The West Wing has come to resemble the dankest realms of Twitter, in which everyone is racked with paranoia and everyone despises everyone else.
What made the Emperor Nero tick, Suetonius writes in “Lives of the Caesars,” was “a longing for immortality and undying fame, though it was ill-regulated.”
.. Many Romans were convinced that Nero was mentally unbalanced and that he had burned much of the imperial capital to the ground just to make room for the construction of the Domus Aurea, a gold-leaf-and-marble palace that stretched from the Palatine to the Esquiline Hill.
.. Chaotic, corrupt, incurious, infantile, grandiose, and obsessed with gaudy real estate, Donald Trump is of a Neronic temperament.
He has always craved attention.
.. Future scholars will sift through Trump’s digital proclamations the way we now read the chroniclers of Nero’s Rome—to understand how an unhinged emperor can make a mockery of republican institutions
.. He was post-Freudian. (“It makes me feel so good to hit ‘sleazebags’ back—much better than seeing a psychiatrist (which I never have!).”)
.. In due course, Trump perfected his unique voice: the cockeyed neologisms and the fractured syntax, the emphatic punctuation, the Don Rickles-era exclamations (“Sad!” “Doesn’t have a clue!” “Dummy!”).
.. Then he started dabbling in conspiracy fantasies: China’s climate “hoax,” President Obama’s Kenyan birth, “deep-state” enemies trying to do him in.
.. “Stop Being Trump’s Twitter Fool,” Jack Shafer, of Politico, advised, just after the election. Trump’s volleys were merely a shrewd diversion from serious matters.
.. “you’d expect that people would have figured out when Donald Trump is yanking their chain and pay him the same mind they do phone calls tagged ‘Out of Area’ by caller ID.”
.. Sean Spicer, the President’s first press secretary, insisted otherwise. Trump, he pointed out, “is the President of the United States,” and so his tweets are “considered official statements by the President of the United States.”
.. Trump’s tweets are most valuable as a record of his inner life: his obsessions, his rages, his guilty conscience.
.. he set a White House record with a sixteen-tweet day.
.. took credit for a year without an American air crash,
.. he continued to offer respect bordering on servility to the likes of Vladimir Putin.
.. One of his signature phrases—“fake news”—has been adopted by autocrats from Bashar al-Assad, of Syria, to Nicolás Maduro, of Venezuela. To the astonishment of our traditional allies, Trump humiliates and weakens a country he pretends to lead.
.. He surrounds himself with aides who are either wildly incompetent or utterly defeated in their attempts to domesticate the mulish and bizarre object of their attention.
.. There is no loyalty or deliberation in the White House, only a savage “Lord of the Flies” sort of chaos. Each day is at once preposterous, poisonous, and dangerous.
.. And so the West Wing in the era of Trump has come to resemble the dankest realms of Twitter itself: a set of small rooms and cramped hallways in which everyone is racked with paranoia and everyone despises everyone else.
.. Trump has reacted to Wolff’s book in the manner of a wounded despot
.. Nero had hoped to last long enough on the throne to re-brand the month of April “Neroneus” and the city of Rome “Neropolis.” He did not succeed.
.. The President sees one West Wing satrap and Cabinet official after another finding a distance from him. “Where is my Roy Cohn?” he asked his aides angrily
.. He is unfit to hold any public office, much less the highest in the land.
.. The President of the United States has become a leading security threat to the United States
this concocted dumb show of loyalty only served to suggest how unsustainable it all is.
.. The reason that this White House staff is so leaky, so prepared to express private anxiety and contempt, even while parading obeisance for the cameras, is that the President himself has so far been incapable of garnering its discretion or respect. Trump has made it plain that he is capable of turning his confused fury against anyone in his circle at any time.
.. blamed the Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein, for the legal imbroglio that Trump himself has created.
.. The President has fired a few aides, he has made known his disdain and disappointment at many others, and he will, undoubtedly, turn against more.
Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, Jared Kushner, Jeff Sessions, Sean Spicer–––who has not yet felt the lash?
.. Trump’s egotism, his demand for one-way loyalty, and his incapacity to assume responsibility for his own untruths and mistakes were, his biographers make plain, his pattern in business and have proved to be his pattern as President.
