With A Phone And A Pence

Pay more attention to Vice President-elect Mike Pence.

We continue to be flabbergasted at how people we had assumed to be at least fairly intelligent by virtue of having reached a high position - famous journalists, leading Democrats, talking heads of all kinds - continue to utterly misunderstand just about everything Trump.

This week's example of awe-inspiringly delusional ignorance comes courtesy of, well, the usual suspects, in this case Your Tax Dollars At Work via NPR:

Donald Trump, who defied all conventions of campaigning for the White House, is doing the same when it comes to the President's Daily Brief.

Most days he has declined to receive the briefing, making it more of a weekly occurrence than a daily one.

"Well, I get it when I need it."

The President's Daily Brief, or PDB in acronym-obsessed Washington, is the Most Important Meeting the president has all day, when the gleanings of our tireless, infallible intelligence community are summarized and presented to the Leader of the Free World so he can Know Everything that's Going to Happen during the forthcoming day, and be Prepared to Respond.

Or so you're supposed to think.  In actuality, not merely the PDB but the intelligence agencies in general have missed just about every important event in our lifetimes, or "predicted" them in much the same way Nostradamus supposedly predicted 9-11 - by being so frustratingly vague that just about any likely outcome could be shoehorned into an "I told you so."

The true purpose of the PDB is as obvious as it's mundane: whoever controls the PDB and its contents has just about the most power of anyone in the Federal government, having the President as a captive audience for fifteen minutes a day.  Even the First Lady can't guarantee this kind of face time!

Naturally, anyone being stripped of influence of this magnitude is going to scream blue bloody murder, and the entire anti-Trump establishment is just piling on.  The President doesn't care about your safety!  The President will let you get killed because he's too busy speaking bromides to adoring crowds!  Etc.


The Urgent and The Important

Think about the sacred PDB calmly for one moment.

If a major event takes place anywhere in the world at 10 AM, are the intelligence agencies going to carefully write it up, ready for the next scheduled PDB at 7 the next morning?  Of course not.  They're going to pick up the phone that instant, and the National Security Adviser or some other senior aide is going to call the President out of whatever he's doing so that he can be informed immediately.

We saw this on 9-11, when President George W. Bush was scheduled to read a book to a class of kindergartners in a charming photo-op.  He was in his motorcade when the first plane hit the World Trade Center.  An aide immediately called him, but at that point everyone assumed it was a tragic accident and the school visit proceeded.  When the second plane struck, chief of staff Andrew Card stepped up to the president in mid-paragraph and whispered the news in his ear.  A few minutes later, he went into an empty classroom to receive reports as they arrived, and stepped out into history.

Did the PDB have anything to say about 9-11?  Not that morning.  A month earlier, the PDB had reported "Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in US" but with no time-frame or other details that would have helped the President to actually do anything about it.

Would it have made any difference if, instead of a quick and vague daily briefing, President Bush had had a more in-depth summary once weekly?  It might have, actually, because there would have been more time for him to ask questions.  With more pieces of the puzzle viewed in context, perhaps he and his aides might have somehow put two and two together.

In all seriousness: is there anything, anything at all, that is so urgent that it can't wait a few days for the President's ear, but is OK to sit on for 23 hours until the next PDB?  The idea is absurd.

What you really should be looking for
is Air Force Two.

The Art of Delegation

So it doesn't matter if the President doesn't do his homework?  That's not what we're saying at all: homework is vital, but the right way to do the homework when you're atop any large organization is not to spend hours poring through briefing books.  Jimmy Carter was as detail obsessed as anyone could wish; he was also just about the least effective President we can think of.

No, the homework of the President is to carefully select the very best possible people for the next level down, and the levels below that, and listen intently to what they have to say.

The President needs to know about many things, but most of all, he needs to have a vision to lead the country.  That's what CEOs do.  They know how their stock is doing, in a general way, but to keep track of the day-to-day movements, they have a CFO who tracks the stock price every hour and lets them know PDQ if something unexpected happens.  This is precisely what Mr. Trump has instructed the intelligence agencies:

He added that he had instructed the officials who give the briefing: “‘If something should change from this point, immediately call me. I’m available on a one-minute’s notice.’”

To a politician, "delegation" smacks of giving up power which is why they avoid delegation like the plague.  The only way to avoid thinking that you might lose power is to delegate only to incompetent people who can't get the job done without your help.

Lack of appropriately delegating to competent subordinates who know more than you do is the main reason why our government does so many things incompetently.  The more things you're supposed to be in charge of, the more power you have, but the more items on your to-do list, the less likely you'll do any of them well.

