Home / General / The “single biggest simultaneous departure of institutional memory”

The “single biggest simultaneous departure of institutional memory”


You may already have seen this, but the State Department just lost a big chunk of its management team.

Ambassador Richard Boucher, who served as State Department spokesman for Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, said that while there’s always a lot of turnover around the time a new administration takes office, traditionally senior officials work with the new team to see who should stay on in their roles and what other jobs might be available. But that’s not what happened this time.

The officials who manage the building and thousands of overseas diplomatic posts are charged with taking care of Americans overseas and protecting U.S. diplomats risking their lives abroad. The career foreign service officers are crucial to those functions as well as to implementing the new president’s agenda, whatever it may be, Boucher said.

By itself, the sudden departure of the State Department’s entire senior management team is disruptive enough. But in the context of a president who railed against the U.S. foreign policy establishment during his campaign and secretary of state with no government experience, the vacancies are much more concerning.

CNN, on the other hand, claims that they were fired.

It’s just so hard to tell whether the chaos is intentional or not. Is the Administration lying to paper over their embarrassment? Or are they merely swinging the wrecking ball around?

Regardless, I guess that Trump was telling the truth when he promised that he’d bring his business experience to the Presidency.

UPDATE: both of these things can be technically true. The officials all submitted letters of resignation as part of the transition, but some of them could’ve then walked off the job. In that sense, the Trump Administration ‘fired them’ by never offering to keep them on. As I indicated above, the specifics are less consequential than you might think.

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  • DamnYankees

    I’ve felt more gut nerves about the future and foundation of my country, and indeed my life in it, over the past 2 days than I think I ever have in my life.

    We can’t possibly survive 4 years of this as a country.

    • Nick never Nick

      Yeah, this just rounds out one week — let’s review the accomplishments:

      – Mexico cancels State visit
      – border wall announced
      – weekly publication of Hate Immigrant stats planned
      – 450,000 lies about size of Trump male organ crowd
      – investigation of voter fraud announced
      – State Department management resigns en masse
      – torture reinstated
      – National Day of Patriotic Devotion announced

      Only 207 more weeks to go!

      • DamnYankees

        My biggest fear – my personal selfish fear – remains immigration. My spouse is an immigrant. She’s a permanent resident, and we live in a very liberal area where her ethnic group actually controls the government, but still, she’s an immigrant.

        I can’t not worry.

        • humanoid.panda

          Don’t want to get too personal, but I you would be foolhardy not to apply for naturalization (presuming enough time elapsed since Green Card). It took me less then six months from application to citizenship last year.

          • DamnYankees

            We have thought about that – the problem is she’d need to renounce the citizenship of her birth to do that. Which would make it harder to leave if necessary. Not fun thoughts.

            • petesh

              You might want to check that quietly, for instance in an anonymous phone call to the US Embassy in her native land (mine being the UK). I did and was told that it was a gray area (this was in the late 90s) and so long as I did not work for the government in either country neither would bother about it. A French acquaintance asked the French Embassy and they laughed and said, once French, always French.

              Anyway, I took my passport to the naturalization ceremony, and they did not ask for it, just the green card, and I subsequently renewed both passports by mail. I love gray areas, though I fear they may have become more rigid since.

              • humanoid.panda

                Yeah, on the US side, the demand to renounce citizenship is a dead letter. I’d also add that if you are doing risk estimates, the risk of being in trouble as non-citizen is much higher than the risk of citizens having to go into exile.

            • britlaw

              Renunciation of birth citizenship is not required anymore by the US, but your spouse’s birth country may have a different position.

              • petesh

                I’m fairly sure that nothing in the renewal form from my home country asked about it. If if they did, it was along the lines of this, from the US form, which I swear was there though I’m working from memory and may have the terminology slightly incorrect:

                Did you at any point between the years 1933 and 1945 discriminate against anyone on the grounds of their race or religion?

                I answered No, with great sincerity, not having been alive during the period in question. There were, however, somewhat similar questions to which I answered No because it was obviously the answer wanted; probably about my scurrilous acquaintances. (Confession: I have indeed consorted with communists though I’m not certain they asked, exactly.)

              • Redwood Rhiadra

                Renunciation of birth citizenship is not required anymore by the US


                “I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen;…”

                This oath is still required from every single naturalized citizen, and is a legally enforceable oath. Failure to follow it is naturalization fraud and is grounds for loss of citizenship and deportation.

