The presidency normally confers on whoever occupies the Oval Office and on those in a president’s orbit an aura of prestige, power and respect. Presidents and, to a large extent, their most senior advisers are besieged with flatterers and hangers-on who seek approval, recognition and simply proximity to those in power. With President Trump, however, the presidency has become a curse, repelling the United States’ ranks of successful businessmen, artists and philanthropists.
Councils of businessmen and artists flee; Kennedy Center honorees threaten not to show. As embarrassing as this might be for an ordinary president, for Trump this is one more devastating reminder that he will never be accepted by the upper reaches of society — not even as president. For a raging narcissist with an insatiable desire for personal reaffirmation, this must be infuriating. The Post reports:
Make no mistake, Trump cares deeply about these snubs. He has spent his entire life trying to get onto the A-list. He’s a Queens kid who has tried hard to win acceptance in Manhattan. The pomp and circumstance of the presidency were big draws when he chose to run. He was genuinely excited about the ceremonial duties of the office after he unexpectedly won the election. More than most presidents, whatever he may say to the contrary, he has shown a love for ceremonies like the one at the Kennedy Center. …
Trump fancies himself a great businessman, but most truly elite business executives have never seen him as in their league. He’s a former reality television star and a developer who ran a family real estate business, failing spectacularly in Atlantic City and driving companies into bankruptcy. The true titans of industry, so-called masters of the universe, have said privately that they see him as a wannabe. But most tried to make nice after the election to advance their interests and get access.
Incapable of self-reflection, Trump cannot look at his own conduct to divine why he has repulsed so many. He therefore rages even louder — at the press mostly. But again, his yearning for attention and confirmation sends him back again and again to the New York Times for interviews because it’s Times readers and the rest of Manhattan whose affirmation he craves.
He’ll go to Arizona to drink at the well of his true believers. He is likely, however, to discover that no matter where he goes, he’ll be met with mockery and righteous fury. He might as well stay holed up in Trump Tower or the White House; in uncontrolled settings, he will be reminded how badly he has failed and how much contempt he has earned.
As for those who work for this president, the normal glow that envelops those in close proximity to the president is replaced by a dark cloud. Why are they there? How can they live with themselves?
Former State Department official and frequent Trump critic Eliot Cohen writes, “The spectacle of [John F.] Kelly and two of Trump’s leading economic aides, Gary Cohn and Steven Mnuchin, both Jewish, listening on August 15th to Trump’s rant rekindled the question of decent men and women serving in the administration. Should they quit, or as some suggest, stay to serve the Republic?” His warning for political appointees is bracing:
Unless they had been living in an isolation chamber during all of 2016, they had to have gone in knowing that Trump was awful. The name Trump will be tattooed invisibly on their foreheads going forward; henceforth in the right light it will be brightly illuminated. They may, in later years, like to say, “I worked for Rex Tillerson” or “I served honorably at the Treasury.” Those around them, including those whose respect is worth having, will think, “No, you signed up for Trump and you know it.” . . .
The problem for the decent senior officials is this: Even if they stay in for these best of motives, thinking and acting like the patriots they undoubtedly are, they will suffer not merely reputational loss, but a kind of psychic hazard that is hard for the rest of us to imagine. If John Kelly were in a post-military business career, he would not have endured a chairman of the board he was serving on speaking the way Trump did at that press conference. Kelly would have walked off stage and resigned within the hour. Instead, he had to stand there, impassively pained. Gary Cohn is a Jewish philanthropist: He paid a price, not in emotional discomfort but in his integrity, in staying silent while the president made excuses for anti-Semites shouting slogans that hark back to Hitler’s brown shirts.
We’ve already seen Mnuchin inundated with criticism from school alums, begging him to resign. “”We call upon you, as our friend, our classmate, and as a fellow American, to resign in protest of President Trump’s support of Nazism and white supremacy,” wrote hundreds of Yale alumni. “We know you are better than this, and we are counting on you to do the right thing.” Actually, he’s not — and replied defending the indefensible behavior of his boss.
If Trump thought the presidency would confer the respect and admiration he longs for, he was badly mistaken; it has revealed his vulgarity, ignorance, meanness, cruelty and stinginess. If Trump’s advisers thought they would also bask in the glow of the presidency, they were fools; their continued presence reveals them to be deluded or careerists.
The exceptions are Jim Mattis at the Pentagon, H.R. McMaster at the National Security Council and possibly John F. Kelly (now that he has fired the worst of the worst, has he accomplished all that is humanly possible?), who remain the fail-safe, there to deactivate or at least deter catastrophic decisions. The rest? Continued presence in the administration will mar their souls and soil their reputations. They deserve scorn, not respect, from their fellow Americans.