Line of the Day: “Trump has done the impossible: He’s gotten a bunch of New Yorkers to go all the way to JFK when they don’t have to.” – Mark Agee
The chaos resulting from Donald Trump’s Executive Order banning refugees from certain countries has dominated the news. But the implementation – this fly by the seat of your pants if you will, is indicative of the disorganization that plagued his entire campaign, and that should be disconcerting to Americans if and when this White House has to take the helm of an international crisis.
Regardless of one’s feelings about the refugee ban, almost no one besides Trump and his Press Secretary Sean Spicer (who is of less public relations value to Trump than Jay Z.is to Beyonce), feels the roll-out was anything short of a disaster. In fact, when it comes to Presidential decisions, it might go down as among the most unmitigated doozies in history. That said, the Trump presidency is in its infancy and there are still opportunities to consult those who have – dare I say it, years of experience get future handling of key moments right. If they want to.
First off, I’ve heard it said that Trump’s style is to delegate something and essentially expect it done. It’s consistent with his mantra; a businessman, a candidate of change with presumably means, among other things, ignoring protocol. But there’s a difference between getting what you want and having your goals flourish. And if this week is an indication, they are very mutually exclusive.
Lesson number one.
Decisions that are as controversial, monumental and emotional as the travel ban require a presidential address. Or a news conference. Or a public speech. Perhaps even a town hall (I recognize the likelihood of booing and catcalls logistical handicaps to that). People need to know why something is so important for national security or what may be accomplished in 90 days. A stroke of the pen in matters like this and little else is not presidential leadership.
But the lack of coordination hurt the most and it plagued Trump on the campaign trail again and again and again. The Executive Order came in a blink of an eye. Homeland Security Director James Kelly was in the midst of his first phone call on the subject when he learned it was literally being implemented. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’s input was not sought. There was no coordination with the State Department, Justice, customs, border patrol or other critical layers of implementation. Neither were key members of Congress consulted and although we’re learning now that aides to the House Judiciary Committee were instrumental in the drafting, this was unbeknownst to the House leadership.
Once issued, the world saw a plethora of mixed messages as to whether those who already had green cards would be exempt from the ban, if permanent residents visiting loved ones overseas were allowed back and even whether the refugees already approved would be let past the gates once they landed – or even if they should be allowed to board. That led to mass confusion in airports, and among anxious family members already at airports to pick up their loved ones who were detained. After hours of interrogation, many were given the go-ahead to embrace the American dream. Others, like the Assali family who had just won a 13 year battle to move to America, were sent back from Philly.were sent back. Meanwhile, the confusion continues to this day. Florida Senator Marco Rubio contacted the State Department in a futile attempt to get answers for constituents. He were told no answers could be given.
Republicans, such as Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Corker called it “poorly implemented” while his Tennessee colleague Lamar Alexander said it “needed more vetting.” Another Republican, Colorado Congressman Mike Coffman put it best when he said “it seemed that it was more crafted by campaign operatives than national security experts.”
But Trump shrugged it off, saying the airports were running “beautifully” despite contrary scenes on the television screens, at one point, actually blaming Delta Airlines for the disarray. Meanwhile, Spicer, said “the system worked really well” and that “everyone who needed to be consulted was consulted.” He then proceeded to note how only 109 international travelers out of 325,000 were detained (actually it was far more that were kept in limbo at worldwide airports). Lesson number two. Admit when you fouled up. Don’t act like everything’s hunky-dory when it’s in fact quite the opposite. Owning up and not obfuscating is a good way to not appear to be really out there.
The same goes with the administration’s proclamation on the Holocaust Remembrance Day. I don’t know who in the White House drafted the proclamation (I have a feint idea and it’s not Jared Kushner) but I know it didn’t include the words “anti-Semitism” and “Jews.” This drew a wide rebuke from the Jewish community of both parties (to his credit, Mike Pence did mention the Jewish community in his own twitter page). Spicer shared his words of wisdom again by calling critics “pathetic” accusing them of “nitpicking.” Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” actually said, “I don’t regret the words.” The response drew a sharp rebuke from Trump’s Jewish supporters, including one of the most prominent, Shelly Adelson.
Which brings us to lesson number three. Resorting to the “it’s the media’s fault” line may be a convenient target for obfuscation, but to the average American, it only goes so far time after time. if the Obama administration gets the blame for poor computer software for the Affordable Care Act from the right years after the fact, it’s only fair that the Trump administration share some blame for – to be generous, a lackadaisical approach for this issue. And if Obama can be blamed for leaving Iraq too quickly to honor a campaign pledge, Trump can be blamed for doing the same with the refugees without doing the proper due diligence.