The Atlantic

Incompetence Exacerbated by Malevolence

The coronavirus has dangerously inverted a long-standing White House theme.
Source: Tom Brenner / Reuters

Throughout the many disasters that have befallen the Trump administration, one theme has remained a constant: malevolence tempered by incompetence. That description emerged from a text-message conversation between the two of us in January 2017, the day after the release of the president’s first travel ban. Chaos was erupting at ports of entry around the country. U.S. permanent residents were being denied entry. Courts were getting involved. Protesters and lawyers were assembling at airports. And yet, the worst consequences were averted, because the travel ban was so ineptly conceived and executed that it was quickly put on hold and later substantially rolled back.

[Read: You’re likely to get coronavirus]

The phrase took on a life of its own, because so many other events of the past three years followed a similar pattern. The columnist Paul Krugman the botched Republican effort to undo the Affordable Care Act. Senator in condemning the administration’s failure to care for immigrant children separated from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border. Describing the president’s slapdash trade policy, the podcaster Mike Pesca that a better formulation might be “malevolence tempered by incompetence shot through with mendacity”—emphasizing the pervasiveness of Donald Trump’s lies in the conduct of his administration.

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