As a business executive, where failure is rarely rewarded, Donald Trump knows better than to keep all the power to himself and to involve himself in every little decision.  His job is not to fine-tune every detail, but to guide the overall direction of the organization by making sure the right people are in charge of every activity.  That's why we've been watching his cabinet picks so intently; with few exceptions, they are not only superbly talented and experienced people, they're exactly not the sort of conventional apparatchiks we've mostly had for lo these many years with such pathetic results.

Which brings us to what may well be Mr. Trump's most stellar pick of all: Vice President Pence.

According to the Constitution, the Vice Presidency holds next to no power.  The VP can cast a tiebreaker vote in the Senate and that's about it.  FDR's VP, John Garner, famously said that his office "wasn't worth a bucket of warm piss."

But FDR was a conventional politician who disliked giving up any power at all, which is why his Vice President had nothing to do and why FDR was so overloaded he eventually died of it.  Donald Trump, as a business executive and person who loves life, wants to delegate as much power as possible in order to expand his personal span of control; he's just supremely careful about whom he gives it to.

In Mr. Pence, Mr. Trump has found his COO - the quiet man who understands the leader's vision and makes it happen on a day to day basis.  This should have been obvious from the very beginning of his search for a running mate.  Mr. Trump had what he wanted clearly in mind: Did the prospective vice-president have any interest in being the most powerful vice president in history?

It's striking, but not surprising, how many experienced politicians responded "No thanks, not interested."  Politicians love the limelight and lost interest when they realized that they'd have to be the invisible man behind the curtain while Mr. Trump worked his wizardry out front.

It's even more amazing how the media still fails to understand this.  Even in the midst of the PDB flap, the media tripped over the truth without noticing it:

Indiana Governor Mike Pence, Trump's vice president-elect, has been receiving his own PDB at least six days a week, the sources familiar with the matter said.

Time after time, Donald Trump has told us that he views his only job as "making America great again."  This means setting the macro-level agenda.  He always knew he needed a serious, highly experienced, deeply knowledgeable number-two inside man to turn big-picture ideas into detail-oriented legislation and action, and that's Mike Pence.

We've seen this time after time in the business world.  Steve Jobs had superb visions for the types of music, tablets, and smart phones people would buy, but he couldn't have kept the lights on or paid the bills without the daily detail-oriented ministrations of Tom Cook.  Bill Gates was having a hard time keeping Microsoft running until he found Steve Ballmer.

While The Donald is running all over the nation sucking the oxygen out of the room and tying the media in knots, Vice President Pence will be quietly moving and shaking, getting the job done behind the scenes in a detail-oriented way that no president can find the time to concentrate on.

That is precisely the way things work at The Trump Organization and every other successful large company.  You didn't think Bill Gates or Steve Jobs wrote all that software themselves, did you?  What would have happened if Steve Jobs or Bill Gates had chosen incompetent subordinates?  Simple - they'd have gone broke.

In the real world, effective delegation is life and death.  Having gone bankrupt a time or two, Mr. Trump knows this truth in his bones.

The Cold Dish of Revenge

Still, though, wouldn't it be more prudent to show the all-seeing intelligence agencies at least a modicum of respect, rather than jeer them as he's been doing?  No: he watched them mislead and kneecap President George W. Bush, whose own father had once been CIA Director.

Sure enough, today we see the CIA claiming that Russia hacked our elections to put Mr. Trump in office, then refusing to brief Congress on whatever evidence they may have for this claim, and this after ridiculing Mr. Trump's pre-election concerns about election rigging as a tinfoil-hat conspiracy theory!

Whatever the truth might be, it certainly isn't going to come willingly from the people in charge of the CIA today.  Once Mr. Trump takes office and, we firmly expect, cleans house with a totality not seen since Andy Jackson, it may be a different story; but for now, his most important task is making it clear to his bureaucrats that playing political games with him will absolutely not be tolerated.  This, too, is another large-business truth which Mr. Trump understands only too well - the only message a bureaucracy hears clearly is the whisper of the ax.

Ridicule stings.  President-Elect Trump knows how to wield his tongue like a weapon, and President Trump will gleefully wield all the weapons he can find or conjure up.  Meanwhile, Mike Pence works with quiet gravity and brisk efficiency while all eyes are on The Donald.

We'll see how long it takes the so-called "well informed" to figure this out.  Who knows, it may take the full four years!  Voters who are smart enough to earn a living in the competitive private sector will figure it out right away.

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other Scragged.com articles by Petrarch or other articles on Partisanship.
Reader Comments


December 18, 2016 11:04 PM

Jim...Loud and Clear.

May 30, 2019 9:28 AM
Add Your Comment...
4000 characters remaining
Loading question...