THE CHAOS OF Donald Trump’s opening weeks should not come as a total shock. The first president with no experience in government, surrounded by a chief of staff, a chief strategist, and a son-in-law who also lack any government experience and who seem to be competing ruthlessly with each other for power, is not a formula for quick success. The administration’s incompetence manifested itself most visibly in the rapid execution of a cruel, overbearing immigration restriction that provoked protests nationwide and even grumbling from some Republicans in Congress.
At another level, though, the travel ban might be seen, from the ideological perspective of the people who crafted it, not necessarily as a failure at all. Despite its ostensibly narrow scope, the operation was extraordinarily ambitious, designed to send a message to the world about who Americans are, who can become American, and, most especially, who cannot. The mayhem, inconvenience, and heartbreak it caused were in fact its very intent.
There are three different aspects of the Trump presidency at play. One is simply characterological: The president’s distinct troubled-adolescent behavior pattern, which, via regular bouts of insult-spewing, braggadocio, ignorance, extravagant promises, wild lies, and absolute intolerance of criticism, frequently throws the policymaking process into disarray. The second component, and the largest, is standard Republican policy, developed in Congress and