces of paper reach the President's desk, and which do not. It is as simple, and as enormous, as it sounds.

Another way of looking at the Chief of Staff's job is that he decides which Presidential decisions are meant to be taken seriously and which are to be ignored. (Apparently, an important part of H.R. Haldeman's job was to ignore some of Richard Nixon's nuttier directives.) The vast organizational machinery involved in actually implementing a Presidential decision does not swing into action unless and until the Chief of Staff causes it to do so. And given the... um... whimsical nature of our current President-elect's policy preferences, the Chief of Staff's ability to decide which Presidential whims are translated into real-world action constitutes immense influence over America's future direction.

So, the radical change-agent has hired the Republican establishment to run the Executive Branch. By all means, let's talk about Breitbart some more.

1 comment:

  1. So who is the bright guy who decided to do this, Kushner or Bannon himself? I have trouble to believe Trump could be so machiavellian.