This is quite the Michael Lewis paragraph. pic.twitter.com/BWHQvsHNUE
— Daniel W. Drezner (@dandrezner) September 27, 2018
— Shane Goldmacher (@ShaneGoldmacher) September 27, 2018
… Christie volunteered himself for the job: head of the Donald Trump presidential transition team. “It’s the next best thing to being president,” he told friends. “You get to plan the presidency.” He went to see Trump about it. Trump said he didn’t want a presidential transition team. Why did anyone need to plan anything before he actually became president? It’s legally required, said Christie. Trump asked where the money was going to come from to pay for the transition team. Christie explained that Trump could either pay for it himself or take it out of campaign funds. Trump didn’t want to pay for it himself. He didn’t want to take it out of campaign funds, either, but he agreed, grudgingly, that Christie should go ahead and raise a separate fund to pay for his transition team. “But not too much!” he said.
And so Christie set out to prepare for the unlikely event that Donald Trump would one day be elected president of the United States. Not everyone in Trump’s campaign was happy to see him on the job. In June, Christie received a call from Trump adviser Paul Manafort. “The kid is paranoid about you,” Manafort said. The kid was Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law… The Kushners apparently took their grudges seriously, and Christie sensed that Jared still harboured one against him. On the other hand, Trump, whom Christie considered almost a friend, could not have cared less.
Christie viewed Kushner as one of those people who thinks that, because he is rich, he must also be smart. Still, he had a certain cunning about him. And Christie soon found himself reporting everything he did to prepare for a Trump administration to an “executive committee”. The committee consisted of Kushner, Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump Jr, Eric Trump, Manafort, Steve Mnuchin and Jeff Sessions. “I’m kind of like the church elder who double-counts the collection plate every Sunday for the pastor,” said Sessions, who appeared uncomfortable with the entire situation. The elder’s job became more complicated in July 2016, when Trump was formally named the Republican nominee. The transition team now moved into an office in downtown Washington DC, and went looking for people to occupy the top 500 jobs in the federal government. They needed to fill all the cabinet positions, of course, but also a whole bunch of others that no one in the Trump campaign even knew existed. It is not obvious how you find the next secretary of state, much less the next secretary of transportation – never mind who should sit on the board of trustees of the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation…
The first time Trump paid attention to any of this was when he read about it in the newspaper. The story revealed that Trump’s very own transition team had raised several million dollars to pay the staff. The moment he saw it, Trump called Steve Bannon, the chief executive of his campaign, from his office on the 26th floor of Trump Tower, and told him to come immediately to his residence, many floors above. Bannon stepped off the elevator to find Christie seated on a sofa, being hollered at. Trump was apoplectic, yelling: You’re stealing my money! You’re stealing my fucking money! What the fuck is this?
Seeing Bannon, Trump turned on him and screamed: Why are you letting him steal my fucking money? Bannon and Christie together set out to explain to Trump federal law. Months before the election, the law said, the nominees of the two major parties were expected to prepare to take control of the government. The government supplied them with office space in downtown DC, along with computers and rubbish bins and so on, but the campaigns paid their people. To which Trump replied: Fuck the law. I don’t give a fuck about the law. I want my fucking money. Bannon and Christie tried to explain that Trump couldn’t have both his money and a transition.
Shut it down, said Trump. Shut down the transition…
Gabriel Debenedetti, at NYMag, has a supplementary interview:
… With almost everyone you talked to, you asked about their biggest concern, the biggest risk. After all this, what’s yours?
Sacrificing the long term for the short term. Trump’s such a myopic creature and so much of his behavior is driven by short-term rewards. If you look at the institution I was trying to describe, it’s a mess. I mean, the people are great, but they’re all old. Here’s an incredible one: there are five times more people working for the government over the age of 60 than under the age of 30. And you can find analogous situations with the technology. It feels like this old machine has been starved, neglected, shat upon for three decades, and it’s waiting for someone to come take a sledgehammer to the side of it, and he’s doing it.
Short-termism isn’t a new problem, though. You’re saying Trump’s just the one taking advantage of it?
Well, true. He’s much more of a short-termist. In the book you can see other presidents doing things that aren’t going to pay off for them. Think about it this way. An awful lot of what an administration does is invest for the distant future. All the basic science. None of that pays off for the current president. None of it. That pays off for like two generations on. Trump has no interest in any of it. Bush had a big interest in it. He created the [research funding agency] in the Energy Department: ARPA-E. So everywhere [Trump] can pull in resources to make his little moment seem good, and screw future generations, he will.
In the book you refer a few times to “willful ignorance” that created this moment, of which Trump is the ultimate manifestation.
It’s easier to behave the way he behaves if you don’t know anything. If you actually collide with some piece of information then you have a problem, and I think he moves through the world avoiding colliding with the information…