Government by Tweet

The press, and especially the cable channels, are feeling guilty for having given Trump so much space and air time at the beginning of his campaign so he could make a fool of himself before he burnt out as a Presidential candidate, never to be more than a sidebar, sort of like Herman Cain. Now, to compensate, they find everything he says the result of ignorance and bad judgment. And that is true of much of what he says, but much of it, so far, is on the mark. Save your ammunition until he does or says something really bad.

Take the case of Boeing, a tweeting opportunity for the President-Elect, one whose moment is already gone, Trump having moved on to other topics for his wrath, like a local labor leader. We are going to have to get used to government by tweet. We should be grateful for it because it will remind us of the petulance of the new President, as well as so many of his other disagreeable personality characteristics, like being petty and vindictive. Kellyanne Conway, despite her gift for putting a good face on everything Trump does, cannot make the tweets go away, though apparently she tried. Soon the public will grow tired of him--or will they? Not if he is the embodiment of the anger that lurks not very deep in every human soul.

But to the substance of the matter. Trump probably was unaware of the way Defense Department contracts are negotiated. DOD sets the specifications and then Boeing puts in an estimate of what it will cost. This is a version of the cost plusprocurement that has gone on since the beginning of the Second World War. It costs whatever it costs to do it well and quickly and to that is added a percentage for profit. Trump is, whether he knows it or not, challenging that model, which gave away the advantages of competition to get products, like Liberty ships, in a timely way in a wartime environment, and in the Cold War environment to make sure that competing companies could stay in business and so provide expertise and already existent production facilities, for some other project the Defense Department needed to construct. All the big companies got some contracts. And it is not surprising that Senator Murray, the current Senator from Boeing, is quick to criticize Trump for gumming up the system.

But think about it this way. There is no need to completely give way on the issue of cost-consciousness. One could provide two or three study design contracts to draw up plans to build the new Air Force One according to DOD specifications, and with a bonus thrown in for figuring out how to get rid of or modify some features of the design. Maybe Boeing would get the final contract, or a large part of it, but cost would be a factor in awarding the final contract. This is not a revolutionary procedure; it has been used in the past. The question is how lax has the procurement process become. I don't know the answer to that and Trump is rattling the Boeing cage so as to get an answer to that question. The cable networks do not know much more about defense procurement than he does, they just assert their slight grasp very authoritatively. Yes, Trump is a bull in the China shop, which means that the pieces will get stored by the shop owner in more reliable ways.

I am also not as appalled as the news networks are about Trump denying the CIA and intelligence community claims about the Russians hacking the DNC and other computer accounts so as to interfere in the just past election. It isn't that I think it implausible to think the Russians did this or that Trump is simply denying what he does not want to believe, just as he denied that Putin had invaded Crimea years after it happened. It is saying, rather, that Trump is on point in saying that the CIA had also said Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. That is a blot on their reputation from which, to my mind, they have not yet recovered. I am reminded that the CIA report of August, 2001, warning of an Al Qaeda threat to the homeland was couched in such non-committal language that it made sense for Condi Rice and for George W. Bush to ignore it. Rather, treat the intelligence services as just one source of information for determining foreign policy, a far more important element being the realpolitik considerations that are based on overt evidence and a sense of history. Every President has to learn the limits of covert intelligence and maybe in his ignorance Trump starts out with a fresher eye than most Presidents, though there is no making up for his ignorance in that it is combined with his arrogance.

Another Twitter initiative is Trump saying that the F-35 fighter plane is way over-priced. Liberals have been saying that for years. Liberals have also said for years that it is a plane without a mission in that the only planes likely to challange it will be Chinese planes that will not be manufactured for a generation or two. Planes we already have can withstand the Russians and so the only point to the F-35 is to supply prototypes so we don't fall behind in airplane design, but the number ordered far exceeds the need for meeting that purpose. The problem with cutting down on F-35 production is that its development and production were parcelled out to so many of the United States that Congress will not cut back. Now, the New York Times says that Congressional support for the plane is why Trump is wrong or just foolish in opposing the plane. But that is no reason to think his judgment of the plane is wrong or that the defense procurement process doesn't need to be brought under control. His nominee for Secretary of Defense may indeed know enough about the Defense Department to make some headway in that area even if procurement was not his specialty when he was in uniform.

Think about the various Trump Twitter initiatives this way. Yes, it does seem a rather crass way of doing the public's business. But let us say Trump gets a bee in his bonnet about something like these three matters, oh say, once a week during the course of his Presidency. That leaves him less time to get into other possibly much more serious mischief, such asputting himself in the middle of the Middle East, which is where I am worried his current set of selections for top foreign policy advisors might take him. There are only 208 weeks in his Presidency. So much time during which his ignorance and arrogance and the motley group of advisors he has around him can get us into real trouble. Count down the days and the weeks til we get to the end of his term, by which time he will probably have done enough terrible things to get him unelectable to a second term. Why do I say that? Because a Presidency is basically an expression of the character of its incumbent. George W. Bush was a superficial man and so fell rather easily into the hands of his handlers. Truman, a student of the Presidency, was always aware of where his duty lay. Obama is thoughtful and conciliatory to a fault, perhaps not willing enough to flail a cudgel, though we may in retrospect thank him for eight years of relative peace. And Richard Nixon could not avoid the temptation to overreach and so pulled the temple down around him. Trump is what he is and we knew that from day one of his campaign. The only surprise will be where disaster will strike.