We take it for granted that President Trump says demonstrably false things on any number of topics. That is itself alarming.
But gross factual mischaracterizations have started to trickle down to the lawyers who serve at the president’s pleasure: At oral argument in the Supreme Court, for example, the solicitor general declared that the president had made it crystal clear that he would never follow through on his campaign promise to ban Muslims. In fact, the president never said any such thing.
.. In the case, Ms. L v. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the president has made the up-is-down claim that a Democratic law — the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, in conjunction with the Homeland Security Act and statutes criminalizing illegal entry — requires him to separate families to protect the children.
.. The administration’s legal mumbo-jumbo attempts to use laws that are meant to protect vulnerable children as a screen to terrorize them and to deter immigrants from coming to the United States border.
.. The laws that Mr. Trump’s Justice Department cites — which apply to unaccompanied children, not children with parents — require no such thing.
.. Instead, the Homeland Security law, a statute governing the Office of Refugee Resettlement, gives custody of unaccompanied minors to that department, and very clearly not to the Department of Homeland Security, to address the challenges that children without parents face in the immigration system.
.. The statute that addresses child trafficking — part of the Trafficking Victims law — is designed to reduce the risk that children who are alone will fall victim to human trafficking. The administration is arguing that the laws do the opposite — that they make children more vulnerable to human trafficking and place children at greater risk in the immigration system — and so require the D.H.S. to separate families that would otherwise be together.
.. This is a specious use of law: It inverts the laws governing child immigration and uses them to exacerbate the very evil the law was designed to address.
.. Mr. Trump’s Justice Department is thus lying about what the tax bill did, and about Congress’s intent in passing it. And the department, like the president himself, is doing so as part of a transparent effort to rid the country of a law that Mr. Trump and his Republican caucus do not like but could not repeal through normal channels.
.. Lawyers, including at the Department of Justice, sometimes make aggressive arguments. But there is a difference between aggressive and preposterous, and between truths and untruths. The rule of law depends on these distinctions — to hold governments officials to the law, we need to be able to acknowledge what the law says.
.. The administration is simultaneously insisting that it must enforce a law that does not exist, but is refusing to defend a law that actually does exist, and jeopardizing the law in the process.
.. More likely, the administration will not persuade the current Supreme Court with these arguments. But it may be playing a long game that shifts expectations about legal arguments, and what falls within the bounds of reasonable — to make the law seem as manipulable, and therefore as easy to write off, as the facts.
This is a test for the courts. The executive and legislative branches have in too many ways capitulated to the president’s post-factual world. Will the legal system allow a post-legal one as well?
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
The nature of the comedy, it was soon clear, was that here was a group of ambitious men and women who had reached the pinnacle of power, a high-ranking White House appointment — with the punchline that Donald Trump was president. Their estimable accomplishment of getting to the West Wing risked at any moment becoming farce.
A new president typically surrounds himself with a small group of committed insiders and loyalists. But few on the Trump team knew him very well — most of his advisors had been with him only since the fall. Even his family, now closely gathered around him, seemed nonplussed. “You know, we never saw that much of him until he got the nomination,” Eric Trump’s wife, Lara, told one senior staffer. If much of the country was incredulous, his staff, trying to cement their poker faces, were at least as confused.
.. Reince Priebus, the new chief of staff, had, shortly after the announcement of his appointment in November, started to think he would not last until the inauguration.
Then, making it to the White House, he hoped he could last a respectable year, but he quickly scaled back his goal to six months.
.. Kellyanne Conway, who would put a finger-gun to her head in private about Trump’s public comments, continued to mount an implacable defense on cable television, until she was pulled off the air by others in the White House who, however much the president enjoyed her, found her militancy idiotic. (Even Ivanka and Jared regarded Conway’s fulsome defenses as cringeworthy.)
.. Leaking became the political manifestation of the don’t-blame-me eye roll.
.. Bannon tried to explain him as having a particular kind of Jungian brilliance. Trump, obviously without having read Jung, somehow had access to the collective unconscious of the other half of the country, and, too, a gift for inventing archetypes: Little Marco … Low-Energy Jeb … the Failing New York Times. Everybody in the West Wing tried, with some panic, to explain him, and, sheepishly, their own reason for being here. He’s intuitive, he gets it, he has a mind-meld with his base. But there was palpable relief, of an Emperor’s New Clothes sort, when longtime Trump staffer Sam Nunberg — fired by Trump during the campaign but credited with knowing him better than anyone else — came back into the fold and said, widely, “He’s just a fucking fool.”
