All the hubbub then about Trump's decision to dismiss Yates on Monday night kind of misses the point. It's not that Yates was dismissed that's important and telling. It's how she was dismissed that matters.
The real key here is the White House's statement. And what a statement it was.
How about “betrayed” as the word choice for Yates's refusal to enforce the travel ban? There's no question that Trump was well within his rights to jettison Yates. But, to describe what she did as a “betrayal,” considering that she spent nearly three decades serving in the Justice Department, feels like unnecessarily incendiary language.
“Sooner or later, we're going to have to confront the stark question of how long can we remain effectively silent in the face of presidential overreach,” Sessions said at the time. “We're going to regret the day if we remain silent on this issue." (Yates was confirmed 84 to 12.)
There's no problem with Trump White House officials disagreeing with the past administration's stance on immigration. That is, of course, their right. But, again, the scorched-earth condemnation of Yates strikes me as rhetorically overboard and, dare I say it, not terribly presidential.
One final thing: After blasting Yates repeatedly, the statement makes the somewhat baffling assertion that “calling for tougher vetting for individuals traveling from seven dangerous places is not extreme. It is reasonable and necessary to protect our country.” That seems to run directly counter to Trump's repeated stance that he would institute a policy of “extreme vetting” for a certain bloc of predominantly Muslim countries. The person who injected the word “extreme” into the conversation about travel bans is Trump. So it's more than a little odd that his White House is now going out of its way to say that the vetting proposed in the travel ban isn't extreme.
What Trump's statement, viewed broadly, teaches us — or, maybe, reteaches us — is that this president sees only two kinds of people in the world: loyal friends and disloyal, terrible enemies. Principled — or occasional — opposition is not part of that equation. You are either all the way for him or all the way against him. Black and white. No room for gray.
For those whom he perceives as being against him, Trump is entirely unafraid to go after them personally. The moment you cross from supportive of his interests to, well, not, is the moment you die to him. He will not just burn bridges with those he believes have betrayed him. He will napalm those bridges.
The Yates firing is yet another example of how Trump is fundamentally different from the many people who have preceded him as president. Niceties mean nothing. The world is a tough place. If you don't hit, you are going to be the one getting hit. And Trump will always make sure he throws some punches.