.. Veteran Washington reporters tell me that they have never experienced this kind of anxiety, regret, and sense of imminent personal doom among White House staffers
.. by retailing information anonymously they will be able to live with themselves after serving a President who has proved so disconnected from the truth and reality.
.. Pat, who on vacations resided separately from the President.
.. making sure that Henry Kissinger was no longer seated at state dinners next to the most attractive woman at the occasion.
.. Nixon, who barely acknowledged, much less touched, his own wife in public, resented Kissinger’s public, and well-cultivated, image as a Washington sex symbol.
.. Incident after incident revealed Nixon’s distaste for his fellow human beings, his racism and anti-Semitism, his overpowering personal suspicions, and his sad longings. Nixon, the most anti-social of men
.. It was all for the sake of “history,” Nixon said.
.. Kennedy and Johnson had taped selectively, but Nixon wanted it all for the record––his own records––but no one was to know.
.. there is little evidence that the show of bogus loyalty performed last week has any basis in real life.
.. Will Bannon, Spicer, Conway, Sessions, Kushner, and many others who have been battered in one way or another by Trump, keep their counsel? Will all of them risk their futures to protect someone whose focus is on himself alone and the rest be damned? Will none of them conclude that they are working for a President whose honesty is on a par with his loyalty to others?
they seem so craven, cynical, and, ultimately small-time. They have sunk so low that they are willing to get behind a candidate for whom they clearly have no regard.
.. Spokesmen for the various parties at first denied that the conversation took place. But when the Post apprised them of the audiotape, they went into an oh-well-it-was-just-a-joke mode.
.. These men must know that they are still defending the increasingly indefensible
.. he spends his days wallowing in fury, self-pity, self-aggrandizement, distraction, defensiveness, and delusion
David, you say in this new piece that Vladimir Putin’s resentment of the West is rooted not in ideology but in his experience of the decline and fall of Russian power and pride. So can you explain what that sense of the loss of Russian power and pride is about?
.. And Vladimir Putin was not a liberal intellectual. He was somebody who volunteered for the KGB as a teenager, whose father was a badly, badly wounded veteran of the – what’s called the Great Patriotic War, second world war in Russia. And he experienced that as a KGB officer who saw that Moscow had lost its grip not just on Warsaw and Budapest and Berlin, but also on Georgia and Azerbaijan and Armenia. And even within Russia there was talk of Russia itself breaking into smaller components. This is the drama he experienced.
And then in the ’90s, he saw the Yeltsin government, under the name of Demokratiya – Demokratiya kind of fail on its promise in so many ways. And an economic depression came along that for many people was incredibly painful, like the ’30s in the United States. So, again, a lot of people in Russia, exemplified by Putin, saw this as a crash followed by chaos, followed by poverty. And that’s a very different view than most Americans see 1991 as.
.. And Putin was blessed, you know, when he came to power in 2000 and eventually in 2003, 2004 not only by an increasing stability in society but also oil prices shot through the roof. And that benefited the Russian economy, especially the cities, especially people in the main industry, which is oil and gas. But it’s proved illusory because the Russian economy, once oil and gas prices have declined, showed its weakness. And so eventually, Putin not only became more and more disenchanted with the West, he also decided that he needed an operating ideology.
.. And I don’t know how sincere he is in this. But it’s certainly – there’s a greater sense of conservatism, that’s what that anti-gay legislation was about, to put it in opposition to the libertine, you know, decadent West, and growing nationalism, patriotic pride. You go turn on Russian television any night, there’s an enormous sense over and over of Russian-ness, of Russian pride, of patriotism in a way that there was not in the ’90s.
.. So when Americans giggle at him doing the butterfly in the middle of a roaring river or strip to the waist on a horse or, you know, kind of like a James Bond villain, you know, in some sort of weird craft in the ocean, Russians see that as a kind of machismo version of Russian statehood.
.. Here is our man. He speaks bluntly to the West. He doesn’t take any guff from the West. He’s not swallowing stuff the way Yeltsin did. He is standing up for us, for Russian-ness. And everything that we’re doing to them is something that they’ve been doing to us for generations. So the title of our piece is called “Active Measures.” This is not a one-way street. The United States has been fooling around in – it doesn’t take propaganda to say this is true.
