Transferable–and Not-So-Transferable–Skills

A recent article in the New York Times reflected upon Trump’s relationship with Steve Bannon (which appears to be unraveling). That article was one of many focusing on the disarray in the White House and the tensions between Bannon and the various others who have the President’s ear, and wouldn’t ordinarily prompt me to post.

But this paragraph caught my eye:

In a way, to believe in Mr. Bannon’s genius is to adopt the president’s belief in a sort of vulgar technocracy — the belief that the “best people” can solve any problem put in front of them, whether they have expertise in that field or not. A newspaper publisher can broker peace in the Middle East and revolutionize the government. A neurosurgeon can run the Department of Housing and Urban Development. A life as a real estate mogul and celebrity businessman is adequate preparation for the presidency. But the ability to grab power does not grant the wisdom to wield it, and ungrounded grandiosity is just pretension.

During the campaign, I was constantly amazed by the number of people who appear to hold the belief that no special knowledge or experience is necessary to run a government agency-or for that matter, to run the government. They clearly believe that any reasonably savvy person (or in Trump’s case, anyone who can fog a mirror) can be President.

I watch television during my morning treadmill routine, and the other day I was struck by an ad for a window installer. He emphasized the length of time he’d been installing the product, and how important his knowledge and experience were.

May I point out that governing the United States is more complicated than installing double-paned windows?

Indianapolis once had a Mayor named Goldsmith who shared Mr. Trump’s evident belief that smart people can do any job, no matter how unrelated their prior education or experience. I still recall the woman with a distinguished scientific background who thought she’d been hired to oversee environmental assessments, and was astonished to discover she’d been hired to manage planning and zoning. (Because she was a smart person, she left.)

It’s bad enough that we have a President who substitutes arrogance for competence, but the problem is compounded by the fact that most of his personnel choices–in addition to lacking any relevant expertise–don’t appear to be all that smart, either. (Trump apparently confuses a willingness to flatter his already outsized ego with intelligence.)

We have a cabinet composed of people who have no idea how government works. The Secretary of State appears oblivious to the web of international agreements and protocols within which the United States is expected to operate. The Secretary of Education has never set foot in a public school; during her confirmation testimony, she displayed appalling ignorance of the most significant policy issues facing that department. But there is no humility accompanying her ignorance; instead, she comes armed with self-righteous hostility to the entire enterprise of public education.

There is the new head of the EPA, whose disdain for science and evidence (not to mention the agency he manages) is matched only by his regard for the bottom lines of fossil fuel companies. And the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development who barely seems to understand what day it is, let alone the importance of HUD’s mission to neighborhoods in America’s cities.

Jeff Sessions does know how government works, of course; what recommended him to Trump appears to be his determination to reverse the progress made on civil rights–to further eviscerate the Voting Rights Act, encourage overreach by the police, and re-invigorate the drug war.

Most of the others are just as bad.

It’s not just that we have a self-aggrandizing buffoon in the Oval Office. We now have a government populated with–and being run by–dangerous ideologues with second and third-rate intellects who lack both relevant experience and any obvious willingness to learn, or to devote themselves to the tasks they’ve been assigned.

Our best hope actually lies in their incompetence. As Trump would say, SAD.


  1. I would love to know where that idea of perceived intelligence equals “I can do anything.” I can’t help but see the comparison of your frustration with these government officials and the use of TFA or Mind Trust people as teachers in IPS or any other large urban school system. Intelligence or the ability to earn several degrees does not qualify someone to become a teacher anymore than those new appointees to head government agencies.

    Someone, somewhere in political discourse, years ago, decided that unqualified people should take over the positions of those that are qualified by training or experience, to justify a belief that people who work in “government,” whether it be a long-time congressman or a public school teacher, cannot do as well as someone else that is not a part of government. Where did this stupid idea originate? And why does it continue to live on?

    We are stuck with incompetent idiots like Donald Trump and Mike Pence along with Jeff Sessions and Rex Tillerson because of this mindset, and it will take the competent professionals that work within government to dig us out from the large pile of crap that is being dumped on us.

  2. If it weren’t so serious, it would be entertaining. It’s like adult Pin the Tail on the Donkey. And his yuge accomplishments prove his value as a world leader.

  3. Wow; the subject of today’s blog reopened a huge can of worms for me with the mention of Goldsmith and the one specific reference Sheila cited. Thank you for answering a question I have had for years; why that intelligent, highly qualified (in an entirely different field), beautiful woman would accept the appointment as Administrator of Indianapolis Planning and Zoning Division. Goldsmith was wise enough, after hundreds of firings of qualified employees of many years, not for outright fire the Administrator but to demote him to Assistant. We knew he was suffering from terminal brain cancer but he carried on every duty required of him as he always had and as if he merely had a headache. The newly appointed Administrator worked WITH him; she also schedule meetings of small groups of DPZ staff members to introduce herself and learn who they were and exactly what they did in their job performance. Not what Goldsmith expected, I am sure, she turned out NOT to be one of his many puppets so was not a permanent fixture in his administration. Trump’s former appointees turned out to be unregistered foreign agents. He blatantly and publicly told Nikki Haley, “I can replace you.” A joke or a dire warning? Ah, we must wait for his Tweet to know the answer to that question.

