Trump, Bannon, and the Destruction of Experience

One of the early knocks on Donald Trump’s campaign was that he had no relevant experience, either as a politician or as a government administrator. Specifically, it was objected that Trump’s lack of experience would hinder his ability to win in the general election and, if he won, to govern effectively. The first objection is being proven true as we speak, which means we’ll probably never get to see how true the second one was. Still, Trump got farther than many people (including me) expected, so now he’s testing out his own theory that political experience is completely irrelevant with the Bannon hire.

Everyone who’s been commenting on Bannon focuses on his work at Breitbart, his terrible movies, and what kind of message he will probably bring to the Trump campaign. That’s all well and good. What people aren’t focusing on nearly as much as they should be is the fact that Bannon has literally no experience doing anything like running a national Presidential campaign. And that matters.

Look, there are some jobs that you can slide into with little or no relevant experience and be relatively successful. If you are a talented person, you can probably even do it several levels of difficulty up from being a cashier. However, there comes a point where the complexities and intricacies of a job demand at least some preparedness, no matter how talented or intelligent a person is.

I have often said that the job of being President of the United States is sui generis and there is no perfect predictor of good performance in office. Being a governor is probably the closest proving ground, but even many perfectly competent governors have crumbled under the pressure of being President. But still, having performed decently well as a governor gives a person the best reasonable shot at succeeding as a President.

The job of being the campaign manager for a Presidential candidate, on the other hand, really requires a set of identifiable skills – both in terms of management duties and also in terms of background knowledge of the required tasks – that a random person with no experience cannot really just walk in off the street and do the job well, no matter how talented they are. I don’t know Bannon personally – we’ve met exactly once, and that was very briefly – but neither he nor the Trump campaign is putting themselves in a position to succeed with this particular move.

The fact that it is happening and we are barely commenting on it is kind of a troubling thing, to me. It means that we’ve really lost the sense that experience as a whole is relevant. Sure, it isn’t everything and maybe it isn’t even the most important thing when you are predicting how someone is going to perform at a job. But it often is a necessary prerequisite to someone having a reasonable chance to perform well and we forget that at our peril – not just politically but as a society.