Noah Harrison: Reign of chaos

Monday, March 5, 2018 - 5:46pm

Noah Harrison

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Chaos once again returned to the White House this past week with the sudden resignation of Hope Hicks, White House communications director, in the wake of news that she testified to Congress that part of the job entailed telling “white lies” on President Donald Trump’s behalf. Hicks was Trump’s fourth communications director in the span of barely a year in office, but more importantly, Hicks was a loyal and trusted member of Trump’s inner circle.

Her stunning departure serves as an indication that the Trump administration’s unprecedented streak of attrition — which has seen the exit of Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, Press Secretary Sean Spicer and many others — is far from over. A day after Hicks announced her resignation, NBC News reported that National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster will be replaced within the month at the behest of Defense Secretary James Mattis and John Kelly, White House chief of staff. That same day, news broke that Kelly, at Trump’s request, is planning to remove Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner from their official advisor roles. 

Kelly was supposed to provide order when he was hired last summer, but instead, the White House has fractured further under his direction. Kelly himself was recently embroiled in controversy over his handling of domestic abuse allegations against former White House aide Rob Porter, which Kelly ignored for months, only firing Porter after the accusations leaked to the media.

Amid this frenzy of attrition, speculation and scandal, one thing is clear: Trump’s White House is engulfed in turmoil, the repercussions of which flared brightly this past week. Trump has long been known to flip-flop on policy positions, expressing contradictory views on topics ranging from immigration to taxation to abortion throughout his campaign and first year in office, but he outdid himself last week on gun control. At a televised meeting with senators and congressman from both parties, Trump praised proposals to establish comprehensive background checks on all gun purchases and to raise the age to buy assault weapons to 21. In a surreal moment, Trump even expressed openness to a ban on assault weapons. Yet, in an ironic twist, after chiding Republican lawmakers for being “afraid of” the NRA, Trump met with NRA lobbyists and rescinded his support for the gun control measures he had praised just a day earlier.

Trump’s inconsistency on guns confused and exasperated leaders of both parties, but was quickly overshadowed when Trump declared his intention to introduce tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. Such a move would violate existing trade agreements and indubitably lead to retaliatory measures from other countries that could easily spiral into a costly and disastrous trade war.

The reaction to Trump’s tariff plan was swift and harsh. Leaders of both parties quickly rebuked the idea, global leaders blasted Trump and the stock market plunged. However, amid this widespread criticism, Trump doubled down and tweeted that trade wars are “good” and “easy to win.” That’s blatantly false, and the fact that no one in the White House has conveyed to Trump the threat a trade war poses to the U.S. economy is rather alarming.

Trump’s eventful week culminated with renewed scrutiny over his neglect to fill dozens of vacant positions, including 41 ambassadorships. Critical allies and strategic partners like South Korea, Germany, Saudi Arabia and the European Union are among the countries and organizations that currently lack an American chief diplomat. When considering the current geopolitical climate around the world, it is astounding that some of these positions have yet to be filled. Given the tensions on the Korean peninsula, appointing an ambassador to South Korea should be a priority, but to the Trump administration, it is an afterthought.

It is no coincidence that a week of internal White House chaos coincided with one of Trump’s most volatile weeks in the policy sphere. Trump’s advisers appear incapable of providing astute advice, a problem that is likely compounded by the constant attrition plaguing the White House. In the absence of stability, Trump appears to have adopted a strategy of going off-script and reversing positions as he pleases, knowing that his public statements have little correlation to the policy his administration executes. This inconsistency compounds government inaction, as evidenced by Trump’s gun policy flip-flopping, and leads to impulsive decisions like these new proposed tariffs.

Order must be established in the White House. At present, Trump’s administration is the most disorganized, dysfunctional and, at times, utterly incompetent administration in modern American history. The chaos plaguing the White House muddles the president’s legislative priorities, devalues the U.S.’s image abroad and weakens the credibility of the institution of the presidency. It often is tempting to dismiss the White House drama as meaningless or even entertaining, but weeks like this past one demonstrate the significant consequences of an executive branch drowning in chaos.

Noah Harrison can be reached at