Are we reaching a point of no return vis a vis the Trump White House, where the lines of division become so fixed there can be no going back? Instead of outreach and trying to broaden his appeal, Donald Trump has conceived of his administration in a unitary way, eschewing heterogeneity, the team of rivals concept a la the first Republican president, a man who was confident enough in himself and his intellect to surround himself with others of great accomplishment and to engage with them.
For Trump it’s always him against everyone else, “punching back,” as he likes to put it, at every perceived slight however small, even when it is perceived to come from those within his own administration. No substantive debate allowed despite his professed love of controversy. The controversy he apparently thrills to is when those around him tear each other apart in pursuit of his favor. At the same time, he’s taken his war against the media, first developed and presented on the campaign trail to woo his base, into the White House with him, making it a primary trope of his administration. Now, it seems, he means to purge those around him, those he chose, he once told us, for their competence, accomplishment and independence, a boast he proffered to the public in apparent concession to the notion of normalcy in governing. A president surrounds himself with competent, accomplished people and so Trump told us would he.
But now, as he sacks one aide or official after another, setting yet another record for his administration (the highest turnover in history) it seems people like that are not sufficiently deferential, do not appear to share the same exalted opinion of him that he holds of himself. As in the case of the now former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, they seem too willing to tell him no, to disagree. And THAT is something he cannot abide.
One wonders that anyone of substantial accomplishment would ever agree to work for this president, but human ambition always seems to will out. Even smart, substantive people must find it hard to pass up the siren call of a gig at the White House, even under a man like Trump. And that is what he counts on, what he has always counted on in his long, destructive career, that he can lure people in by dangling something big enough to tempt them. A nice payday. Time in his presence, the appearance of influence because of access to Donald Trump. A career enhancing stint at the center of Trump world.
Now he can offer even more, a place at the top of the federal government itself, a chance to be “inside,” making policy, close to history. But it’s all a self-defeating mirage it turns out because time with Trump is damaging to your reputation, career-destroying and personally draining. The price of admission is acceptance of daily humiliation, of sycophancy and the knowledge that you are only one tweet away from personal destruction. Having sold your soul to Trump for the promise of proximity to power, you will endure constant humiliation in his presence and leave with your reputation in tatters.
No one, it seems, serves Trump and emerges unscathed. Can a country?