The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The gang that couldn’t shoot straight

Newly appointed White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci turned his ire on chief of staff Reince Priebus over alleged leaks on July 27. (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

In many ways, President Trump behaves just how poor people imagine rich people do — with garish, ostentatious displays of wealth, imperiousness toward the common folk and disregard for the rules others must follow. He and his staff also act how dumb people imagine smart people behave. Trump talks in circles, repeating stock phrases so as to deflect any questions that might reveal his ignorance. (Heaven forbid someone should ask him what was in the House health-care bill). He says he has a very good brain, something people with very good brains never say. He never apologizes, because he is never wrong; the facts others cite are wrong. He is smarter than all the generals, you see. In Trumpland, it’s axiomatic that everyone with experience and detailed knowledge is “stupid”; by contrast, they (the Trumpkins) require no expertise or experience because they are so darn smart. Trumpkins are certain that getting rich (even by inheritance) is evidence of competence and smarts.

The sight of people much less smart than they think they are shooting themselves — and each other in the foot — would be uproarious if not for the dire consequences to the country. We saw the case of Jared Kushner, a sitting duck for Russian intelligence operators. He’ll take a meeting with a Russian banker — because the Russian ambassador and suspected spymaster asked him to. He’ll wander into a meeting with Russian operatives unaware that it’s a classic intelligence operation setup. He doesn’t read fully what is before him — busy! so busy! He doesn’t know enough to know what is important. He therefore is inattentive to important things (e.g., accurately filling out his security clearance form) and obsessed with issues that are largely about his own personal image (e.g., leaks). A 30-something-year-old convinced of his own brilliance and whose knowledge and experience is scant outside the real estate world seems to have thought he could fake his way through governing at the highest levels. Better that he should have taken an internship on the Hill instead.

Speaking of comical dunces, Anthony Scaramucci seems to have styled himself as a character out of “Goodfellas.” (Sweetheart, Sarah, fix the makeup. Love you press guys — bye bye!) He’s an imitation of a tough guy. (Goin’ whack those leakers — them or me.) He sent a bizarre tweet Wednesday night threatening to go to the FBI when his financial disclosure form was “leaked” (strangely implicating Reince Priebus: “In light of the leak of my financial disclosure info which is a felony. I will be contacting @FBI and the @TheJusticeDept #swamp @Reince45”). But, wait, the disclosure form submitted when he was named to the Export-Import Bank became publicly available on July 23. Oh. Hmm. Delete the embarrassing tweet! (Hey, who will notice?!) In Trump-like fashion, Scaramucci doesn’t apologize but instead dares his rival to defend himself against a specious attack. “So if Reince wants to explain that he’s not a leaker, let him do that,” he told CNN’s morning hosts. For good measure, he added, on the subject of leaks, “the fish stinks from the head down.” Oops– weren’t they supposed to be best buddies?

This clownish performance is now a familiar one in Trump’s administration — arrogant man, well out of his depth, whose hunger for the limelight exposes his own stunning lack of judgment and gravitas.

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But it’s no mystery why Kushner and Scaramucci are where they are. They were hired by the person most grievously out of his depth and most embarrassingly ignorant, the president. Trump only wants a few people around him whom he knows really well and who are in no position to recognize the president’s intellectual shortcomings. He relies on family and other businessmen whose obsession with moneymaking has left little time for anything else and whose arrogance prevents them from acknowledging what they do not know (most things). In other words, he hired people much like himself with exactly the same flaws, just a little less rich. He’s an intellectual giant, you see, among the apple-polishers he has put in high offices.

The Keystone Kop administration stumbles on. Unfortunately, this is real life and the results they produce are anything but funny.