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Opinion Omarosa is exposing Trump’s deeply twisted view of loyalty

Omarosa Manigault Newman has degraded the presidency, says opinion writer Jonathan Capehart. But President Trump let her into the White House. (Video: Gillian Brockell/The Washington Post)

It is now emerging that members of the Trump family are angry and hurt by what they view as Omarosa Manigault Newman’s betrayal of them and of President Trump. Omarosa has just released another tape to MSNBC, this one appearing to confirm that Lara Trump offered her a $15,000-per-month job, to be paid out of President Trump’s 2020 campaign coffers, that would entail keeping quiet about her stint as a White House adviser, verifying the claims in Omarosa’s book.

In response, Lara Trump — a 2020 campaign official who is married to Trump’s son, Eric Trump — issued a statement claiming that she viewed Omarosa as a “friend and campaign sister” and is “absolutely shocked and saddened” by Omarosa’s “betrayal and violation on a deeply personal level.” Eric Trump himself added: “I truly hate disloyal people.”

There could be as many as 200 such tapes, and this has “rattled” the White House as badly as the Russia investigation has, the New York Times reports.

It is interesting that the Omarosa tapes are seen to pose a threat to the Trump presidency on a par with that of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe. At the center of both stories lies Trump’s loyalty code — the president’s conception of the loyalty due to him, a conception his close family members appear to share. It is a code that now threatens to undo him. Trump’s deeply twisted conception of loyalty flows in only one direction — to Trump — yet it is also precisely what has placed him in such grave legal and/or political danger.

Trump’s expectation of loyalty is what led to the special counsel in the first place. Trump demanded that then-FBI director James B. Comey demonstrate “loyalty,” and when that was not forthcoming, fired him. The transparently fake rationale for the firing — which Trump obtained in a memo from deputy attorney general Rod J. Rosenstein before revealing his true motive — compromised Rosenstein’s role, forcing Mueller’s appointment.

Combined with the Comey firing, Trump’s subsequent rage at Attorney General Jeff Sessions for his disloyalty in failing to protect him from the Mueller investigation — and his obviously sincere belief that the loyalty due him should override law enforcement’s proper institutional role — has added to the pattern of conduct that has placed him in jeopardy.

For Trump, loyalty only goes one way

Omarosa’s machinations shed new light on the peculiar loyalty code at Trumpworld’s core. It is striking that Trump’s family members feel so betrayed, because Trump himself is not generally a loyal person. He has long run his operations and conducted himself personally with little fealty to any loyalty ethic — except perhaps to a very small group that mostly includes very close family members (and even there strains have shown). He has left behind a long trail of people he betrayed, ripped off, and used and cast aside. And no one knows this better than his own family members.

“As often as Trump and his children play the loyalty card publicly, they themselves have doubted the loyalty of one another,” Timothy L. O’Brien, who wrote a biography of Trump that he sued O’Brien over, told me today. “When push comes to shove, loyalty in that family goes one way. And when it comes to Trump, it really only goes one way.”

O’Brian pointed out that even Donald Trump Jr. once doubted his father’s loyalty. After Trump divorced his first wife, Ivana, the young Donald Jr. didn’t speak to his father for a year. O’Brien noted that Donald Jr. “knew his father had been disloyal,” because Trump and Ivana “broke up in part because Trump was publicly having an affair with Marla Maples.” Trump subsequently divorced Maples, and publicly betrayed her as well, openly telling O’Brien for his book that Maples bored him: “I was bored when she was walking down the aisle.”

More recently, O’Brien noted, Trump’s longtime fixer Michael Cohen felt abandoned by Trump as federal prosecutors bore down on him, leading him to release that tape of Cohen and Trump discussing hush money to Stormy Daniels. Tellingly, despite having all but cut Cohen loose, Trump then reportedly felt betrayed by Cohen.

O’Brien added that Trump’s lack of any sense of loyalty has also pervaded his business conduct for a very long time. “Trump has shortchanged vendors and in some cases his own employees over the years, simply because he could,” O’Brien said.

Trump thinks everyone will always sell each other out eventually

When the Omarosa tapes first started surfacing, Trump blasted his own former director of African American outreach as a “lowlife,” leading many to chortle that Trump had revealed his own bad judgment in hiring. But the better way to view this is that Trump hired her expecting at the outset that she would inevitably prove a lowlife who would turn on him at some point for a quick buck — because Trump thinks just about everyone is a lowlife and expects everyone to always sell each other out eventually.

And so Trump demanded Comey’s loyalty upfront and insisted (as Omarosa has now revealed) that his White House counsel try to get employees to sign nondisclosure agreements — both of which have now boomeranged back on him. Eric and Lara Trump are professing to be angry and hurt, but this is the world they live in.

“Trump views life in very Darwinian terms, and believes that people are going to turn on each other at any moment,” O’Brien told me. In Trump’s universe, “only those who are untrusting and hard-headed survive.”


Update: I edited the post slightly to be fairer to Trump, who has shown loyalty to very close family members.