Advisers pointed to Bannon’s frequent closed-door guidance on the topic and Trump’s agreement as a fundamental way of understanding the president’s behavior and his willingness to confront the intelligence community — and said that when Bannon spoke recently about the “deconstruction of the administrative state,” he was also alluding to his aim of rupturing the intelligence community and its influence on the U.S. national security and foreign policy consensus.
Trump fumes about the bureaucracy; Bannon whispers in his ear that Trump — so insightful you are, Mr. President! — has discovered the “deep state.” Trump fears for whatever reason what the intelligence community might have found on him; Bannon hisses, “It’s the Obama people — they bugged your office!” Trump is infuriated when the court rules against his original travel ban, the brainchild of Bannon and sidekick Stephen Miller; the latter assures Trump that his decisions “cannot be questioned.”
In this latest episode concerning the ludicrous allegation of wiretapping, Bannon seems to have gone a tad too far — setting off an outburst so irrational and laughable as to throw into question his boss’s (and therefore his own) grip on reality.
In short, Bannon is an expert manipulator (just as he was when editing Breitbart, an outfit that thrives on propaganda feeding its readers irrational fears and base prejudices). Whether this will end in Trump’s self-destruction is unknowable, but the weekend’s events suggest that left to his own devices and Bannon’s malicious influence, the president will remain in a constant state of turmoil, putting at risk every legislative objective, inviting foreign confrontation (imagine if China attacked a U.S. vessel during one of Trump’s emotional jags) and placing GOP majorities at risk.
What could be done, if anything, to prevent Trump from “losing it,” as it were? Aside from a deus ex machina in the form of an Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner intervention or an extremely improbable activation of the 25th Amendment, it will take a full-scale revolt or a series of debilitating defections from his own party to force Trump to either get back on a sane political track — and stay there for the remainder of his presidency — or be forced to leave the presidency in the capable hands of Vice President Pence. What would a Republican revolt look like?
Ironically, Republicans need only do their job in a conscientious and constitutionally sound manner. Doing that, you see, amounts to defiance and repudiation of the Trump-Bannon alternative political universe. Republicans, for example:
- Could demand FBI Director James Comey testify under oath as to the falsity of Trump’s bugging charge, and then instruct the intelligence committees not to expend time or resources on the allegation absent a showing of proof from the White House;
- Require by legislation that all senior executive branch employees, including the president, disclose tax returns for the preceding 10 years and identify transactions exceeding $1 million (including sales, loans, partnerships) with foreign nationalists (America First, the president keeps telling us);
- Open a serious and comprehensive investigation of potential emoluments clause violations by the president;
- Call current and former Trump aides, including Michael T. Flynn, Paul Manafort, Carter Page and Michael Cohen (who apparently was not acting in a legal capacity subject to attorney-client privilege, but in a business capacity) to get to the bottom of the Russia connections. Federal law, by the way, does not recognize an accountant-client privilege, so nothing bars Congress from obtaining testimony from Trump’s financial managers.
- Call Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr. to testify about their statements and connections, past and present, to Russian oligarchs.
Well, you say, Republicans will never do such things. Actually, it is possible in the course of their investigations that Congress does take up one or more of these matters, especially if they perceive that the presidency has become hopelessly dysfunctional. Alternatively, if the Democrats pick up three Senate seats or about two dozen House seats in 2018 they, in the majority of at least one house, will certainly undertake these measures.
With rising fears that this may become the defining issue of 2018, and prompt their loss of majority status, Congress might become a tad more serious. Its members should keep in mind the alternative — Iago at Trump’s ear, goading him on to further flights of paranoia until voters are ready to empower Democrats to stop the drama.