                Yes, it’s true that we haven’t enforced this clause of the oath in recent decades, and we don’t actively confiscate passports. But that doesn’t stop Trump from deciding to start enforcing the oath.

      • wengler

        To go along with the immigration crackdown, I would be surprised if the Trump Fascist Regime doesn’t have in the works a decree stripping citizenship from Americans.

        I know it’s of particular concern to them that they can’t disappear brown Americans in the same way as brown non-citizens.

    • Davis X. Machina

      We can’t possibly survive 4 years of this as a country.

      There’ll be a country. It just won’t be anything we recognize.

      It’s important to recognize some millions of people want this. This seems good to them.

      Next time you’re in line at the supermarket, it’s one of the three of you — you, the person in front, and the person behind you in line — who thinks this is what the country should be, and the country has been defective to the extent that it hasn’t been this way.

      • DamnYankees

        No, I get that. But what’s the break point for places like CA? What would have to happen for the hugely liberal population centers to say “fuck this noise” and just openly resist. Is it remotely possible?

        • CP

          Honestly, no. The Confederacy provides a pretty good example, and they were both much more radicalized and better represented in the various People With Guns organizations than we are. Armed resistance to the state isn’t really plausible.

          • DamnYankees

            Well, it is when you consider that the “resisters” in this case would be both larger and more economically stable.

            I’m not saying this is a good idea. But I can’t imagine, and would be mortified to see, CA and NY just lying down.

          • sigaba

            Governments in places like California can offer token acceptance of things like “immigration law enforcement” but then slow-walk and work-to-rule the implementation to death. This is where your chief of police and mayoral elections enter the equation.

            Otherwise, there’s not much to do as long as they aren’t asking you to do anything. Don’t report on immigrants you know, that’s easy. Protest. Keep voting. And hope you’re not affected by all the organized crime any immigration crackdown is liable to cause.

          • catclub

            Armed resistance to the state isn’t really plausible.

            How about passive resistance?

            What if Cal, NY, MA and CT residents did not pay their taxes – en masse?

            • DamnYankees

              The GOP would just run the government on debt.

            • Rob in CT

              Well, for the most part it’s automatically deducted. Those who are self-employed could try it I guess, and those who owed extra at the end of the year too I suppose. Of course ~2/3 of what I will owe come April is FICA taxes for our nanny, screwing up Medicare/Medicaid & SS…


              The trouble with being a Democrat is that we DON’T want to burn it all down.

            • sigaba

              This would make for an interesting conversation with my accountant.

              The response has to be more direct to the problem and it’s better if it takes the form of an affirmative statement. It’s better still if it was some sort of public acts everyone can see — it’s really easy to tell your friends you’re not paying your taxes and then reneg. Also straight up, most of us overpay through payroll withholding and get a refund in April. Refusing to file a return is annoying and may defintiely gum up the works but it doesn’t really stop the train.

              Something that has been suggested is people should register en masse as illegal immigrants.

      • Arouet

        I mean where I live there’d have to be a pretty damn long line for that to be true in all likelihood, 30+ people. But I suppose that’s part of the issue?

        • Srsly Dad Y


    • stinapag

      This is how my sister put it:

      A friend of mine said that this feels like being a passenger in a car driven by a drunk driver. Feels more like a plane driven by a drunk driver.

  • In possibly related news, an astonishing speculation from Josh Marshall. Russian #2 spy Sergei Mikhailov has been arrested for treason, and there are reports he is accused of channeling information to U.S. intelligence about Russian cyberwarfare. Sayeth the Josh:

    “[T]his immediately poses the question: if Mikhailov was a US asset, how was he compromised? Did the information put out by US intelligence somehow lead to his exposure? Without putting too fine a point on it, a number of close advisors to President Trump are being scrutinized for ties to Russia. Some of them participated in the intelligence briefings the President receives.

    Do we have a very big problem?”

    If this is true, the CIA will probably be able to figure it out. I keep expecting some massive shit to hit the fan, this would certainly be it. We shall see.

    • IM

      Aren’t sources kept out of intelligence briefings? Just the results?

      • Not that I know of. He’s the president, they would probably answer the question if he asked. But even so, the nature of the information could point to the source, in this case. At least Mikhailov would be held responsible for this particular lapse, even if he didn’t actively participate.

      • This question was addressed on an NPR segment early this week. It’s a live question at the CIA as to what do they do if they reveal information about Putin to Trump and he asks for sourcing.

        • BruceJ

          Hmm, and name some non-asset as the source as a test to see what happens? Sux for the non-asset, but now you know how high the rot goes. It all depends on how loyal the CIA is and to whom they’re loyal.

