Stephen, scripted

Dear Donald –

For some strange reason, I really enjoy watching the Sunday morning political shows. I’ve always loved politics, and there’s just something about everybody sitting down on Sunday morning and talking about current events, responses, and potential electoral fallout. In all my years of watching these shows and their staple interviews with political movers and shakers, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a performance quite as bad as Stephen’s today. For some reason, you don’t seem to feel the same way. 


There’s no way you actually watched any of his appearances or, if you did, they certainly weren’t any of the ones that I did.  

The first thing that threw me off was his general cadence. He kept breaking up the flow of his speech in mid-sentence, not like anyone speaking naturally. I initially chalked it up to nerves, but then I realized that none of his answers really lined up with the questions that were being asked. Now, having watched these types of interviews for a whole, in used to folks’ pivoting from uncomfortable questions on to more steady ground, but this was different. There weren’t even transitions that got us from point A to point B. Then he started giving statutory citations, including cites to the U.S. Code. I’ve done talking points for folks giving public remarks for years, and I’ve never seen a set that includes statutory citations. I’ve worked with government lawyers for years as well, and have yet to meet one who cites the USC rather than the statute, let alone do both in normal speech. It’s something that only happens in writing. Everything was off, and then I noticed it – his eyes swinging back and forth as he spoke, clearly reading something off of a cue card or TelePrompTer next to the camera. 

I realize that you and your team don’t have much, if any, respect for the new media, and that you’ve had some public issues lately with staff going off-script, but this is patently ridiculous. If no one knows the material well enough to speak on it extemporaneously, then maybe you shouldn’t be putting them up in front of a camera (or even letting them make policy, to be perfectly honest). 

A true sign of deep understanding of an issue is an ability to explain it in simple and straightforward terms. No one seems to be able to do that. And that’s a problem. Stephen couldn’t even write down his thoughts in coherent fashion ahead of time. The predrafted answers read more like an angry college sophomore’s letters to the college newspaper than a deep analysis from the top policy advisor to the President. 

Stephen came off as the kid in class who thinks he knows economics better than the Ph.D. teaching it because He just finished reading Atlas Shrugged. The same one who argued that the Civil War was about agriculture or that African American Studies or Gender Studies programs were discriminatory against white men. He was that kid. And now he’s a senior policy advisor. 

And the really disturbing part? Even if he had been able to articulate it well, the underlying ideas were abhorrent to a well functioning constitutional democracy. 

When asked about the temporary restraining order block your executive order on immigration, he said:

The powers of the President to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned. 

He actually tried to argue that Presidential actions related to national security aren’t reviewable by anyone, meaning that, ultimately, the President should be able to do whatever he wants as long as he labels it in the interests of national security. That’s preposterous, and terrifying. 

One of the most fundamental pillars of our system of government is that no branch wields absolute power. All branches are checked by the others. To allow any other arrangement would invite the very tyranny our Constitution was designed to prevent. Legislatures make laws, Executives execute them, judiciaries interpret them. To say that the Oreaident had power to overrule thetbsystem whenever he believes it is necessary to protect national security is to undermine the entire system at all times. 

The part of this that should be chilling to the public, though, isn’t the fact that a chief policy advisor used it as a talking point on a Sunday morning show (though that’s bad enough). It’s the fact that that argument was the entire basis for the government’s aegument against the temporary restraining order on your travel ban. It is now the explicit legal position of the Executve branch that the judiciary cannot review executive actions in this area. And when judicial decisions are critiqued as being based on “personal ideology” rather than the law, were setting the stage for a constitutional disaster. 

As painful as it is for me to say this, there’s probably a completely legal and constitutional way for you to do what you’re trying to do in your executive order. It would no doubt still be based on faulty logic and assumptions and avoid actually addressing what you say you want to address, but you could do it, and it would take months or years for discriminatory intent to be proved in court. But you’re not trying to do that. You’re just raging against the system and clumsily stumbling forward. That lack of respect for our system and good governance is no way to operate. 

This is nothing new. You’ve demonstrated rank incompetence since day one on even basic management issues, so a coherent strategy moving forward is probably too much to ask for. You’re so intent on proving your power and dominance that you’ll happily see our system of government razed in the process. Stephen even went as far as to continue the lies about voter fraud in the election. You can’t stand to have lost he popular vote, so you undermine the legitimacy of the entire election that brought you to power. 

Focus up. Respect the structure. Respect the government. Stop using the cue cards. Or at least get some coherent thoughts written on them next time. 

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