The charitable read is that Donald Trump is strategically passive-aggressive towards his staff. He calls them into the Oval Office—”Best Boss Ever” paperweight on his desk, pictures of himself on the walls, pictures of himself posing with pictures of himself next to those—and lavishes them with praise, only to demean them in the press later to keep them from growing complacent. That’s a callous management strategy, but at least some forethought goes into it. The uncharitable read is that Trump is so capricious that he trashes his hirelings in public for no reason at all.
The question of which one it is has been raised this week by the travails of Jeff Sessions. As one of Trump’s earliest surrogates, you’d think Sessions—baptismal name: Jefferson Beauregard Sessions the Third—would have bought himself some protection. Not so. During a desultory interview with The New York Times, and in a confessional style best compared to a malfunctioning sprinkler, the president said he never would have hired Sessions had he known his top cop would recuse himself from the Russia investigation. Sessions might have been an early Trump loyalist, but his fealty didn’t override legal custom, and that’s unacceptable, apparently.
So the question of the week is now whether Sessions is about to have his Justice Department office taken away from him. It would be a shame if the nation’s top law enforcement officer were to deprive Sessions of something that’s his without even charging him with a crime. The injustice of that would be unsettling.
Sessions was the first senator to endorse Trump and the only one who doesn’t seem to have done so under RNC-administered electroshock. Yet his ritual humiliation continues apace. According to the Axios morning newsletter, as quoted by Mediaite, unnamed Sessions’ allies say their man’s relationship with the president is “irreparably broken, but they’re banking on his love for the job will overwhelm what would be a natural urge to resign.” So far they’ve gotten their wish, as Sessions in a stabilization press conference yesterday said he would stick around, but it’s got to sour him that the prize for his persistence is a job in an administration whose work climate is increasingly unfavorable as compared to “Lord of the Flies.”
Elsewhere, chaos abounds. James Comey was supposed to be Piggy, permanently silenced by Trump. Instead, he fell into the arms of anti-Trump lawmakers and is predictably continuing his slow-mo revenge tour by writing a tell-all book. Meanwhile, the deluge of leaks continues out of the White House unabated. Steve Bannon has ducked into the shadows to save his job—he reportedly wasn’t even involved in drafting Trump’s recent Warsaw speech, a seemingly Bannon-esque production if ever there was one. And we’re still only two months removed from Trump mulling a massacre of half his employees, “everyone from Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and chief strategist Steve Bannon, to counsel Don McGahn and press secretary Sean Spicer,” according to Axios.
I’m no fan of government interventions, but has OSHA considered auditing the White House?
There is a silver lining in the cumulonimbus skies above 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue: Trump seems determined to vindicate the libertarian critique. His government has numerous mid-level jobs that are unfilled, yet, it still manages to function, at least when the tumult of the White House doesn’t intrude. Trump has made far fewer staff nominations than George W. Bush and Barack Obama had at this point in their terms. And, in a rare triumph for Trump, the regulations they’re tasked with enforcing are quietly being rolled back. Yet life goes on, the sun shines, Flying Dog Old Bay Ale is on special at my grocery store.
So hooray for a smaller state! Except some of those vacancies really do need to be filled, especially those in the diplomatic corps, as the top army commander in Europe warned earlier this week. America has had an ambassador to France since before she became a country in the person of the cunning and delightfully horny Benjamin Franklin. (Fun fact: Franklin once wrote a letter to a friend advising him to choose an older woman as a mistress because “covering all above with a basket, and regarding only what is below the girdle, it is impossible of two women to know an old from a young one.”) Yet under Trump, Emmanuel Macron’s government remains untantalized by American representation. What have we come to?
Still, maybe those who aren’t serving in the Trump administration are the lucky ones. To the verdict of my earlier question: There’s too much bedlam for this to be part of any managerial strategy. The erraticism is au naturale; the chaos is Made in America. Trump’s supporters thirst for radical change, but how is a governing class this dysfunctional supposed to make that happen?