    We have watched as Trump simply booted out qualified department heads and cabinet leaders and their knowledgeable staff, to give his family and friends a high-paying job in impressive positions. Maybe his unstable “leadership”, daily shenanigans and foolish Tweets are coming to an end as is his “First 100 Day” accounting. Not only those who comment on this blog and others like it; and not only Democrats but some members of the GOP are beginning to whisper their dissatisfaction in many areas and on many levels. Below I have copied information from two AOL news headlines today; AOL is obviously right-leaning in their politics so …they are becoming more outspoken in their awareness of the precarious position Trump has placed America and all Americans in.

    1. “Where is Ivanka? First daughter to make first international appearance on president’s behalf at the W20 Summit in Berlin” Only the title is needed to raise our hackles and questions from all who are paying attention.

    2. “State Department posts on Trump’s Mar-A-Lago raise ethics concerns” “A glowing description of President Trump’s Florida estate, Mar-A-Lago, calling it the ‘winter White House’ – was posted on State Department web site, bringing criticism from ethics watchdogs and Democrats.”

    3. “GOP thinks Trump may jeopardize 2018 election”

    Back to Goldsmith; he replaced the Chief Financial Officer of the Department of Metropolitan Development with a man who held a Master’s Degree in Personnel Management from the University of India. He brought with him the caste system of India regarding lack of respect (different from disrespect) for the abilities of women in his dealings; when his stapler was empty, he placed it and the box of staples on his highly qualified secretary’s desk to refill for him. Trump has foregone hard copies requiring staples and opted for personally Tweeting for the world to see. “Transferable – And Not So Transferable – Skills” brought into this 21st Century social media distribution of presidential information.

  4. If the goal is the elimination of government, the selection of the inordinately unqualified to run that government is a giant step on the way to that goal.

    Among those who know how government works is Tom Price, who spent years in Congress lining his own pocket. He was unfit to serve for that very reason, but no Republican cared enough to block his nomination.

  5. The Chinese Cultural Revolution already tried putting incompetents in charge. It didn’t work so well. At least we have been spared the re-education camps. For now.

  6. lolololololololol Those Greeks nailed it!

    Walter; I had to go to Google to find it, not in any of my three dictionaries. A new word for me and I love it, will let others look it up as I did. My first thought was that it is related to the term “kaka” as used today – I wasn’t far off, was I?

    It is perfect; the only term that fits the Trump administration and Trump himself…thank you!

  7. I am a lawyer but totally unqualified to do brain surgery, play architect or the village Michelangelo. I know little to nothing. respectively, about applying scalpels to brains, the stresses and strains in constructing bridges and buildings, and as to art I cannot draw a straight line with a ruler. Therefore, in Trump’s new and other world of anti-heroes I am qualified to direct the activities of brain surgeons, architects and the Dutch Masters of this world because I am going to assist in making America great again and took a minute to flatter the his voracious need for adulation in his other world of terminal narcissism. Experience and education don’t count; only loyalty does, no matter the abject lack of qualifications.

    Shelia briefly mentions the mismatch of having a neurosurgeon in charge of the nation’s housing. Let’s (for effect) reverse that and have a carpenter in charge of neurosurgery among his or her other duties as Surgeon General of the United States. See any problems? Trump doesn’t; he’s the same guy who said he admired Putin as “a strong leader” because “he said some nice things about me.” The new criteria for cabinet office are unrelated to education and experience specific to the task; just “say something nice about Don” and the job is yours, and it helps if you are rich, of course, or an admitted Leninist such as Bannon who has openly called for “the deconstruction of the administrative state” (aka destruction of our democracy).

    These are the same people who used to be on the other side of the medieval moat; now they’re running the castle. I propose that we restore them to their prior position.

  8. Arrogance has replaced competence.

    I can’t say it any better. That is the specific cultural impact of 24/7/365 fake news entertainment.

    That fully explains what’s behind our dysfunctional culture that elected an administration from the same mold; in their image.

    Democracy cannot be successful given that.

  9. Typo alert – In my first paragraph today I added the as in to flatter the his voracious . . . Strike the the. Mea culpa.

  10. Typo alert – In my first paragraph today I added the as in to flatter the his voracious . . . Strike the the. Mea culpa.

  11. At first glance of this post I experienced deja vu. Then I realized that I read this article in INForefront several days ago. The comments to your article in Forefront were obviously made by far right voters. Those comments were rude and insulting and made it clear that trump and his ilk can do no wrong.

    My questions to others on this blog – How can any sane person still support trump? Ok, I just answered that question myself – they aren’t sane. Secondly, how can we who are sane help them see and understand that Their country and Their freedom are being destroyed by the administration they are supporting?

  12. A kakistocracy (English pronunciation: /kækɪsˈtɑkɹəsi/) is a state or country run by the worst, least qualified, or most unscrupulous citizens. The word was coined by English author Thomas Love Peacock in 1829.

