And now, with President Trump decrying “fake news” and the use of anonymous sources in the White House, he’s been exposed as one of the primary leakers.
The whole spectacle is actually pretty hilarious. “They shouldn’t be allowed to use sources unless they use somebody’s name,” Trump thundered in a speech in February. “Let their name be put out there.” A few weeks later, Trump met in the Oval Office with news anchors who attributed his comments to a “senior administration official.” Indeed, the president frequently calls reporters — Americans he describes as “enemies of the people” — on “background,” doling out dollops of “anonymous” information.
Of course, leaking to the press is a time-honored tradition in politics, as old as John Adams. Where Trump takes it to a new level is by feeding the press then biting the hand he just fed. He doesn’t just do it with the press, he also does it with his staff and administration.
What’s new in this White House is not the phenomenon of leaking but the scope and nature of it. After every meeting, participants race to their phones to put their anonymous spin on what happened. The reports read like parody. The Washington Post’s in-depth story on the Comey firing was based on “the private accounts of more than 30 officials at the White House, the Justice Department, the FBI and on Capitol Hill, as well as Trump confidants and other senior Republicans.”
Trump purposely pits his advisers against each other, including (despicably, I should add) his own son-in-law. Add to that the fact that both Jared Kushner and Stephen Bannon own significant media holdings, and you’ve got a recipe for chaos.
I think Trump enjoys the chaos. He thrives in it. It makes him feel more powerful in a job he’s learned is considerably harder and less powerful than he believed. So to magnify himself, he creates these dramas.
During the campaign I wrote that Trump’s entire campaign is a movie–a reality show–for our entertainment. He has now extended that into his presidency. Those of us more concerned with governance and politics at a level deeper than a millimeter hoped against hope that Trump could govern, but it’s become apparent he’s only interested in making a bigger show.
Many things I feared are starting to metastasize. A few samples from my nightmare closet:
- Abortion will be a back-burner issue for Trump (I admit in my despair I also predicted Trump couldn’t get a conservative SCOTUS justice and I was wrong about that).
- Trump said he’ll repeal Obamacare, but he’ll replace it with Trumpcare, which could actually be worse. He may not even get Obamacare repealed–he’ll just make deals to change a few things and put his name on it.
- We knew that Trump was playing divide and conquer–the classic business school cooperation game. That everyone’s best interest was served by cooperation of competing interests, but one outlier caused them all to lose.
- We knew Trump was a narcissistic bully who appeals to the worst elements in people, who awakens and stirs divisive thoughts of blame and envy.
- We knew that Trump thrives on scandal and division.
- People who know Trump and have worked with him in the business world will get the plum West Wing adviser and staff slots, and he’ll stick with tested bureaucrats for cabinet positions.
- President Trump will cultivate an enemies list like Green Giant plants peas: Lovingly, efficiently, with care and precision.
Former FBI Director James Comey may have been many things, but he’s not a coward or a pimp. Refusing Trump’s demand for loyalty put Comey on the enemies list. If there are indeed tapes (and the possibility is not far-fetched) expect to see them leaked by the leaker-in-chief, anonymously, to a press he both hates and admires.
None of this is good. It’s not good for Trump, who is his own worst enemy. It’s not good for the White House as a stable institution of executive government. It’s not good for the country, because it invites–almost begs–an impeachment effort. The Washington Post has again broached the topic.
With his own words over the past two days, President Trump has vastly escalated the stakes and potential consequences of his decision to fire James B. Comey as FBI director, provoking questions about whether his motivations and tactics may have run afoul of the law.
Fact is, Trump hasn’t done anything anything close to an impeachable offense. But he’s definitely playing like he has. A president should not do this, because, well, it’s scummy. But Trump is more concerned with his drama than he is about appearing to be a scumbag.
The presidential oath of office includes no promise to uphold the integrity of the office its holder occupies. But it’s definitely implied in the trust our country confers upon the occupant. Trump may get away with governing in an unconventional manner, but he can’t continue forever to sever that trust. Just ask Bill Clinton.
The only difference between Clinton, who was impeached but not convicted, is that if Trump is indeed impeached, the Senate would likely let the axe drop on Trump. The leaker-in-chief needs to tone it down before his dangerous game backfires.