In 1947, President Harry Truman instituted a loyalty program for federal government employees, seeking to weed out those who had “totalitarian, fascist, communist or subversive” sympathies. In 2017, President Trump instituted a loyalty program of his own, telling James B. Comey “I need loyalty, I expect loyalty,” according to the former FBI director. Truman sought loyalty to the United States. Trump wanted loyalty to himself. Instead, on Thursday, Trump got several hours of payback.
What continues to amaze me about Trump is how little he knows — not just about history or government but also about basic human relations. By his age, he ought to know that loyalty is not demanded; it is earned. In Comey’s case, his first and overriding loyalty was to the United States, not to the president. He owed Trump little. As he himself said, he was not a patronage appointee.
Trump has spent a lifetime in an organization with his name on it. He is a overweening braggart who confuses sycophancy with loyalty. But even assuming that here and there he actually has found people who find him charming or entertaining, that has come over a period of time. When “Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski said Kellyanne Conway would get off the air after defending Trump and say “ ‘Blech, I need to take a shower,’ because she disliked her candidate so much,” it had the ring of truth to it. Conway denied having said any such thing, but her denial may have been an “alternative fact.”
Trump’s odd belief that he is somehow owed loyalty by virtue of his position is no mere personality tick. It could well be his Achilles heel, although, to be sure, he has so many of those that he is one giant foot. What he seems not to understand is that to most of Congress, even to its Republicans, he is not one of them. He has not done them any favors. He has not earned their trust. He has not earned their respect. As for the Democrats, they loathe him. You can understand.
For the moment, members of the Republican base have an odd masochistic attraction to Trump. He will sell them out with economic, trade and tax policies that will not bring them jobs or job security. Eventually, his weird behavior will also be telling. Hatred for the elite will go only so far with the Trump base. It cannot pay the bills.
If and when Trump’s base starts to see the light, he will be in deep trouble. It is then that he will incessantly demand loyalty or issue threats. But his threats will carry no weight, and his demands will be ignored, and even malleable House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) will turn away. When French “Sun King” Louis XIV pronounced that he was the state –“’L’état, c’est moi” — it had some validity to it, and he was owed obeisance. Trump, though, is owed nothing — and that is precisely what he will get.