The opening chapters of Michael Lewis’s new book, The Fifth Risk, detail the carelessness of the Trump transition team in the months leading up to his swearing-in as president. Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie led the team, with its binders full of possible agency chiefs, before he was summarily canned by Steve Bannon, who would be dumped soon himself by the ascending Golden Golem of Greatness. There was, in fact, a set of rigorous protocols for managing the transition of power based on decades of cumulative practice — and anxiety over the frightening nuclear demons at the core of US power — and they were disdained, to the horror of the permanent bureaucracy waiting in place for leadership.
In those months after the election, Mr. Trump was apparently dazed and confused by his unexpected victory, and completely unprepared to actually run the country. His super-sized “stable genius” brain surveyed the scene and his field-of-view saw nothing but swamp from sea to shining sea, populated by lizards, snakes, raptors, and poisonous insects, with higher-order mammalian predators in the C-suites. When he finally caught on to the game being played, Mr. Trump rounded up his own menagerie of crispy critters and sent them forth to run operations like the Department of Energy — in that case, former Texas governor Rick Perry, who knew next-to-nothing about the department’s responsibilities, and had sworn to abolish it in the primary elections (when he remembered it existed).
The politics around these deadly serious matters are interesting enough, and Michael Lewis, as always, excels at unpacking the fraught mysteries of highly complicated systems run by comically limited humans. But something else emerges from this story, perhaps unintentionally: that the complexities of government are now hopelessly unmanageable, no matter who is in charge of them, and that the actual path of this still-growing complexity leads to criticality and collapse.
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