America is in crisis.
Not just a crisis over a particular policy, dark money or unpredictable foreign relations — but a crisis that goes to the heart of the administration.
In his new book The Fifth Risk, best-selling political author Michael Lewis paints an unflattering portrait of the Trump administration.
He describes an invisible meltdown taking place in the most important parts of the federal government, based on a theme of employing people to run very complex things, when they have no idea how those things work.
Now, everything a government is designed to do — keep the country running, keep people safe and keep justice in order — is being compromised by its own leaders.
And it all started before Trump had even entered the White House.
'THE BUNGLED TRANSITION'
At the heart of America's implosion is the Trump administration's total ignorance of the government system, Lewis argues.
And it all started before he'd even been inaugurated.
When Trump first won the election, it was claimed he hadn't expected to win, and didn't even want the job.
"His campaign hadn't even bothered to prepare an acceptance speech," writes Lewis.
"It was not hard to see why Trump hadn't seen the point in preparing to take over the federal government: why study for a test you will never need to take?"
Lewis notes that government transitions are inherently chaotic. That's why it requires a really strong transition team to quickly understand who's taking over and what's going to happen next.
"Dysfunction is baked into the structure of the thing," he says. "The subordinates know that their bosses will be replaced every four or eight years, and that the direction of their enterprises might change overnight — with an election or a war or some other political event."
But with the current administration, it was doomed from the start.
According to Lewis, Trump didn't want a Transition Team. He insisted he didn't need to form one, until New Jersey Governor Chris Christie managed to convince him to assemble a small group of people a few months before Election Day.
Trump was initially against the idea, but eventually came around to it when he was informed it was required by law.
Even so, his mood flipped frequently. In one especially bizarre exchange, Trump rounded on Christie over the task.
"You're stealing my money!" he yelled.
"You're stealing my f***ing money! What the f*** is this?" He then rounded on Steve Bannon, who was also in his office.
"Why are you letting him steal my f***ing money?"
Together Bannon and Christie sought to explain federal law to Trump — that is, the fact that the incoming government was expected to prepare to take control of the government.
"F*** the law," replied Trump.
"I don't give a f*** about the law. I want my f***ing money."
He insisted the transition team be shut down — and couldn't comprehend its importance.
"You and I are so smart we can leave the victory party two hours early and do the transition ourselves," he later told Christie.
Eventually, Christie was fired, and the incoming President instead developed a new team from scratch — barely a month before the new Administration would assume power.
Christie and his multi-hundred person team — all of whom were ready to get started the day after the election — were fired before they'd gotten off the ground.
According to Lewis, the "only requirement" for people who took over their positions during the pivotal transition period was their loyalty to Trump. He cared about nothing else — qualifications and previous experience be damned. The people who did show up were often late, unprepared and uninterested, but it didn't matter.
Now, he says this theme of a lack of interest in the business of how government actually works is having huge consequences.
FIVE BIGGEST RISKS TO AMERICA'S FUTURE
Lewis took it upon himself to do what Trump's transition officials should have done, but didn't; he interviewed former Obama officials in various departments — Commerce, Energy and Agriculture — and asked what advice they'd have given their successors if they had the chance.
John MacWilliams, who served as the Energy Department's first-ever chief risk officer, identified five major worries for America's future: a nuclear weapons-related accident; a potential conflict with North Korea; stoked tensions with Iran; an attack on the US electrical grid; and finally, the fifth and most subtle risk — project management.
The "Fifth Risk" seems the least threatening, Lewis explains, but can actually be the worst.
"Some of the things any incoming president should worry about are fast-moving: pandemics, hurricanes, terrorist attacks," Lewis explains. "But most are not. Most are like bombs with very long fuses that, in the distant future, when the fuse reaches the bomb, might or might not explode."
Lewis argues we're now in an age where government officials aren't considering this risk, let alone managing it, the way officials of previous administrations did.
This, he says, can and will continue to negatively effect widespread aspects of the United States, from hunger-alleviation programs to climate change and major weather disasters.
But just how is the government staying afloat in all this?
According to Lewis, the Trump administration is being kept afloat by what he describes as its own "wilful ignorance".
"If your ambition is to maximise short-term gain without regard to the long-term cost, you are better off not knowing the cost," he writes. "If you want to preserve your personal immunity to the hard problems, it's better never really to understand those problems. There is an upside to ignorance, and a downside to knowledge."
In other words, if you don't see the consequences your actions are having, those actions are easier to justify.
Such a mentality in itself, he stresses, has downright terrifying implications for the future.