.. Yes, it’s true that Russians have been involved in all sorts of Cold War missions, but so have we. We have given ample evidence to Russia and else and the world to show that in the past, the United States got involved in elections, got involved in regime change. And, you know, Iraq and Libya are only the most recent evidence of it. So as Ben Rhodes, a Obama administration official said to us, you know, we give him enough rope to hang us, in a certain sense.
.. What Vladimir Putin fears most of all is internal chaos. So when he looks at Tahrir Square…
GROSS: Like people defying him…
REMNICK: Absolutely. So when he looks at…
GROSS: …Rebelling against him.
REMNICK: When he looks at Tahrir Square in Cairo, when he looks at Maidan uprisings in Kiev, closer to home, and when he looked at the demonstrations in Moscow on the Bolotnaya Square, what’s called Swampy Square in 2011, he sees those as rehearsal for the – for a regime change in Moscow. And he thinks that not only is the United States a part of this and behind this, that Hillary Clinton gave, quote, unquote, “the signal” to demonstrators in Moscow in 2011. That’s why – that’s part of why he despised Hillary Clinton so very much.
.. He wants no more expansion of NATO to say the least, and he would like to see greater dissent and dissention within Western institutions.
He is delighted to see the rise of not only Donald Trump in the United States, which I think he sees as causing us chaos and for us to look more and more inward and to be more and more divided. He also is delighted to see the rise of nationalist politicians in France, in Germany, in Holland because what happens as a result is that there’s more, therefore, fractiousness and chaos within those countries. And institutions like NATO, the European Union are called more into question. That’s his motive.
.. But when it comes to television, it is neo-Soviet. There’s no question about it, and there are certain people that are just never going to be invited on television, and you are not going to hear Vladimir Putin criticized. That’s that’s the be-all and end-all.
And so when people go on and on, as does Trump, about how unbelievably popular Putin is and he has an 85 percent popularity rating, no small part of that is the information space of television. Now, there are other elements of it too. I have to readily admit his popularity is not just rooted in propaganda, but that’s a big element of it.
.. On February 17, he tweeted (reading) the fake news media, failing New York Times, NBC News, ABC, CBS, CNN, is not my enemy. It is the enemy of the American people.
REMNICK: Yeah, what a phrase, the enemy of the people.
GROSS: Yeah, I know. That goes back to Stalin, right?
OSNOS: I recognize that from somewhere.
REMNICK: Well, it goes back to Robespierre. It is an ugly, ugly phrase. I don’t know how self-aware Donald Trump is of that kind of phrase. I guarantee you Steve Bannon knows what enemy of the people means. Stalin used it to keep people terrified. If you were branded a vrag naroda, an enemy of the people, you could guarantee that very soon there would be a knock in the middle of the night at your door and your fate would be horrific.
To hear that kind of language directed at the American press is an emergency. It’s an emergency. It’s not a political tactic. And if it’s a political tactic, it’s a horrific one. And that needs to be resisted not just by people like me who are, you know, editors or writers but all of us. This is part of what distinguishes American democracy. And it’s untenable, immoral and anti-American.
.. it’s the kind of language that autocrats use in the beginning. And where it will go, we don’t know yet. But he is obviously – this is beyond dog whistles. He is signaling to the base that your enemy, your enemy is those people.
That’s how autocrats behave. They create an other. Whether it’s the press, whether it’s ethnic or otherwise, it’s the creation of an other. And I find it – I just, you know, it has to be stood up against.
.. Some of the worry of people who are concerned about our behavior vis-a-vis Russia now is who’s going to talk up about human rights? When Alexei Navalny, the one person who seemed to be ready to run against Putin in a presidential race in 2018, was eliminated from consideration by a court, which is very much under Putin’s control, and his political possibilities were erased – and by the way, Navalny’s brother is in a prison right now – when that happened, did the White House say a single word about this? Not a word, not a word.
.. It was very interesting to see George W. Bush, who was criticized quite a lot in the pages of The New Yorker for eight years and more, go on “The Today Show” the other day and in no uncertain terms – and this is a guy who was hammered by The New York Times, by The Washington Post, by The New Yorker and God knows who else – speak up for a free press, speak up for the role the press plays in the functioning of a flawed, yet healthy American democracy or any kind of democracy.