Everyone observing our politics, or serving in it, still has the sense that anything could happen at the White House at any time. But neither the most hopeful nor the most fearful prognostications about the effects of Trump’s presidency on our political system have been confirmed.
.. It would be hard now to claim that the surface appearance of reckless incompetence at the White House is just a mask for deep strategic genius.
.. Both begin from the assumption that Trump ran for president in order to use the presidency to achieve a set of relatively conventional political or policy objectives, and each approach formed its expectations around some sense of what those might have been. Ten months into his presidency, it does not look as if this was the nature of Trump’s ambition.
.. Instead, his ambition seems to have been something like a desire to put himself at the center of our national consciousness and attention. This looks to be what Trump wants most, and what some of his most peculiar choices and actions are directed toward achieving. Everything else — from policy priorities to political alliances — is always subject to change in pursuit of that goal. This could also be a key to understanding the effects Trump might ultimately have on our constitutional system.
.. Trump’s ambition that most resembles the ambitions of many other politicians.
.. But they also, of course, run to do something.
.. Trump’s exertions in office have mostly been of a different sort altogether. They have generally been neither channeled through the constitutional framework nor directed against it
.. The ideal of the president as project manager was especially prominent in how Trump spoke about his ambitions at the very beginning of his campaign. In August 2015, for instance, asked by George Stephanopoulos how he would carry out his immigration proposals, Trump responded, “These people don’t know what they’re doing, George. They’re politicians. They don’t know management. I get the best people and we will do it properly and we will do it humanely.” Asked three months later to respond to criticism from his primary opponents about his proposal for a registry of Muslims, he responded, “It would be just good management.” Pressed for more details, he said, “It’s all about management, our country has no management.” We have grown so accustomed to this sort of vague, brash talk from Trump over the past two years that we barely stop to ask what it actually conveys.
.. Trump still seems to believe that he has unique management abilities to offer the country and that this job is like his last one. Perhaps ironically, given his now-infamous lack of discipline, his sense of the president’s core administrative function remains exceptionally managerial — and not, in this sense, quite political or constitutional. He instinctively treats members of Congress like incompetent subcontractors.
.. Trump’s sense of the president’s broader functions, meanwhile, has turned out to be fundamentally theatrical. In just about every setting, he is performing for an audience. Thus his obsession with ratings and audience size, his running commentary on Twitter (often calling for actions that he could instead just undertake as chief executive), and his peculiar tendency even to comment on his own speeches as he delivers them.
.. his intense desire to please the room at every moment — which has led him incessantly to shift course and change positions. He seems to want different things at different times in front of different audiences. But he actually always wants the same thing: He wants to be acclaimed a winner.
When he isn’t depicted as successful, whether it’s on morning television or in a meeting with congressional leaders, he says and does whatever seems required to change the story in his favor. He can’t resist such provocations because he is always on the stage, needing to please or save face before the crowd.
.. This has left President Trump open to shameless attempts at manipulation by members of Congress and his own administration who think they can push him in their direction on key policy questions by portraying their preferred approach as a way for him to look stronger.
.. Trump’s capacity to disrupt our exhausted political order and force other politicians into at least modestly more populist directions could well prove a boon.
.. the presence of an undisciplined, aggressive performance artist at the heart of our government — a figure whose excesses are not structurally counterbalanced by others in the system because they are not strictly speaking excesses of presidential power — could alter the public’s expectations of government and politics in ways that are decidedly unhelpful to American constitutionalism and would not be easy to reverse. Viewing politics as entertainment could be a hard habit to break.
.. Washington has experienced the Trump presidency so far as an exhausting, intense, and unproductive circus.
.. Both seem to have been incapacitated by concerns that anything meaningful they do could be undercut by an erratic presidential tweet at any moment.
.. The appointment of judges might be the one presidential function that does not require perseverance — once nominated, they are confirmed by another branch of government and then perform their work without dependence on the president
.. it is frankly hard to say just what the president actually aims to achieve except for being on everyone’s mind all the time.
.. For many decades now, American progressives have advanced an ideal of the presidency in great tension with the logic of our broader constitutional architecture. Trump now offers a far less coherent model of the presidency that is downright unaware of that broader architecture and so stands as a kind of histrionic alternative to constitutional politics. If we are to hold out any hope for a constitutional restoration, these cannot be the only options before the public.
