President Trump so alarmed his defense secretary, Jim Mattis, during a discussion last January of the nuclear standoff with North Korea that an exasperated Mr. Mattis told colleagues “the president acted like — and had the understanding of — a ‘fifth or sixth grader.’”
At another moment, Mr. Trump’s aides became so worried about his judgment that Gary D. Cohn, then the chief economic adviser, took a letter from the president’s Oval Office desk authorizing the withdrawal of the United States from a trade agreement with South Korea. Mr. Trump, who had planned to sign the letter, never realized it was missing.
.. book by Bob Woodward that depicts the Trump White House as a byzantine, treacherous, often out-of-control operation — “crazytown,” in the words of the chief of staff, John F. Kelly — hostage to the whims of an impulsive, ill-informed and undisciplined president.
.. The White House, in a statement, dismissed “Fear” as “nothing more than fabricated stories, many by former disgruntled employees, told to make the president look bad.”
.. Mr. Woodward portrays Mr. Mattis as frequently derisive of the commander in chief, rattled by his judgment, and willing to slow-walk orders from him that he viewed as reckless.
.. Mr. Trump questioned Mr. Mattis about why the United States keeps a military presence on the Korean Peninsula. “We’re doing this in order to prevent World War III,” Mr. Mattis responded, according to Mr. Woodward.
.. In April 2017, after President Bashar al-Assad of Syria launched a chemical attack on his own people, Mr. Trump called Mr. Mattis and told him that he wanted the United States to assassinate Mr. Assad. “Let’s go in,” the president said, adding a string of expletives.
The defense secretary hung up and told one of his aides: “We’re not going to do any of that. We’re going to be much more measured.” At his direction, the Pentagon prepared options for an airstrike on Syrian military positions, which Mr. Trump later ordered.
.. another layer to a recurring theme in the Trump White House: frustrated aides who sometimes resort to extraordinary measures to thwart the president’s decisions — a phenomenon the author describes as “an administrative coup d’état.” In addition to Mr. Mattis and Mr. Cohn, he recounts the tribulations of Mr. Kelly and his predecessor, Reince Priebus, whose tensions with Mr. Trump have been reported elsewhere.
.. Mr. Cohn, Mr. Woodward said, told a colleague he had removed the letter about the Korea free trade agreement to protect national security. Later, when the president ordered a similar letter authorizing the departure of the United States from the North American Free Trade Agreement, Mr. Cohn and other aides plotted how to prevent him from going ahead with a move they feared would be deeply destabilizing.
.. Last January, Mr. Woodward writes, Mr. Dowd staged a practice session in the White House residence to dramatize the pressures Mr. Trump would face in a session with Mr. Mueller. The president stumbled repeatedly, contradicting himself and lying, before he exploded in anger.
.. Mr. Woodward told Mr. Trump he interviewed many White House officials outside their offices, and gathered extensive documentation. “It’s a tough look at the world and the administration and you,” he told Mr. Trump.
“Right,” the president replied. “Well, I assume that means it’s going to be a negative book.”
I work for the president but like-minded colleagues and I have vowed to thwart parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations... The dilemma — which he does not fully grasp — is that many of the senior officials in his own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations... To be clear, ours is not the popular “resistance” of the left. We want the administration to succeed and think that many of its policies have already made America safer and more prosperous... But we believe our first duty is to this country, and the president continues to act in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our republic.That is why many Trump appointees have vowed to do what we can to preserve our democratic institutions while thwarting Mr. Trump’s more misguided impulses until he is out of office.The root of the problem is the president’s amorality. Anyone who works with him knows he is not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making... Although he was elected as a Republican, the president shows little affinity for ideals long espoused by conservatives:
- free minds,
- free markets and
- free people.At best, he has invoked these ideals in scripted settings. At worst, he has attacked them outright... In addition to his mass-marketing of the notion that the press is the “enemy of the people,” President Trump’s impulses are generally anti-trade and anti-democratic.
There are bright spots that the near-ceaseless negative coverage of the administration fails to capture:
- effective deregulation,
- historic tax reform, a
- more robust military and more.
But these successes have come despite — not because of — the president’s leadership style, which is
- petty and
From the White House to executive branch departments and agencies, senior officials will privately admit their daily disbelief at the commander in chief’s comments and actions. Most are working to insulate their operations from his whims.
.. Meetings with him veer off topic and off the rails, he engages in repetitive rants, and his impulsiveness results in half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions that have to be walked back.
“There is literally no telling whether he might change his mind from one minute to the next,” a top official complained to me recently, exasperated by an Oval Office meeting at which the president flip-flopped on a major policy decision he’d made only a week earlier.
The erratic behavior would be more concerning if it weren’t for unsung heroes in and around the White House. Some of his aides have been cast as villains by the media. But in private, they have gone to great lengths to keep bad decisions contained to the West Wing, though they are clearly not always successful.
The result is a two-track presidency.
Take foreign policy: In public and in private, President Trump shows a preference for autocrats and dictators, such as President Vladimir Putin of Russia and North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, and displays little genuine appreciation for the ties that bind us to allied, like-minded nations.
Astute observers have noted, though, that the rest of the administration is operating on another track, one where countries like Russia are called out for meddling and punished accordingly, and where allies around the world are engaged as peers rather than ridiculed as rivals.
.. On Russia, for instance, the president was reluctant to expel so many of Mr. Putin’s spies as punishment for the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain. He complained for weeks about senior staff members letting him get boxed into further confrontation with Russia, and he expressed frustration that the United States continued to impose sanctions on the country for its malign behavior. But his national security team knew better — such actions had to be taken, to hold Moscow accountable.
.. This isn’t the work of the so-called deep state. It’s the work of the steady state.
Given the instability many witnessed, there were early whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment, which would start a complex process for removing the president. But no one wanted to precipitate a constitutional crisis. So we will do what we can to steer the administration in the right direction until — one way or another — it’s over.
.. The bigger concern is not what Mr. Trump has done to the presidency but rather what we as a nation have allowed him to do to us. We have sunk low with him and allowed our discourse to be stripped of civility.
.. Senator John McCain put it best in his farewell letter. All Americans should heed his words and break free of the tribalism trap, with the high aim of uniting through our shared values and love of this great nation.
.. We may no longer have Senator McCain. But we will always have his example — a lodestar for restoring honor to public life and our national dialogue. Mr. Trump may fear such honorable men, but we should revere them.
.. There is a quiet resistance within the administration of people choosing to put country first. But the real difference will be made by everyday citizens rising above politics, reaching across the aisle and resolving to shed the labels in favor of a single one: Americans.