Reprinted with permission from Creators.
The Trump administration resembles a blender with the lid off: frequent moments of noisy, furious churning, often leaving a mess. Donald Trump, who is chronically critical of almost everyone but himself, said before the midterm elections that personnel changes were coming. In a departure from his usual practice, he was telling the truth.
The president demanded his attorney general’s resignation as soon as the voting was over. Likely to also walk the plank is Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who might be followed by White House chief of staff John Kelly. Trump may have to find a replacement for Jeff Sessions’ replacement because Matthew Whitaker’s appointment may have been illegal.
Defense Secretary James Mattis is reported to be another potential casualty, apparently because Trump thinks one adult in the room is one too many. Even the first lady has gotten in on the action, demanding the dismissal of the deputy national security adviser.
U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, a favorite of the president’s, was the rare aide shrewd enough to step down while things were going well.
The question at this point is not why Trump would tire of his old appointees. It’s why anyone would consent to be a new appointee. Joining the administration at this stage is the equivalent of driving into a coastal city that is in the path of a hurricane as everyone else is evacuating.
Working for Trump has always involved an endless ordeal of self-abasement, impotence and exasperation, as Bob Woodward’s book “Fear” documented. One senior official after another has marveled at the president’s bulletproof ignorance, incompetence, dishonesty and bad temper.
His first secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, called him a “moron.” Kelly said he’s “an idiot.” His former personal lawyer John Dowd reached the surprising conclusion that president is “a (expletive) liar.”
Being subjected to ill treatment is just part of the job, as National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, national security adviser H.R. McMaster and chief of staff Reince Priebus found during their abbreviated tenures. Trump frequently criticized Sessions in public while calling him “Mr. Magoo” in private.
The president told Kelly that Nielsen is “a joke” and heaped abuse on her during a lengthy harangue in a Cabinet meeting. She chose to endure the humiliation and cater to his demands, to no apparent avail.
Having Trump’s fondest favor is no protection, because his affections invariably sour. He loved boasting about “Mad Dog” Mattis until he found out the defense secretary was both insufficiently rabid and insufficiently docile. After canning onetime soul mate Steve Bannon, Trump tweeted that Bannon “cried when he got fired and begged for his job.”
Priebus’ observation, reported Woodward, was that “in relations with Trump, the closer you were, the further away you got” — meaning that the more he likes you, the more he ultimately will loathe you.
If you don’t work for him, you can maintain good relations. (See: Sean Hannity.) Taking a job in the administration, however, is like pulling the pin on a grenade. You may not know when it will explode, but you know your time is limited.
Filling high-level jobs with good people will be a heavy lift. If you have policy goals in mind, you know they will be harder to achieve than before, with Democrats in control of the House. You know investigations will cause serious disruptions and distractions — and could force you to hire an expensive defense attorney.
You know that your tenure could be nasty, brutish and short. And you could leave under a cloud of ignominy, assailed by presidential insults, with your good name ruined.
Nor is there any assurance of lucrative post-administration employment, because association with Trump could be a deal breaker for many employers. Anyone who ventures into a rainstorm should expect to get wet, and the same holds for storms composed of foul organic matter.
The only good reason to pitch in would be selfless public service — trying to do an important job because someone has to and being prepared to risk one’s own interests for the good of the country. Does anyone think Mattis has stayed in his post because he relishes taking orders from Trump?
But patriotic sorts may be in the position of those American soldiers who were ordered to attack German positions on the very morning that World War I was scheduled to end. They could be embarking on a fatal mission that accomplishes nothing.
Steve Chapman blogs at http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chapman. Follow him on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at https://www.facebook.com/stevechapman13. To find out more about Steve Chapman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.