Thus, the question is whether Trump is hiding something, an obvious inference, or whether his observably narcissistic personality means he can’t tolerate even the suggestion that he may be at fault. The narcissist’s first instinct is always to blame others. Combined with his excessive need for admiration, another narcissistic trait, it is conceivable that Trump punches back as a function of a personality disorder.
.. Life teaches us that untrustworthy people or people lacking personal integrity always suspect that others are the same.
.. In these instances when Trump has felt threatened, he has fired or sought to fire investigative chiefs and has apparently pressured others to either end probes or, in Sessions’s case, pressured implicitly to intercede. None of this is proof he has done anything wrong. In fact, some would say he has acted well within his powers and has the right to drain the swamps as alligators permit.
But you’d be a damned fool not to conclude that Donald Trump has something to hide.
With Twitter as his Excalibur, the president
takes on his doubters, powered by long spells
of cable news and a dozen Diet Cokes. But
if Mr. Trump has yet to bend the presidency
to his will, he is at least wrestling it to a draw.
Mr. Trump’s uninhibited approach seems erratic to many veterans of both parties in the capital and beyond. Some politicians and pundits lament the instability and, even without medical degrees, feel no compunction about publicly diagnosing various mental maladies.
.. Before taking office, Mr. Trump told top aides to think of each presidential day as an episode in a television show in which he vanquishes rivals. People close to him estimate that Mr. Trump spends at least four hours a day, and sometimes as much as twice that, in front of a television, sometimes with the volume muted, marinating in the no-holds-barred wars of cable news and eager to fire back.
.. Jared Kushner, his son-in-law and senior adviser, has told associates that Mr. Trump, deeply set in his ways at age 71, will never change. Rather, he predicted, Mr. Trump would bend, and possibly break, the office to his will.
That has proved half true. Mr. Trump, so far, has arguably wrestled the presidency to a draw.
.. Mr. Kelly is trying, quietly and respectfully, to reduce the amount of free time the president has for fiery tweets by accelerating the start of his workday. Mr. Priebus also tried, with only modest success, to encourage Mr. Trump to arrive by 9 or 9:30 a.m.
.. Mr. Trump, who enjoyed complete control over his business empire, has made significant concessions after trying to micromanage his first months in office. Despite chafing at the limits, the president actually craves the approval of Mr. Kelly, whom he sees as a peer, people close to Mr. Trump said.
.. He calls Mr. Kelly up to a dozen times a day, even four or five times during dinner or a golf outing, to ask about his schedule or seek policy advice, according to people who have spoken with the president. The new system gives him “time to think,” he said when it began.
.. For most of the year, people inside and outside Washington have been convinced that there is a strategy behind Mr. Trump’s actions. But there is seldom a plan apart from pre-emption, self-defense, obsession and impulse.
.. Occasionally, the president solicits affirmation before hitting the “tweet” button. In June, according to a longtime adviser, he excitedly called friends to say he had the perfect tweet to neutralize the Russia investigation. He would call it a “witch hunt.” They were unimpressed.
He has bowed to advice from his lawyers by not attacking Mr. Mueller, but at times his instincts prevail.
.. When three former campaign advisers were indicted or pleaded guilty this fall, Ty Cobb, the White House lawyer handling the investigation, urged the president not to respond. If he did, it would only elevate the story.
Mr. Trump, however, could not help himself. He tweeted that the financial charges lodged against his former campaign manager, Paul J. Manafort, had nothing to do with the campaign and that investigators should be examining “Crooked Hillary & the Dems” instead. By the next morning, he was belittling George Papadopoulos, the campaign adviser who pleaded guilty to lying about his outreach to Russians, dismissing him as a “low level volunteer” who has “proven to be a liar.”
.. By Sunday morning, with news shows consumed by Mr. Flynn’s case, the president grew angry and fired off a series of tweets excoriating Mrs. Clinton and the F.B.I., tweets that several advisers told him were problematic and needed to stop
.. Once he posts controversial messages, Mr. Trump’s advisers sometimes decide not to raise them with him. One adviser said that aides to the president needed to stay positive and look for silver linings wherever they could find them, and that the West Wing team at times resolved not to let the tweets dominate their day.
