by Tony Wyman
We have witnessed this month the spiralling descent of a presidency doomed from the start. The media proclaimed recent revelations and departures to be “astounding” and “shocking,” but they are neither.
Instead, what they are is inevitable. From the start of his campaign for the presidency, Donald Trump made it abundantly clear that he was little more than a political vandal, a man intent upon creating as much conflict, discord and destruction as possible, and that he would leave in his wake lives wrecked and institutions weakened, possibly to the point of collapse.
No one should be surprised that’s what the first 15 months of his presidency has brought us. Destruction is Mr. Trump’s legacy, in both his personal and professional lives.
And, now as we watch him sabotage his own presidency, destroying in the process the careers and lives of his most loyal and sycophantic followers, one wonders why this man behaves as he does.
It isn’t hard to spot Mr. Trump’s emotional insecurity, or that his sense of self-worth is always imperiled because it depends so much on the opinions of others.
This explains why he is so easy to sway, why his policies are often determined by whomever spoke to him last.
It also explains why he is disengaged in the day-to-day running of the government, why he would rather strike out on Twitter at Alec Baldwin for miming him on Saturday Night Live than taking on Russian President Vladimir Putin for depicting nuclear strikes on Florida. In Mr. Trump’s world, the greater threat is being mocked by a “terrible actor” than anything the Russian dictator is concocting.
Mr. Trump’s 3 A.M. attack on Mr. Baldwin, filled with spelling errors and typos, made the world aware of the actor’s comments in an interview he did with the TV/movie industry publication Hollywood Reporter. Had he simply ignored the remarks, Mr. Baldwin’s comments would have gone unnoticed. Instead, Mr. Trump gave them prominence they wouldn’t have earned on their own.
When a remark from the leader of the free world condemning Mr. Putin’s nuclear sabre-rattling would have been as appropriate as it was needed, Donald Trump, who was silent on the Russian’s chest-thumping, tweeted, “Alex Baldwin, whose dieing mediocre career was saved by his impersonation of me on SNL, now says playing DJT was agony for him. Alex, it was also agony for those who were forced to watch. You were terrible. Bring back Darrell Hammond, much funnier and a far greater talent!”
The writer of Mr. Trump’s book, “The Art of the Deal,” – Tony Schwartz, called such outbursts “entirely predictable” in an article he wrote in The Independent. “When he feels aggrieved, he reacts impulsively and defensively, constructing a self-justifying story that doesn’t depend on facts and always directs the blame to others. The Trump I first met in 1985 had lived nearly all his life in survival mode.”
And that is how Mr. Trump approached his first year as president, as a contest between himself and those who would destroy him.
“I concluded from our conversations”, Mr. Schwartz wrote, “that Trump felt compelled to go to war with the world. It was a binary, zero-sum choice for him: You either dominated or you submitted. You either created and exploited fear or you succumbed to it — as he thought his brother had (Mr. Trump’s brother, an alcoholic, died at 42).
This narrow, defensive worldview took hold at a very early age, and it never evolved. Mr. Schwartz’s perspective explains why the president is often distracted by meaningless things. But it doesn’t explain why Mr. Trump seems to be addicted to self-destruction, why he often is his own worst enemy.
Examples of Mr. Trump’s self-sabotage are plentiful. The way he mishandled his conversations with then FBI Director James Comey is, perhaps, the most significant thing the president has done to undermine his own credibility and endanger his presidency.
In addition, the president continues to undermine his Attorney-General, Jeff Sessions, one of his first supporters, accusing him, in front of staffers, of “disloyalty” and expressing disappointment in him for recusing himself from the FBI probe. He also humiliated Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, stood by while Director of White House Communication Anthony Scaramucchi waged what the Financial Times called “a real-time assault on Reince Priebus,” and contradicted Gen. H.R. McMaster when the national security adviser defended the president against charges he gave highly classified information to the Russian ambassador during a White House visit in 2017.
The general said, “…the story, as reported, is false. I was in the room, it did not happen.” His deputy, Dina Powell, backed up the general. “This story is false. The president only discussed the common threats that both countries faced.”
But, the next day, Mr. Trump contradicted them both, effectively undermining their credibility. “As president, I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled WH meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety,” Trump tweeted.
About such behavior, Bush campaign manager Karl Rove, said, “If Mr Trump continues this self-destructive behavior, he will drown out his message and maybe even blast his presidency to bits before his first term in office is even out.”
Mr. Rove’s warning is sound as the president’s behavior is having a serious impact on the morale of his staff, many who no longer believe Mr. Trump is fit for the job.
“Administration officials and outsiders with windows into decision-making describe a growing sense of despair within Trump’s ranks, driven by the mounting realization that the president’s brand of politics guided by intuition and improvisation is incompatible with a competently functioning executive branch,” reported Politico last week.
Republican strategist Rich Galen told The Guardian, “This feels like it’s turned a corner and not for the better for the White House. As layers of this onion – the people who have seniority, who he listens to and who hopefully can talk him down – unpeel, there are fewer and fewer people to do that, which means he can operate on his gut, and he doesn’t have the experience to do that.”
As more advisers Mr. Trump trusts leave the White House, those left, worry how the president will respond when the inevitability of a major crisis becomes a reality. If Gen. McMaster leaves, possibly in the spring, and economic adviser Gary Cohn, enraged over Mr. Trump’s decision to impose tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, follows him, West Wing morale will fall even further.
At this point , a reset is critical.
It is time to bring in experienced and people – the establishment that the president scorned during his campaign – to right this listing ship. But a reset seems unlikely.
“Rather than changing course,” wrote Politico, “Trump was described by an administration official Friday — echoing other reports — as sullen and isolated, frustrated that he is not being given credit he thinks he deserves and deeply suspicious of the people around him.
Increasingly, that suspicion is justified, as people close to Trump second-guess his judgment and his capacity to do his job. But it is also suspicion that Trump invited by undermining the very people who he asked to come help him get better at governing.”
The unraveling of the Trump Administration should surprise no one. His history of mistrusting anyone but his closest confidantes, his lack of self-discipline, his intellectual laziness, warned us what we would get by electing Donald Trump.