This Is Not Decision-Making

This Is Not Decision-Making

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

Political Scientists debate at length the nature and character of decision-making. There is much discussion whether there is a preferred model of decision-making or, in the case of the U.S., a particular style of presidential-decision-making is more worthy of being emulated than another.

There are classic distinctions which have developed in assessing decision-making; long-term policy decisions or immediate or short term ones; between salient and non-salient issues.  The matter of timing or information can be the critical variable in assessing whether some decisions will or will not succeed.  Other considerations which have evolved over time concern the extent of predictability that the decision-maker presents or the extent to which accurate predictability enhances or detracts from his/her ability to succeed in making effective decisions.

When applied to the behavior of this Administration the examples are everywhere, largely because there is no process of decision-making which the President’s staff can articulate or follow. President Trump’s methodology is single minded—his. His process appears to be totally whimsical. Trump may have meetings about problems or issues, but even those advisers to whom he listens are never sure what the President will do, whether he will change his mind, in what direction he wishes to jump or how high!

If decision making by early morning tweet is difficult for Trump’s staff, for the media, and for the country, the problem for foreign leaders, both allies and adversaries is unimaginable. The process and changing moods of the President which he actually believes to be beneficial, exasperates foreign governments. World leaders anticipate that the U.S. will lead with a sense of stability, resourcefulness, and substance; yet, world-wide leaders are finding themselves facing an unpredictable process. All presidents changed their minds as do all high level leaders, but they do not do so precipitously.

The United States is frustrating world leaders. America’s reliability and standing are suffering. If a leader never attacks Putin and then suddenly does so and no one understands what precipitates this switch it is problematic. When the President promises that Mexico will build a wall along the border; then says that the U.S. will build the wall; then announces that he will dispatch the Army to guard the border; and then turns to States’ National Guard units to protect illegal immigration from Mexico, no one knows what will come next. When a President says that that trade wars are good for the economy and multiple sectors of the economy push back, how do staff and a Republican Congress respond; eight months before an election. When the President decides to impose significant tariffs on China; then China retaliates; then Trump ups the ante without ever consulting anyone or working through the consequences; the economy will not be able to sustain such behavior.

Trump’s own staff cannot follow his thinking; they need to react and do not know how to respond; the stock market—which is inherently volatile—gets the jitters; and America’s adversaries are totally flummoxed.  This is not decision-making in any conventional manner.  It is a system directed by an autocrat, who must be surrounded only by people who are prepared never to question his conduct of the affairs of state.  

The problem becomes more and more serious every day.

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