And His Heart's in the Right Place

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

I am generally not a fan of debates about the competence of public officials. A big part of my objection is that such debates usually pretend that some ideological point of view is so commonsensical as not even to be ideological. (So then "competence" usually just becomes code for some impossible ideal of running a favorite flavor of a welfare state well.) Furthermore, and particularly in the case of presidents, I have to agree with Francis Menton of the blog Manhattan Contrarian, when he notes:

[A] President doesn't really need to know all that much. He has endless expert advisors, indeed far more advisors than any human being could have time to listen to. Far and away the most important thing he needs to do is avoid making major blunders that can do great harm to the American economy and the American people.
So we have indicated the kind of competence the job of President requires. (Blame the mixed economy for the idea that we need to be a nation of Renaissance men just to vote or hold office.) Nevertheless, like Menton, I have been withholding judgement on Trump's competence, and like Menton, who analyzes the President's recent rejection of the Paris climate accord, I have to agree he passes this kind of test. Menton summarizes why he thinks so, and, with my usual reservations about cost-benefit analyses, I think he is correct to say the following:
It is impossible to look at the Paris climate accord with any degree of scrutiny and conclude that a remotely competent American president could have anything to do with it. This conclusion applies irrespective of whatever you might think about whether "greenhouse gas" emissions are causing a problem or even a crisis for world climate. Even if you think that the climatic effect of human GHG emissions is an existential crisis facing the planet, it would still be completely incompetent for an American president to sign on to this particular agreement. [italics in original]
To which I would add only, "... unless your objective was to sabotage the American economy or multiply opportunities for graft." I highly recommend reading the rest of Menton's analysis for your edification, whatever your opinion on climate change or of Trump.

Before he announced his decision, I wasn't sure Trump would pull out. (I recall hearing that he has been known to accept input from advisors right up to the last second of making a decision, which sounds about right to me.) But after learning more about this accord, I have to agree that, not only is Trump competent, his heart is in the right place. That said, he has no clear political philosophy, so that remains a two-edged sword. Wanting to help, but not really knowing how can lead to doing more harm than good.

But at least Trump made the right call on this one.

-- CAV

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