.. The ammunition for his Twitter war is television. No one touches the remote control except Mr. Trump and the technical support staff — at least that’s the rule. During meetings, the 60-inch screen mounted in the dining room may be muted, but Mr. Trump keeps an eye on scrolling headlines. What he misses he checks out later on what he calls his “Super TiVo,” a state-of-the-art system that records cable news.
.. “I do not watch much television,” he insisted. “I know they like to say — people that don’t know me — they like to say I watch television. People with fake sources — you know, fake reporters, fake sources. But I don’t get to watch much television, primarily because of documents. I’m reading documents a lot.”
Later, he groused about being forced to watch CNN in the Philippines because nothing else was available.
.. To an extent that would stun outsiders, Mr. Trump, the most talked-about human on the planet, is still delighted when he sees his name in the headlines. And he is on a perpetual quest to see it there. One former top adviser said Mr. Trump grew uncomfortable after two or three days of peace and could not handle watching the news without seeing himself on it.
.. If someone on the show says something memorable and Mr. Trump does not immediately tweet about it, the president’s staff knows he may be saving Fox News for later viewing on his recorder and instead watching MSNBC or CNN live — meaning he is likely to be in a foul mood to start the day.
.. In private moments with the families of appointees in the Oval Office, the president engages with children in a softer tone than he takes in public, and he specifically asked that the children of the White House press corps be invited in as they visited on Halloween. Yet he does little to promote that side, some longtime friends say, because it cracks the veneer of strength that he relishes.
.. Only occasionally does Mr. Trump let slip his mask of unreflective invincibility. During a meeting with Republican senators, he discussed in emotional terms the opioid crisis and the dangers of addiction, recounting his brother’s struggle with alcohol.
According to a senator and an aide, the president then looked around the room and asked puckishly, “Aren’t you glad I don’t drink?”
.. Mr. Trump’s difficult adjustment to the presidency, people close to him say, is rooted in an unrealistic expectation of its powers, which he had assumed to be more akin to the popular image of imperial command than the sloppy reality of having to coexist with two other branches of government
.. His vision of executive leadership was shaped close to home, by experiences with Democratic clubhouse politicians as a young developer in New York. One figure stands out to Mr. Trump: an unnamed party boss — his friends assume he is referring to the legendary Brooklyn fixer Meade Esposito — whom he remembered keeping a baseball bat under his desk to enforce his power.
.. advisers said they saw a novice who was gradually learning that the presidency does not work that way. And he is coming to realize, they said, the need to woo, not whack, leaders of his own party to get things done.
During his early months in office, he barked commands at senators, which did not go over well. “I don’t work for you, Mr. President,” Mr. Corker once snapped back, according to a Republican with knowledge of the exchange.
.. he had become more attentive during daily intelligence briefings thanks to pithy presentations by Mike Pompeo, the C.I.A. director, and a deeper concern about the North Korea situation than his blithe, confrontational tweets suggest.
.. “The bigger problem, the thing people need to understand, is that he was utterly unprepared for this. It would be like you or me going into a room and being asked to perform brain surgery. When you have a lack of knowledge as great as his, it can be bewildering.”
.. In almost all the interviews, Mr. Trump’s associates raised questions about his capacity and willingness to differentiate bad information from something that is true.
.. Mr. Trump is skeptical of anything he does not learn from outside his bubble.
.. “He really loves verbal briefings. He is not one to consume volumes of books or briefings.”
Other aides bemoan his tenuous grasp of facts, jack-rabbit attention span and propensity for conspiracy theories.
.. Ms. Pirro whipped up the president against Mr. Mueller and accused James B. Comey, the former F.B.I.director, of employing tactics typically reserved for Mafia cases, according to a person briefed on the meeting.
The president became visibly agitated as she spoke. “Roy Cohn was my lawyer!” he exclaimed, referring to the legendary McCarthy-era fixer who mentored Mr. Trump in the 1980s, suggesting that was the type of defender he needed now.
.. Mr. Bannon has told allies that Mr. Trump only “reads to reinforce.”
