Unearthing the Trump Doctrine

Updated on October 17, 2017

Last week’s decision to unilaterally upend the Iran nuclear deal further reinforced the narrative of the chaos president. Indeed, over the last 9 months, it has been hard to find coherence in any of the actions undertaken by this administration. One lurch is quickly followed by another with no apparent underlying philosophy. In the extreme this has manifested itself in the President’s now infamous Twitter feed. But, behind the 140 character buffoonery, the Trump governing doctrine is slowly taking shape.

The Trump Doctrine

While it is never easy to find order in chaos, events over the year have provided clues. It began with the decision to exit the Paris Climate accord. An agreement signed by 196 countries which committed each nation to a voluntary set of commitments designed to mitigate the worst effects of climate change. Within the Paris framework each country could change its stated goals if necessary, but most importantly, it created a forum for the US to push China, India and other large carbon dioxide emitters, into alignment with the international community. Now the US has signaled its intent to exit, leadership of this global initiative is left to others.

Next, consider the gyrations over the Iran nuclear agreement. The President decried the arms control deal struck by the Obama Administration that sought to constrain Iran’s nuclear ambitions. This landmark agreement was the result of painstaking work involving other key nuclear nations - China, Russia, France, Germany and Britain. These other parties all agree that Iran is honoring their commitments and see no reason to back out of the deal. On the other hand, President Trump’s view is that it is better to be outside of the room leaving others to debate, formulate and construct solutions.

On the domestic front, the pattern has been repeated. In healthcare, the President left the process entirely up to Congress. He was simply not interested in facts or details, but rather lusted solely for victory. Who can forget the celebration that occurred in the White House Rose Garden immediately after the House passed the repeal measure? Again, despite the spectacle, leadership was left to others.

It is becoming clear that the Trump Administration’s modus operandi is a four step process. Step one is to state the problem in broad strokes providing only platitudes with no direction on solutions. With taxes it was going to be a “middle class miracle”. In the healthcare arena it was “insurance for everybody”. And who can forget how much President Trump “loves” the dreamers. The second step is to delegate the hard work of forging policy details to others - Congress or the international community. Next, when that runs into the inevitable issues associated with providing nothing but a blank piece of paper, complain loudly about the outcome. Finally, blame everyone else for the failure.

We are witnessing this same formula play out in the debate on taxes and the Dream Act. While others do the hard work of crafting policy, the President will be relaxing in his La-Z-boy with the TV remote control in one hand and a mobile phone in the other. It is truly the worst kind of arm chair quarterbacking. It is the abdication of authority.


Our President needs an enemy. A foe in his eyes is what Spinach is to Popeye. It is what fuels him and gives him strength. During the primaries he vanquished Republican candidates by belittling one after another. In the presidential election he was again able to focus his efforts on a single objective. But once in office, the enemy has become more opaque. At various times it has swung from the media, key individuals of both parties, a mayor of a hurricane ravaged US protectorate and NFL players among others. It has been like watching a punch drunk boxer swinging wildly trying to hit an opponent before the knock-out blow lands. In other words, it is like watching Popeye before he eats his spinach.

The sad fact is that President Trump’s idea of strength is actually weakness. When Rex Tillerson, the US Secretary of State, called the President a moron he misspoke. The truth is that President Trump is oxymoronic, not merely moronic. Tweets and insults do not garner power; they erode trust and relationships. Respect is not endowed; it is earnt over time. The President thinks he is leading from in front, but in reality it is from behind. Others are gaining authority. China is asserting itself in in international affairs and Congress is left to muddle along domestically. Meanwhile, the American people see little progress on the home front and find a world unraveling before them. You cannot lead if you delegate decision-making power to others.

An Empty Resolute Desk

Part of candidate Trump’s appeal to the American people was his so-called business acumen. He promised to bring a CEO mindset into the oval office and run the country as successfully as his business. Now in the cold light of day it is becoming clearer that President Trump is no Fortune 500 leader. He lacks the basic curiosity to challenge others to arrive at better outcomes. True leaders do the opposite. They take in all opinions, formulate a solution and let others challenge the decision before implementing. A leader’s strength comes from those they surround themselves with, not by how loudly they yell.

With the notable exceptions of some unhappy generals and a forlorn Secretary of State, our President has surrounded himself with sycophants. This collection of Trump wannabes have no problem using taxpayer money to take private jets to visit the Virgin Islands, Alaska or stand on Fort Knox during the eclipse, but they also leave the President unchecked and unchallenged. Our experiment in CEO leadership is off the rails. If it was a stock we would see earning warnings and sell recommendations. But we have little ability to stop our losses. Instead we see our Cabinet subservient to the cult of the Presidency and leading us down a path which is eroding our position of strength in the world.

Both domestically and internationally we have become bellicose and belligerent when thoughtful deliberative actions are required to steer us through increasingly choppy waters. Bluster has replaced leadership as we find ourselves with a Delegator-in-Chief rather than a Commander-in-Chief. There is a lack of policy cohesion with seemingly no end goal in mind other than making sure the President’s desk is devoid of responsibility at all times. After 9 months in office it has become clear that the governing philosophy of this administration is an abdication of authority.


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