A White House takes on the personality of the president. When the president is cut off from reality, is obsessed with white “anxiety” (racism, that is) and is just plain mean, you get a White House with staff members who lack awareness, who only listen to and look like people like them, and who lack the ability even to fake empathy.
The president’s paranoia, secrecy and contempt for democracy course through the West Wing, spurring those in its offices to behave in bizarre ways that betray their lack of sophistication, common sense and self-awareness. The White House still uses nondisclosure agreements to try muzzling everyone from high-level staff to lowly staffers — all of whom leak incessantly, get gobbled up and spit out before you can say “Reince Priebus,” and show President Trump the same loyalty he shows them (none). When aides leak and write tell-all books and testify to Congress or special prosecutors, the administration goes into a defensive crouch, trying to destroy the people whom Trump once hired and praised. (The use of NDA’s, by the way, is constitutionally suspect and perpetuates the noxious idea that staffers highest loyalty is to this president.)
Trump and his advisers are caught flatfooted again and again because they never seem to talk to anyone who is willing to tell them bad news or to give them a sense of what 60 to 70 percent of Americans think and feel. The administration does not behave like other administrations, in part because it doesn’t look like most workplaces in the United States. Trump’s Republican Party is becoming freakishly isolated and alienated from the experiences of the vast majority of Americans.
Politico’s headline — Trump’s inner circle gets whiter — might suggest that it was once less white. In fact, Omarosa Manigault Newman was never in the inner circle (or had real responsibility) and Ben Carson flails away in the Department of Housing and Urban Development, hardly a key player in the administration. Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, was caught flatfooted and tongue-tied by ABC News’s Jonathan Karl when asked about key African Americans in the West Wing:
KARL: Kellyanne, the — Omarosa was the most prominent, high-level African American serving in the West Wing on the President Trump’s staff. Who now is that person? Who is the most prominent, high-level adviser to the president on the West Wing staff right now?
CONWAY: African American?
CONWAY: I would say that — well first of all, you’re — you’re totally not covering the fact that our Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and world-renowned —
KARL: I’m asking you about the White House staff. I’m asking you about the people the president is with every day.
CONWAY: — that he’s — well, the president works with Secretary Carson every day. He’s trying to break the back of —
KARL: Who — who there is in — in the White House staff right now?
CONWAY: And we have Ja’Ron, who’s done a fabulous job, been very involved with – he’s been very involved with Jared Kushner and President Trump on prison reform from the beginning. He’s been there from the beginning, he worked with Omarosa and others —
KARL: Does he have an office in the West Wing, Kelly?
CONWAY: He has an office on the – in the EOP, absolutely, the Executive Office of the President, yes.
KARL: But — but not in the West Wing. What does that say to have not a single senior adviser in the West Wing who’s African American?
CONWAY: I didn’t say that there wasn’t, but hold on —
KARL: Who — who is?
CONWAY: There — there are plenty of people — if you’re — if you’re — if you’re going by that and not by the actions of the president, which you probably should, then — then you should look at the fact that we have a number of different minorities.
No, “different minorities” don’t make up for the lack of African Americans. (Frankly, no one who lives outside a white cocoon would suggest that having “a number of different minorities” on staff compensates for the absence of top African American staffers.) Again, being out of touch with people who look different from them and who see things differently leaves the White House’s spinners uniquely disadvantaged when they are challenged about their self-segregation. Trump’s demand for total loyalty and the West Wing’s near-total homogeneity mean that the White House will constantly be caught by surprise when those outside Trump’s white orbit perceive his actions as cruel, racist, mean-spirited or just plain clueless.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R), appearing on “Meet the Press” on Sunday, correctly identified a key problem for Republicans — they have become cloistered in their own world of white grievance. Claiming victimhood, they become more bitter and resentful by the day. (“I’m not for people who say the reason you don’t have something is because somebody else took your stuff. That’s called victimization.”) What’s missing is any largeness of spirit, any sense of what others are experiencing. The party they lead in turn becomes, as Kasich noted, “increasingly unwilling to put themselves in the shoes of somebody else. Even when you think about family separation at the border, some people say, ‘Well, you know, they had a choice. They didn’t need to go there.’ Well, many of them had to go there to save their kids’ lives, literally.”
Kasich reminded his fellow Republicans:
I think what’s fundamentally changed our country is that many people have not come to understand what faith is, which is loving your neighbor, elevating others, sometimes in front of yourself, putting yourself in other people’s shoes. And when we don’t do that, we lose the essence of our country. When my father and my uncle talked about the Great Depression, everybody pulled together. And what we’re seeing now is people pulling apart rather than coming together. And I think that’s an element of religiosity. If you’re a humanist, I love you anyway because, you know, you believe in making a better tomorrow. But we need the compass back.
It is what comes of insisting that a president’s character doesn’t matter.