Power and Information

November 14, 2016
Posted by Jay Livingston

Trump’s selection of Reince Priebus as White House Chief of Staff signals some hope. After all, he might have picked the White nationalists’ favorite, Steve Bannon, the Breitbart anti-Semite, who maintained Breitbart as a platform for anti-Semites. Priebus is a more mainstream Republican. Instead Bannon will be chief strategist.

My guess is that in the Trump White House, the chief of staff will be a crucial position. I asked a colleague in the political science department about this. She leafed through a textbook looking for an “org chart,” but couldn’t find one.  Here’s my stripped-down version of what it might look like.

The diagram shows the power arrangement, the chain of command. The president tells the chief of staff what he wants, and chief of staff converts these ideas into specific directions for those lower down the line.

But if you think of system as an information network, then the more information a person controls, the more power he has, regardless of the title associated with his position. Here’s another diagram.

Who’s in charge? It’s the same diagram – the same lines of communication. But relocating the circles shows more clearly the central position of the chief of staff. If all communication has to flow through him, and if he is the one who decides which information to pass along to others, he has the most power.

With a high-information president who seeks out information from a variety of sources, the chief of staff’s position is not so central, and its power is less. But if a president has little curiosity about facts, the person who controls the facts that he does get is the one who is really calling the shots. My impression is that George W. Bush was that kind of president, though in his case, at least during the first five or six years of his tenure, the central position was not the chief of staff but vice-president. “I’m the decider,” Bush famously said. But if Cheney was giving Bush the options to choose from and the information about those options, Cheney was the most powerful person in the administration.

Our current president-elect does not show much interest in the details of policy. It seems that he is delighted to be the president but that he does not really want to do the work of directing an administration. Given Trump’s meager knowledge of most issues, especially foreign policy, and his impulsiveness, a more centrist party hack like Priebus as chief of staff looks like a good thing, relatively speaking. Trump’s image of his administration will be Diagram A above. The reality will be Diagram B.


maxliving said...

One hypothetical way the Trump administration could work out symbiotically (for Trump and the GOP) is that Trump leaves most of the governing to Preibus, Pence, and the lobbyists and financiers who he's selected. Meanwhile, Trump travels the country holding massive rallies, doing the Two minutes hate. This distracts them from the fact that Trump's appointees are busy screwing them over. Trump gets to hear his name chanted out, the GOP gets their tax cuts. But who knows? It seems impossible to spend another two months hypothesizing over all the different things that might happen during the Trump administration, but I'm sure it will be proven quite possible.

brandsinger said...

"Steve Bannon the Brightbart anti-semite" --?? -- I guess being a Democrat calling people racist and antisemite is what you do. Like the GEICO commercials -- when you're a parrot you repeat things. When you're a Democrat (today, at least, it wasn't always so), you call people ugly names. The racists, the deplorables, etc.

On Bannon, did you happen to catch their most visible and glamorous reporter/personality say "I'm a gay Jew and Steve Bannon made me a star." (Breitbart senior editor Milo) Apparently many or most of the Breitbart staff are Jews. Also, there are prominent Jews who have come out to rebut the claim that Bannon is an anti-Semite (and others who claim he is, though with no real evidence, of course).

Jay, you don't seem to be the kind of person who slings labels like "anti-semite" around -- I thought that was for people with less on their minds, less to say, feebler intellects and more simplistic world views. I'm actually disappointed (not rhetorically disappointed, but actually disappointed and a bit saddened) that you stoop to this level. I guess when you're a Democrat you call people racist, etc. That's what you do. And that's one reason so many so-called "white racists" in the midwest who voted for Obama last time voted for Trump this time.

Being for strong borders and enforcing our national laws is... racist, right? Very sad, you being a professor and all. I bet you use the term "McCarthyism" to denote ugly smearing of political opponents. If I were you I'd never use "McCarthyism" again because your charge of antisemitism embodies its crudest qualities.

Jay Livingston said...

My mistake. Bannon’s wife testified that in a discussion of schools, Bannon “went on to say the biggest problem he had with Archer is the number of Jews that attend. He said that he doesn’t like Jews and that he doesn’t like the way they raise their kids to be ‘whiny brats’ and that he didn’t want the girls going to school with Jews.” I was jumping to conclusions. Not liking Jews and not liking their whiny Jewish brats doesn’t mean he’s an anti-Semite. I misinterpreted.

Some of his best friends are Jewish.

brandsinger said...

So in your mind a man who was hired by a Jew, hires Jews, works with Jews (who admire and praise him), founded a Jerusalem office of Breitbart, and opposes the disinvest in Israel movement is an antisemite because a former wife remembers that he once used the term "whiny Jews"? That's your reasoning? That's your evidence? That's the basis for calling a man an anti-semite? Wow.