Those of you old enough to have seen the old film clips know that the Keystone Kops and Three Stooges comedy shtick involved a lot of bumping into each other, falling down, bopping on the head and nose pulling to what, in the case of the Stooges, were regarded as amusing sounds. In those days such things were indeed considered very funny by millions of fans.
Now we have a modern day version of the same thing playing out in the administration of Donald Trump. But it’s not funny.
The sheer incompetence of Trump’s management style is playing out for the world to see. The latest episodes have him and members of his inner circle huddled over a dinner table in the main dining room at Mar-a-Lago discussing national security and military issues arising from North Korea’s latest missile test. There are photos taken by another guest, not part of the government, showing papers, presumably highly confidential, being lit up by cell phones. The Prime Minister of Japan is at the table and part of the conversation.
While the issue certainly affects Japan and our relations with it, you would think our top government people would first want to discuss the situation among themselves before talking it over with the leader of a foreign power. Press Secretary Sean Spicer said today that all that activity just related to organizing a press conference and that Trump had been advised before the dinner about the missile launch in secure quarters. Maybe. Hard to know what to believe when everyone in Trump’s house has a different version of events, as in, for example, the conflict between Spicer and Kellyanne Conway over whether Michael Flynn was fired or resigned. More alternative facts, I suppose. Take your pick.
Trump has been in power less than one month and chaos reigns around him. The great business leader appears to be thrashing around trying to look like a tough guy who’s on top of his agenda, while the work product is mostly a bunch of Executive Orders that accomplish very little actual change and were mostly unnecessary, including, of course, that masterwork on immigration that has been soundly repudiated by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The travel ban EO appears to have been written by people with no legal degrees. One of the chief authors, Stephen Miller (Senior Advisor to the President), just finished a round of weekend interviews in which he decreed that the authority of the president may not be questioned. Mr. Miller was smart enough to graduate from Duke University, no easy feat if you’re not an athlete, but went to work in politics for the likes of Michelle Bachman. Now, at age 31, he is one of Trump’s closest advisors. With all due respect, Mr. Miller probably should have gone to law school first, or at least a graduate program involving constitutional learning.
Trump’s reliance on Miller, Stephen Bannon (Chief Strategist), Reince Preibus (Chief of Staff) and Kellyanne Conway (Counselor to the President) has produced constant chaos and gaffes at every level, an embarrassment to the United States here and abroad. In case you missed the interview, here is the exact Miller statement:
“Well, I think that it’s been an important reminder to all Americans that we have a judiciary that has taken far too much power and become, in many cases, a supreme branch of government. One unelected judge in Seattle cannot remake laws for the entire country. I mean this is just crazy, John, the idea that you have a judge in Seattle say that a foreign national living in Libya has an effective right to enter the United States is — is — is beyond anything we’ve ever seen before.
The end result of this, though, is that our opponents, the media and the whole world will soon see as we begin to take further actions, that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.”
Is there something about judges in Seattle we don’t know? Miller smirked when he mentioned Seattle, as if a judge from Seattle was somehow a ridiculous idea that merited no respect? The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals sits in four Western cities, covering nine states plus Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands. It rejected the government’s attempt to overturn the District Court’s injunction pending further litigation. That apparently is not good enough to satisfy Mr. Miller’s concept of judicial authority either.
What exactly does Miller mean that as a result of “further actions,” the powers of the president to protect our country will not be questioned?” It sounds like a direct threat to the role of the judiciary in our tripartite system of checks and balances established by the Constitution. Maybe all he meant to say was that next time the Executive Order will be competently and narrowly written so that there is no real question of its legitimacy. Maybe. Mr. Miller should choose his words carefully. Threats to reject the authority of the judiciary as the third co-equal branch of government are more serious than Mr. Miller appears to understand. Oh, and the judge in Seattle did not say that “a foreign national living in Libya has an effective right to enter the United States.”
At the time of the weekend interviews Mr. Miller had ample time to read the 9th Circuit opinion rejecting the government’s request to overturn the decision of the “unelected judge in Seattle.” The court’s opinion eviscerates the government’s arguments one by one, including these findings:
“… although courts owe considerable deference to the President’s policy determinations with respect to immigration and national security, it is beyond question that the federal judiciary retains the authority to adjudicate constitutional challenges to executive action.” [Opinion Part IV]
“The procedural protections provided by the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause are not limited to citizens. Rather, they “appl[y] to all ‘persons’ within the United States, including aliens,” regardless of “whether their presence here is lawful, unlawful, temporary, or permanent.” Zadvydas v. Davis, 533 U.S. 678, 693 (2001). These rights also apply to certain aliens attempting to reenter the United States after travelling abroad. Landon v. Plasencia, 459 U.S. 21, 33-34 (1982).” [Opinion Part VI]
Again, a few years in law school would have helped Mr. Miller grasp these Constitutional fundamentals. Why is the President of the United States relying on this person to speak for his administration in matters of this nature?
Just today a USA Today reported that
“review of presidential documents shows at least five cases where the version of an executive order posted on the White House website doesn’t match the official version sent to the Federal Register. The discrepancies raise further questions about how thorough the Trump administration has been in drafting some of the president’s most controversial actions.”
I won’t belabor this further. The Trump administration is led by a man who claims to be a master business leader, disciplined organizer and super-decisive “very smart” person. In today’s press briefing, Sean Spicer went out of his way to emphasize how “decisive” the President has been in all things. Yet everywhere one looks through the first three weeks of his administration, we see people bumping into each other, heads being bopped and noses yanked. This made for good comedy way back when, but it’s no way to lead a government. Despite months to prepare, all the President’s men seem to have little idea of what they are doing.