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Trump may bark orders, but US officials sometimes ignore them

Donald Trump routinely ignores his team, but what's less appreciated is the degree to which his team sometimes ignores Donald Trump.
Image: President Trump Signs Executive Order In Oval Office
President Donald Trump speaks before signing an executive order establishing regulatory reform officers and task forces in US agencies in Washington, DC on February 24, 2017.

Donald Trump's role at the G-7 summit in June was a destructive one, but behind the scenes, there were constructive negotiations between the delegations on a joint communique reflecting the member nations' shared values. An agreement was reached -- right up until the American president intervened.

The day after the international gathering, Trump announced that he had "instructed" U.S. officials "not to endorse" the official G-7 communique. White House officials then spent some time blaming Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for apparently hurting Trump's feelings.

What we did not know, however, was that the American president's "instructions" about the joint G-7 statement were ignored. BuzzFeed reported yesterday that Trump's order went unenforced.

Since Trump's tweet, however, there has been no formal or official follow-up by the US on the president's demand, the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said. [...]Trump's tweet, the source explained, wasn't sufficient to pull out of the communique itself because "the G7 has a suite of diplomatic tools for communications, and Twitter isn't one of them." The lack of a formal US notification means the G7 communique remains intact as agreed by the seven leaders in Quebec, the source added.

BuzzFeed quoted one source saying, "The White House and State Dept. are actively ignoring the tweets of the president. It's like there's a reality TV president, in his own bubble, thinking he controls stuff. It's like The Truman Show."

There's a general expectation that when the sitting president of the United States barks an order, the officials in his or her administration follow it, whether they agree with the instructions or not.

But looking back over the last year and a half, it may be time to adjust our assumptions about this dynamic -- because this G-7 story isn't the first example we've seen of U.S. officials choosing to disregard Donald Trump's orders.

The president's willingness to ignore his team has been well documented, but to fully appreciate the level of dysfunction within the Trump administration, it's important to appreciate his team's willingness to ignore him, too.

In April, for example, the president announced via Twitter that Russia should "get ready" because he was poised to launch a military offensive in Syria. White House officials found Trump's declaration "distracting," and proceeded "as if nothing had happened."

A couple of months earlier, Trump asked Defense Secretary James Mattis to provide him with military options for Iran. The Pentagon chief reportedly "refused."

Making matters slightly worse, last summer, the president published missives barring transgender Americans from military service. Soon after, the Joint Chiefs effectively ignored it, leaving the status quo in place.

"What is most remarkable is the extent to which his senior officials act as if Trump were not the chief executive," Jack Goldsmith, a top Justice Department official under President George W. Bush, wrote last summer. "Never has a president been so regularly ignored or contradicted by his own officials.... The president is a figurehead who barks out positions and desires, but his senior subordinates carry on with different commitments."

It's an alarming dynamic, of course, because our system of government isn't supposed to work this way, but it's nearly as troubling that Trump doesn't seem to notice. He seems to make official declarations, assuming his orders will be followed, but he fails to do any follow up. Trump seems to have no idea that some of those around him are comfortable discounting the amateur in the Oval Office, who doesn't really seem to know what he's doing anyway.

The president is blissfully unaware that some of his instructions go ignored, making his boasts about "strong leadership" appear that much more pitiful.