.. Mr. Trump’s insistence on defining his own reality — his repeated claims, for example, that he actually won the popular vote — is immutable and has had a “numbing effect” on people who work with him, said Tony Schwartz, his ghostwriter on “The Art of the Deal.”
“He wears you down,” Mr. Schwartz said.
.. “Who is going to run against me in 2020?” he asked, according to a person in attendance. “Crooked Hillary? Pocahontas?”
.. He is less likely to tweet at this hour, when the news he would react to is mostly recycled from hours earlier. But he watches Ms. Pirro and her fellow Fox News hosts Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, and sometimes “hate-watches” CNN to get worked up, especially Don Lemon.
“Everyone knew these stories,” one Hollywood publicist said. “Not the specifics. But people knew it was a hostile work environment, and that he was a bully to people. Because he could win you an Oscar, we were all supposed to look the other way.”
.. when the New Yorker published a 2015 audio recording of Weinstein trying to lure a model into his hotel room, Brewer was stopped cold.
.. Weinstein, enraged that he had been out of pocket for a few hours, lunged at him and began punching him in the head, Brewer said; the skirmish tumbled into the corridor and then the elevator. By the time Brewer reached the street, intent on never associating with the Weinsteins again, he said, Harvey was pleading for him to stay and help ensure that their film got launched.
.. “Listening to the audiotape, it gave me this visceral reaction to my experience that day,” Brewer said by phone Thursday. “This alternating between violence, threats, commands and then begging, mock-crying, trying anything — any angle to get what he wanted.”
.. a genius of promotion who persuaded Oscar voters to pick his lighthearted “Shakespeare in Love” over epic front-runner “Saving Private Ryan” as best picture in 1999.
.. He had a “funny, whiny” voice, and was often bullied, according to former classmates, but he was persistent, sure of himself, an operator.
.. “He was supremely confident, and not worried about any repercussions,” the friend recalled. “It was like, ‘Eh, if they catch me, so what, I’ll do it again.’ ”
.. Weinstein went into business with his brother, first as concert promoters and later
.. “Don’t mention the competition on the air. Don’t put two car ads in the same segment,” she said this past week. “And, if you’re a young woman, don’t be alone with Harvey Weinstein.”
.. His job then wasn’t to make movies but to discover them and get them into theaters. His forcefulness was a boon for independent and foreign films that lacked bankable names. He would be their star, their champion, deploying a brassy, fearless persona to conduct cutthroat negotiations and impassioned publicity campaigns.
.. “Harvey has a bargaining quality, a back-and-forth bullying that makes you just go ‘okay,’ she explained. She jumped out of their taxi blocks later and ran inside a bar, begging the bartender to pretend that he was her boyfriend.
.. “He’s very seductive at the start,” Leight said. “You think he understands you and your destiny is about to change.”
.. But Weinstein’s behavior was erratic. Leight said Weinstein pressured him to ask an actress to “show tit” on screen, though the script required no nudity.
.. In retrospect, he said, the abusive tactics that Weinstein used with women were in line with those he used with directors and male employees: the domination, the cycle of eruptions followed by contrition, the swagger, accompanied by shows of neediness.
“It’s absolutely the same behavior,” Leight said.
.. the Peninsula Beverly Hills hotel, where the New York-based producer often stayed, and where many of his alleged assaults were said to have taken place.
.. people knew that if you had worked there, you could put up with anything.”
.. West Coast employees employed a system of alerts, passed along by whisper, to prepare for the boss’s arrival.
Harvey is coming.
Harvey is five minutes out.
Harvey is on a kick about “Tulip Fever.” If you haven’t seen it, make sure you do now.
.. One preparation — described by multiple individuals and recognized as both practical and ridiculous — was to hide all the office candy bowls.
“He would take and eat them all and his blood sugar would spike,” the former employee explained. “We were trying to control his moods.”
.. The mood swings, the employee said, were frequent and relentless. Workers discussed in hushed tones how to manage them.
.. “It was not clear that he was assaulting people,” the former employee said. “But was it clear that he was trading his power for sexual favors? Yes.”
.. “What you have to understand is, Harvey was somebody who everybody who worked there didn’t like,” another former employee said. “Talking s— about Harvey was the normal course of action. He’s disgusting. He’s rude. He has food on his shirt.”