  13. Although I’m surrounded by Republicans and have been for many years, I don’t remember any of them bragging about how intelligent Fake President Trump is or ever was. He was looked upon as a big mouth whose brain was barely connected to his vocal cords. He was supported by people of that ilk, and he created a cabinet of people of that ilk … with money.

    So it shouldn’t come as any surprise that nothing intelligent is being suggested or accomplished by the current White House gang. Recent town hall meetings throughout the nation have caused Republican legislators to soften their stance on dumb-ass-ism. It makes good sense to fight negativity with negativity. Amen.

  14. I would argue that this is an extension of the MBA-ism that began in the ’80s. Prior to that, automobile manufacturing managers & executives had experience in that field; the retail & chemical industries also employed people with extensive experience in the minutia of those fields.

    Then some idiot came up with the idea that “business” was an abstract set of principles that were 100% transferable between any kind of organization, which was part of the whole conversion of Humans into Resources that’s gotten corporate culture such a bad name. My own experience of this was at Kaplan, where an intensely personal educational service was suddenly being run by people who would have been just as happy selling cell phones or dishwashers.

    Ultimately, this is not a matter of ignorance: it’s a matter of stupidity. The inability to see the evidence of your senses that even those skills that ARE transferable need updating & fine tuning in a new setting is stupidity. Or doctrinaire ideology, which is much the same thing.

  15. Gerald @ 9:03 >> Experience and education don’t count; only loyalty does, no matter the abject lack of qualifications.

    This is very true. This hyper loyalty or blind, prejudiced, and unreasoning allegiance to a person or ideology is displayed by followers of the Trumpet and Republicans in general. The extreme form is contained within every dictator and his followers. There is another characteristic the leader must shine brighter than everyone else. Hence, the Trumpets need to continuously tweet and bring attention to himself.

    Ron @ 9:58, I worked all my life for large multi-national corporations, I recall the MBA-ism making it’s debut. There were also the “consultants” that were invariably brought in to tell us what we were doing wrong. The “consultants” had no clue of the technical details of my work, but they had convinced high management we were not doing our jobs correctly.

  16. Ron:
    For years I have been saying that a major problem is the application of the accountant mind-set to all circumstances. I agree, the accountant can’t solve every problem; everything is not solely about money. You make a good point, look at what the accountant has killed: public service, customer service, quality of materials, fair pay, social conscience, shared goals.

  17. The rot is systematic and pervasive and self inflicted. It’s a disease that democracy cannot cure. Time to hunker down and help each other all that we can.

    Or as Herr Trumpty Dumbty would say quoting Warren Zevon, “bring lawyers, guns and money the shit has hit the fan.”

  18. Well-written and reasoned, as usual. I, for one, have never been convinced that Dumpster is a smart, successful businessman. I’ve always believed that luck and help from his father, plus advice from people behind the scenes got him where he is. He began his career in the real estate market with a huge gift from his father. Real estate in New York City keeps going up in value because we cannot create more land, and New York has always been a popular place. That he made money in this manner isn’t surprising, and is also not proof of talent. What about the $60 million profit he made on that property in Florida, purchased for $40 million, never even lived in, and sold to a Russian fertilizer mogul for $100 million 2 years later? Is this proof of talent, or something else? Well, a $60 million profit is nothing to sneeze at, but does it prove that Dumpster is a wise, successful businessman? Not to me.

    How many businesses of his have failed? How many times has he filed for bankruptcy? How many people has he cheated, including working people, like carpenters, and so forth? I respect those people who are successful in business because they studied the economy, they foresaw trends, invested in or developed some product or service to meet a need they saw coming and then profited from their insight and wisdom. That is someone who is savvy and successful.

    Dumpster is, as you have noted, an egomaniac, deeply in love with himself. He lies, plays games, surrounds himself with people who flatter him, and only sort of trusts his family. Sheila has noted that he is threatened by true talent and expertise because he lacks both and is afraid of being exposed as lacking in these areas. There is a story on the internet about how Dumpster, supposedly jokingly, said that if people decided they didn’t like Nikki Haley, she could be easily replaced. The story concluded that he really wasn’t joking, and that he liked to keep people working for him guessing about whether he is pleased with their performance and whether he is planning on firing them. That, of course, guarantees they will be total syncophants, providing him what he really craves: praise by groveling minions with superior skills, education and experience. That’s not leadership, nor business savvy–it’s proof of mental illness. He’s just a 70-year-old rookie, former reality TV star who’s in over his head. We’ll all end up paying for the fallout from his ego.

  19. He’s the prototypical arrogance over competence god.

    I will never understand why people simply accept his lying. His word is worth nothing and now America’s word is worthless.

  20. Sadly, this idea that someone who is awesome at X must also be awesome at Y is nothing new in our country. That’s why we elect pro wrestlers and action movie stars as governors, why a baseball team was willing to sign Michael Jordan to a contract, and why people buy products endorsed by celebrities whose fame has nothing to do with the nature of the product. It’s also driven by an naïve egotism that Americans have… everyone thinks they could easily be a sports star, actor, politician, or whatnot – and nobody seems to have a grasp of the work and training required to excel at things.

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