When a former aide turns on a politician, there’s a standard script the politician’s current aides employ in response. We had no idea she was such a treacherous snake, they say, and we’ve just discovered that she did terrible things while in our employ. Had we known who she really was, we never would have hired her, but now that we do, it’s clear nothing she said can be believed.
President Trump, however, follows a different and far more bizarre script. When he gets betrayed by a former aide, he says that he knew all along what a terrible person the aide was, and in fact he even knew before he hired her how awful she was.
Yes, I’m talking about Omarosa Manigault Newman, but only partly about her, because it goes much farther. We may have never had a president who filled out his administration with such a collection of corrupt, incompetent and immoral aides, and we’ve certainly never had a president who was so eager to tell everyone that his own administration is a wretched hive of scum and villainy.
To begin, let me refer you to these two tweets from this morning:
So Trump’s story is that Omarosa was a “crazed, crying lowlife,” but he gave her a job in the White House, a job that many other people would have been happy to have. Then, though he said Monday that “People in the White House hated her. She was vicious, but not smart,” he kept her around for a year.
Trump would also like America to know that his attorney general is a complete failure. Trump’s displeasure comes from the fact that by recusing himself from the Russia investigation, Jeff Sessions has rendered himself unable to shut it down in order to protect him; as he says, “If we had a real Attorney General, this Witch Hunt would never have been started!” In another tweet, Trump refers to “the ‘Justice’ Department,” to communicate that this vital part of the government he leads is not doing its job.
Now let’s remind ourselves of something. One of the rationales that businesspeople always offer when they run for office is that unlike career politicians, they can bring their hard-nosed business sense to government, including in hiring. Instead of bringing on a bunch of cronies, with their commitment to efficiency and results they’ll hire the best people for the job. This is what Trump himself said in 2016 when he was asked by a hedge fund manager what criteria he would use to select members of his administration:
You need people that are truly, truly capable. And I think so much has to do with past history: how have they done, how has it all worked out, you understand what I mean by that perhaps better than anybody. And we have to get the best people. … We need to get the best and the finest, and if we don’t we’ll be in trouble for a long period of time, and maybe never come out of it.
There’s a fundamental fallacy at work in this argument even when it’s offered by an ordinary businessperson. It’s the widely held belief that effectiveness in government requires no relevant knowledge or experience and is only a matter of the business mind-set or things such as “common sense.” The truth, however, is just the opposite: Public policy, which combines intricate practical challenges with unpredictable political situations, is often far more complex than anything a corporate CEO ever has to deal with.
Which is why people with experience in politics and government are usually the best ones for the job, because they’re the ones who actually understand how it all works. If a politician brings with her a group of aides who have spent a couple of decades by her side as she climbs the ladder, you can call them “cronies,” but there’s also a good chance that they have the preparation necessary to do what’s asked of them when they get the opportunity to exercise power.
And if the outsider in question is Trump, it’s much worse. Not only has he failed to find the best people; he attracts the most corrupt and incompetent people around, who see in Trump a vehicle to wet their own beaks or at the very least carry out a retrograde agenda in an environment where ethical behavior is actively discouraged.
Just to make this clear, let’s remind ourselves of the top Trump administration officials who have left in disgrace, been credibly accused of corruption or incompetence, or both. Here’s a partial list:
- Michael Flynn, national security adviser: In the job less than a month before resigning; has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI over his contacts with Russia.
- Reince Priebus, chief of staff: Resigned after six months, widely considered comically ineffectual.
- Sean Spicer, press secretary: Terrible liar, resigned after six months on the job.
- Anthony Scaramucci, communications director: Lasted 10 days after a series of exciting but unhelpful media appearances.
- Rob Porter, staff secretary: Resigned after credible allegations of domestic abuse surfaced from two ex-wives.
- Stephen K. Bannon, chief strategist: Pushed out after seven tumultuous months. Trump later said that Bannon “cried when he got fired and begged for his job. Now Sloppy Steve has been dumped like a dog by almost everyone.”
- Ronny Jackson, White House physician: Nominated by Trump to be secretary of veterans affairs despite lack of qualifications; nomination withdrawn after allegations of unprofessional behavior surfaced.
- Brenda Fitzgerald, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Resigned after she was caught trading tobacco stocks while leading the agency tasked with reducing tobacco use.
- Scott Pruitt, EPA administrator: Resigned after too many scandals to count.
- Tom Price, secretary of health and human services: Resigned after controversy about profligate use of government and private aircraft.
- Ryan Zinke, secretary of interior: Caught up in multiple minor to midsize scandals, including one involving a questionable land deal with the chairman of Halliburton.
- Betsy DeVos, secretary of education: Got the job despite knowing next to nothing about education; currently under fire because her $40 million yacht is registered in the Cayman Islands, allowing her to escape state taxes.
- Ben Carson, secretary of housing and urban development: Had zero experience in housing. Was criticized for ordering $31,000 dining set for his office; his spokesperson claimed he knew nothing about it, which emails later proved was a lie.
- Wilbur Ross, secretary of commerce: Accused of stealing $120 million from business associates.
- Sebastian Gorka, deputy assistant to the president: Pushed out when he failed to get a security clearance and no one could figure out what he actually did. Last seen passing out fake Fox News business cards.
Those are just the well-known ones. There are plenty of lesser-known officials who have been fired or resigned for things such as making racist comments, having fishy finances that caused security clearances to be revoked, or being accused of domestic violence. That’s also not to mention the questionable characters Trump hired before becoming president, like Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort, or the fact that he hires members of his own family despite the fact that they obviously have no idea what they’re doing.
And what’s really remarkable is that all this turmoil, all this corruption, all this backstabbing and front-stabbing and paranoia, has piled up after only 19 months of the Trump presidency. Imagine what it’ll look like after four years.