Witcover: Question of Trump's incompetence comes to the fore
By Jules Witcover
Jan 21, 2019 | 6:00 AM
Tourists and joggers were barred entry to Fort McHenry Saturday as government funding lapsed and the historic site was closed to visitors.
President Donald Trump's decision to hold firm on his government shutdown to get Congress to bankroll his southern border wall makes a mockery of his reputation as a great deal-maker. All he has achieved is confirmation of his incompetence in governance.
His ineptness in coping with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's new assertion of political power on Capitol Hill has led him into a predictably untenable position. He is left nakedly outfoxed by the most powerful woman there, insisting on his foolish bluff on the wall, as nearly a million federal workers pay the price in lost paychecks.
Trump founders in search for a way out of the quandary into which he has blundered. His plight comes out of a combination of ignorance about how the American democracy works and his personal hubris, which limits his real-world options.
His reliance on his supreme self-confidence and false sense of security in the presidency may not allow him to accept no for an answer, for one of the few times in his pampered existence. He has well demonstrated his talent for generating public support and even adoration from a large but minority share of the American electorate, based on racial, social and cultural biases.
His personal inadequacy in addressing the multifaceted demands of the American presidency at home and abroad is obvious. He lacks both the experience and the knowledge to staff the vast machinery of a responsible governing nation, to keep it humming effectively in the best interests of its diverse populace.
The Trump White House and the broader federal bureaucracy have been left too often in the hands of a makeshift gang of incompetent and corrupt pretenders. They are subject essentially to Mr. Trump's own fly-by-night concept of muddling through, in a world far beyond their own very limited life experiences.
Over the first two years of the bizarre Trump presidency, the country has been treated to an exercise in mass civic irresponsibility, in delivering the national machinery into the hands of a real-life snake-oil salesman who rivals Elmer Gantry, Lonesome Rhodes and Henry Hill.
Donald Trump has been imprecisely compared to Joe McCarthy, who after all was a bona fide practicing politician who had certain professional skills.
McCarthy worked his magic as a fear-mongering anti-communist until weaknesses of alcoholism and rhetorical excess laid him low. Mr. Trump has proved to be much more dangerous and corrosive a national figure than McCarthy, in capturing first the Republican Party and then the presidency. But in the process, he has been a huge failure governing.
That is why the founding fathers — who erred in creating the Electoral College that brought Mr. Trump the presidency despite losing the popular vote — were right in also providing a process for impeachment. As Mr. Trump prepares to seek re-election in 2020, it looms increasingly possible that the voters' 2016 decision to put an unprepared political charlatan in the Oval Office may be reversed before then.
There no doubt will be many more unpredictable turns in the road between now and the next presidential election. But the astonishing events of recent days, with news that the FBI found grounds to suspect the president of the United States of being a Russian "asset" in his own election, offers an unprecedented test of our shaken democratic process.
The nation is now on a roller-coaster ride with no one at the controls, and it reels wildly down the tracks to who knows what fate. Mr. Trump has become the prime engineer of his own demise. Does he not realize it?
Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power" (Smithsonian Books). His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.