They say Nero fiddled while Rome burned.
It wasn’t only Nero who fiddled, of course. President Trump spends much of his time fiddling. If he isn’t on the tweeter, he’s watching the daytime soaps. He works one out of every three days, and spends 60 percent of every business day doing nothing. He calls it “executive time.” One economist jokes, “The president takes so much time off, he could qualify for unemployment insurance.”
The president’s schedule shows huge swaths of his day unplanned, allowing his whims and momentary interests to drive White House business, or the lack of it.
A new look at the past three months of Trump’s White House time shows him spending the first five hours of his mornings each day in his private upstairs rooms watching TV, reading newspapers and responding to what he sees and reads, by phoning aides and shooting the breeze with members of Congress, friends, administration officials and informal advisers. His official White House schedule is a coverup that says he’s in his Oval Office from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m., but it turns out you’d never find him there in the morning.
Since Nov. 7, the day after last November’s midterm elections, Trump has spent 297 business hours relaxing in his “executive time,” fiddling, according to his own 51 private daily schedules. Over those same three months he’s kept only 77 hours — way less than three weeks total — for policy-planning and legislative strategy meetings and video recordings.
Some days, “Executive Time” totally predominates. As one of many examples, on Friday, Jan. 18 he had one hour of scheduled meetings and seven hours of “executive time” — and that’s the rule, not the exception. Which one of us could get away with that, sleeping out a shift behind a packing box in some dark corner of a warehouse?
Chris Whipple, a student of presidential schedules, who wrote “The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency,” says, “there’s almost no (historical) parallel” for how this president spends his days. “The most important asset in any presidency is the president’s time,” he adds,” and Trump is a guy who gives new meaning to the notion of an unstructured presidency.”
Even during the few hours a week that he’s at work, he’s not “at work.” He has a hard time paying attention during important briefings, wants the critical issues to be boiled down to two or three bullet points and needs major points displayed as colorful posters and visual aids. That’s where the knock came from that he’s essentially a fifth grader in grown-up clothes. Time Magazine reported last week that he displays “willful ignorance” when his professional briefers try to tell him what’s going on. He does what he pleases, despite the facts of the case.
Pick any of our 44 previous presidents and you’ll see they all worked infinitely harder than Trump. Without exception, they were disciplined in their scheduled time, participated in meeting after meeting, event after event, from the early morning moments when they arrived in the Oval Office until they toddled up the stairs at night.
“The president’s time is, in many ways, his most valuable commodity because it’s finite,” said Mack McLarty, who was President Bill Clinton’s chief of staff during Clinton’s first year in office. “It reflects his priorities. It reflects what he’s trying to get done with the country.”
It makes a man wonder how he’s been able to do so many bad things.
(Bomboy has written for more than 60 national magazines and is the author of six books.)