          • CaptainBringdown

            This was my first thought as well.

          • Well, they certainly aren’t loyal to Trump, or Michael Flynn. And they won’t have much truck for Tillerson either. We will see where that leads.

          • Hogan

            Like Tyrion Lannister smoking out Maester Pycelle.

            • Chip Daniels

              I’m binge-watching GoT to prepare for the new season, and I gotta say, rewatching the old episodes of King Joffrey’s reign seems donwright familiar.

              • sibusisodan

                I’m rereading the books right now because I needed some optimistic escapism.

                • Hey! That’s the same reason I’m reading Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman.

        • McAllen

          Jesus. Apart from everything else, this level of distrust between the President and his intelligence service isn’t sustainable, right? I mean, this kind of thing is how we end up getting a coup, right?

          • No, not a coup. They could probably arrange for Trump’s new address to be Florence, Colorado, but then we would have president Mike Pence to enjoy.

      • sigaba

        It’s completely conceivable that the results alone would reveal the source to someone who knew enough of the context.

    • Mike G

      Did Trump flunkies receiving intelligence briefings rat out our spy to Putin?

      Is it irresponsible to speculate? It is irresponsible not to. (Peggy Noonan reference)

      Maybe we’ll find out indirectly when one of Trump’s tools perishes in a “car accident”.

      • humanoid.panda

        Flynn is surely privy to basically everything as NSC.

      • Car accidents are too subtle.

        Polonium in the tea makes sure that everyone knows who was behind the murder, and that short of taking on the whole Russian state, there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

        See also, Viktor Yushchenko.

    • UnderTheSun

      An employee of Kaspersky Lab, Ruslan Stoyanov has also been arrested and he joined Kaspersky Lab in 2012. Suggests that any offence was not recent and not related to the alleged hacking of the DNC by the Russian government.

      Kommersant cited sources who claimed the investigation was exploring the receipt of money from foreign companies by Stoyanov and his links to Mikhailov.

    • UnderTheSun

      Russian #2 spy Sergei Mikhailov has been arrested for treason

      No, he was not the #2 in the FSB.

      Sergei Mikhailov, deputy head of the information security department of the FSB, Russia’s national security service.

      As for the report in the NY Times, yet again they’re probably making stuff up. The reports I’ve seen all suggested that the alleged hacking was carried out by the GRU (military intelligence) which is nothing to do with the FSB (internal security)

      Its main responsibilities are within the country and include counter-intelligence, internal and border security, counter-terrorism, and surveillance as well as investigating some other types of grave crimes and federal law violations.

    • wengler

      Actively compromising overseas assets? Bush did it. More specifically Cheney did it.

  • Part of me thinks: transitions are often messy—remember the Clinton transition?—and we should be careful about confirmation bias. And we should be. But still, from the start this has been bananas.

    • DamnYankees

      It’s because the issue isn’t the messiness of the transition. It’s the delusional man in charge of it. This kind of rocky transition could actually be very easily mollified – you just need a calming press conference explaining the transition in calm terms and explaining the path forward.

      Freaking Mike Pence could do that. Mike Pence could make this seem normal. Trump is incapable. Because the problem is not the transition. The problem is him.

      • +1k

        • humanoid.panda

          I think I finally figured out my theory of why Trump is particularly terrible. Think of him as a layer cake

          At the bottom, you have he usual republican BS: tax cuts, privatization, global warming, voter fraud etc. Any republican would exhibit that.

          In the middle, you have the post 2008 loss of grasp on reality and departure from norms even W upheld: some elements of this would be exhibited by presidents Newt, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul.

          And the cherry on top is his personality disorder, which is fairly unique.

          • This is a large part of it, but it doesn’t include his overt racism, misogyny, and serial history of admitted sex crimes. The previous Republicans who ever came anywhere close to the presidency didn’t say the quiet parts out loud. Emperor Cheeto shouts them with a bullhorn. The fact that he has brought Nazis out of hiding and that people as young as elementary school have been citing his presidency as an excuse for assaulting women and girls makes him uniquely terrible in a way I don’t think any other occupant of the clown car would have been.

            That said, his personality disorder(s) is/are still the cherry on top, yes. (I’m 100% certain he is a malignant narcissist, and I’m pretty convinced he’s also showing early signs of dementia.)

            • humanoid.panda

              So many it’s a four layer cake, with him bringing the Breitbarts into the mainstream as the third layer..