.. Weinstein’s blatant bad behavior managed to mask his more insidious tendencies. In other words, you didn’t believe he could be any worse in private than you had seen him behave in public.
.. Some women who have made claims against Weinstein have alleged that his assistants were facilitators of his behavior, or said they were in the room immediately before he assaulted them.
.. “I just thought we were seeing the bad end of a bad temper,” said one industry professional, who often encountered him over several decades. “I once watched him fire his whole staff at an awards show. It was one of the worst things I’ve witnessed — they were running away in tears and crying in parking lots.”
.. “Here’s a man who would take a little film that couldn’t and make it into hits that won Oscars,” said the publicist who watched Weinstein fire his entire staff. “He wasn’t the only one to do that, but he had a really good track record. Sometimes, to do that, you have to be a steamroller. I don’t know if that’s right or wrong. I think it’s wrong.” A pause. “I’m sure it’s wrong.”
.. “He said, ‘What have you heard about me?’” Masters said. “And I said, ‘I’ve heard you rape women.’ ”
Weinstein responded, Masters said, “with neither shock nor anger.”
.. Masters said the magazine tried “really hard” to publish a report on Weinstein’s sexual behavior a few years ago. But the source backed out, leaving it without on-the-record corroboration of festering rumors.
.. Harvey was the Trump of the movie industry. He knew what was a good story. He knew how it worked. He knew what a deadline was. He knew about the caring and feeding of gossip columns.”
.. a frequent source of scoops and celebrity gossip for tabloid papers.
.. Many Weinstein-watchers took note of what seemed to be an orchestrated media campaign against Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, the model who accused Weinstein of groping her in a Tribeca hotel room in 2015.
.. The New York Post published photos of her in a bikini and labeled her “Grope Beauty” on its cover. Its Page Six column reported that a police source said there was no physical evidence for Gutierrez’s claim. In fact, Gutierrez had worn a hidden police microphone and recorded Weinstein apologizing to her for the incident.
.. Weinstein had a knack for flattering reporters. He once had his staff put together a mock poster for “Page Six: The Movie” — starring George Clooney, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, Mel Gibson and Matt Damon as the column’s authors — and sent it to the newsroom.
.. Weinstein “cajoled and threatened” him when he wouldn’t kill an item about Weinstein’s divorce from Eve. Weinstein first tried to trade the item for another bit of gossip, Grove said, and next threatened to ban him from Miramax’s film screenings. Grove said he could buy his own movie tickets.
.. Eventually, Grove said, Weinstein backed down when he realized he had no leverage. But first, he said something Grove said “should be embroidered on a pillow. He said, ‘I’m the scariest m—–f—– you’ll ever have as an enemy in this town.’ ”
.. He implied that she needed him. He’d set up a Hollywood world in which everyone needed him.
.. I had dinner with this guy and it turns out he is everything I stand against.”
.. fundraisers alongside Leonardo DiCaprio, the premiere of “Shakespeare in Love” with Hillary Clinton on his arm.
.. His personal giving was dwarfed by that of many other showbiz moguls — only $1.8 million since 1979. But when President Bill Clinton sought help for his legal-defense fund during the Monica Lewinsky saga, Weinstein cut a $10,000 check.
.. Brown, who said she had never heard anything but milder rumors about Weinstein, called the election “a tipping point for a great many women.”
.. lawyer Gloria Allred. She is representing several of Weinstein’s accusers, but said she has “also been getting calls about other men in Hollywood. Studio executives, A-list actors. Big names. Names you would know.”
.. Though she represented more than 30 of Cosby’s victims, she said she suspects “this is going to be bigger. It’s a tsunami.”
.. he championed his boys — and there were no female voices in there.”
.. The lack of female voices in Hollywood, Delavigne said, is “a more entrenched danger, and entrenched culture.” A common note she receives from producers, during the screenwriting process, is to make her female characters more “likable.” That one word, she said, epitomizes the film industry’s attitude about women.
.. “It is not ‘likable’ for a woman to say ‘no,’ to say ‘you can’t do that,’ ” Delavigne said. “That is not likable. That is not charming. That is not sweet.”
.. “He had just a very forceful way of going about things,”
.. “He forces himself on you, talks you into it and doesn’t leave you with an option.”
.. He was both needy and abusive