          • Solar System Wolf

            If Trump was an ice cream flavor, he’d be pralines and dick.

    • cpinva

      I went through several transitions, I’m glad I retired before this one. Bush was a buffoon, but not a loud, obnoxious buffoon. Trump is loud, obnoxious, stupid and incompetent, not a guy I want on my resume’.

  • ΧΤΠΔ
    • cpinva

      I suspect even Jesus would be at a loss for words.

    • Gee Suss

      Good god. I thought this was a parody.

  • “Well you can take this job and shove it…”

  • Joe Bob the III

    Talking Points Memo has also described the departures as “fired.”

    The officials who were fired submit a pro forma letter of resignation at the start of any new administration. The ‘resignations’ were unexpected because no one thought the letters would be accepted. It’s also exceptionally unusual that senior staff completely vacate these positions and not stay on to manage a transition.

    • Rob in CT

      So in other words this isn’t a walk-out in protest of the awfulness of Trump, it’s an illustration of the awfulness of Trump.

      • Crusty

        Its the star of the Apprentice doing what he does best ex-post facto.

  • So, can this “simultaneous departure of institutional memory” correctly be called “institutional dementia”?

    • Mike G

      You need institutional memory if you want your institution to do well and efficiently the thousands of little things that don’t attract attention (as well as the big things). It’s like the lubrication in a long-lasting engine.

      If your institution has become merely a vehicle for personal whims and running scams, institutional memory is not a concern. You use flunkies and interns. It’s like a grenade motor in Formula 1 meant to produce an immense amount of power for a dozen qualifying laps before destroying itself.

    • gratuitous

      That’s kind of where the rubber meets the road, isn’t it? There isn’t a b-school analog to actual State Department experience. We’re already seeing problems in the Trump administration’s response to the terrible weather-related events in Mississippi and Georgia (the biggest problem being that there isn’t a response). Businesses routinely call in the government agencies to deal with a natural disaster. Who do the businesspeople running the government call?

      The comments in the Washington Post story (never read the comments) have Trump supporters giddy about the departure of all the failed State Department careerists. I’m tempted to note down names and any contact information of the offenders so I can remind them of their dumbassery when Trump’s inevitable diplomatic failures begin to accrue.

      • sigaba

        For a Trumper, diplomacy is the problem. The “failure” is that we have a State Department at all.

    • leftwingfox

      .22 caliber bullet to the institutional brain-pan, apparently.

    • Joe Bob the III

      More like institutional traumatic brain injury.

      • GeorgeBurnsWasRight

        Paging Dr. Carson, Dr. Carson, please pick up the white courtesy phone.

  • BruceJ

    If your object (as the GOP’s has been for decades) is to destroy the federal government as a functioning entity, this is how you do it. They’ve got it in the bathtub, the water is running, just gotta hold it down a little while.

  • MacK

    Don’t everyone go yah-booh but several of these were Bush are appointments (not political), including Kennedy, who the Democrats had kept because they seemed competent.

    Trump and the Republicans have an inherent contempt for the Federal Civil Service (state too), but these are the people who keep the wheels on the waggon of government. Lose too many and minor problems (and big) become farce and fiasco.

    I can see the farces and fiascos coming – in State, then HUD, the HHS, then the VA, then FEMA – and this government is going to fail, and people will end up dead, or unemployed, many of them in Red States.

    One thing Rex Tillerson probably does not grasp – a Texaco you lose someone in an important role, well maybe you can promote, or just go hire someone experienced in that area from another oil company. There is no other State Department the US can hire from.

    • sibusisodan

      There is no other State Department the US can hire from.

      I'm sure Russia has a State Department

  • OT (slightly): The Doomsday Clock has been moved to two and a half minutes to midnight, the closest it’s ever been since 1953. Emperor Tangerine was explicitly cited by the scientists who run the Clock as the primary reason for this. I endorse the decision to move the Clock closer to midnight, but I have to object that “Two and a Half Minutes to Midnight” isn’t as catchy as the Iron Maiden song.

    • CP

      I used to think the scariest time to be alive since the invention of the atom bomb would’ve been in the early eighties during the Brezhnev/Reagan overlap – when both superpowers were run by a conservative asshole who was going senile, and therefore adding a slipping grip on reality to their already belligerent tendencies. (Though we didn’t know about Reagan’s at the time, and the details of Brezhnev were probably still murky).

      Trump may have single-handedly topped that era.

    • GeorgeBurnsWasRight

      Next month they replace their old clock with a cuckoo clock.

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