.. Part of that foolishness was his inability to deal with his own family.
.. Even Donald Trump couldn’t say no to his kids. “It’s a littleee, littleee complicated …” he explained to Priebus about why he needed to give his daughter and son-in-law official jobs.
.. To lose your deputy chief of staff at the get-go would be a sign of crisis in any other administration, but inside an obviously exploding one it was hardly noticed.
.. To say that no one was in charge, that there were no guiding principles, not even a working org chart, would again be an understatement.
.. The competition to take charge, which, because each side represented an inimical position to the other, became not so much a struggle for leadership, but a near-violent factional war.
.. By July, Jared and Ivanka, who had, in less than six months, traversed from socialite couple to royal family to the most powerful people in the world, were now engaged in a desperate dance to save themselves, which mostly involved blaming Trump himself. It was all his idea to fire Comey! “The daughter,” Bannon declared, “will bring down the father.”
.. Scaramucci, a minor figure in the New York financial world, and quite a ridiculous one, had overnight become Jared and Ivanka’s solution to all of the White House’s management and messaging problems. After all, explained the couple, he was good on television and he was from New York — he knew their world. In effect, the couple had hired Scaramucci — as preposterous a hire in West Wing annals as any — to replace Priebus and Bannon and take over running the White House.
.. There was, after the abrupt Scaramucci meltdown, hardly any effort inside the West Wing to disguise the sense of ludicrousness and anger felt by every member of the senior staff toward Trump’s family and Trump himself. It became almost a kind of competition to demystify Trump. For Rex Tillerson, he was a moron. For Gary Cohn, he was dumb as shit. For H.R. McMaster, he was a hopeless idiot. For Steve Bannon, he had lost his mind.
.. Trump, in the estimation of his senior staff, did not have the discipline to navigate a tough investigation, nor the credibility to attract the caliber of lawyers he would need to help him. (At least nine major law firms had turned down an invitation to represent the president.)
.. Everybody was painfully aware of the increasing pace of his repetitions. It used to be inside of 30 minutes he’d repeat, word-for-word and expression-for-expression, the same three stories — now it was within 10 minutes. Indeed, many of his tweets were the product of his repetitions — he just couldn’t stop saying something.
.. By summer’s end, in something of a historic sweep — more usual for the end of a president’s first term than the end of his first six months — almost the entire senior staff, save Trump’s family, had been washed out: Michael Flynn, Katie Walsh, Sean Spicer, Reince Priebus, Steve Bannon. Even Trump’s loyal, longtime body guard Keith Schiller — for reasons darkly whispered about in the West Wing — was out.
Gary Cohn, Dina Powell, Rick Dearborn, all on their way out.
.. The president, on the spur of the moment, appointed John Kelly, a former Marine Corps general and head of homeland security, chief of staff — without Kelly having been informed of his own appointment beforehand.
.. Kelly seemed compelled by a sense of duty to be, in case of disaster, the adult in the room who might, if needed, stand up to the president … if that is comfort.
.. Hope Hicks, Trump’s 29-year-old personal aide and confidant, became, practically speaking, his most powerful White House advisor.
.. the staff referred to Ivanka as the “real wife” and Hicks as the “real daughter.”
.. Hicks’ primary function was to tend to the Trump ego, to reassure him, to protect him, to buffer him, to soothe him. It was Hicks who, attentive to his lapses and repetitions, urged him to forgo an interview that was set to open the 60 Minutes fall season.
.. Instead, the interview went to Fox News’ Sean Hannity who, White House insiders happily explained, was willing to supply the questions beforehand. Indeed, the plan was to have all interviewers going forward provide the questions.
.. The tax bill, his singular accomplishment, was, arguably, quite a reversal of his populist promises, and confirmation of what Mitch McConnell had seen early on as the silver Trump lining: “He’ll sign anything we put in front of him.”
.. 100 percent — came to believe he was incapable of functioning in his job.
At Mar-a-Lago, just before the new year, a heavily made-up Trump failed to recognize a succession of old friends.
“I’m really looking forward to doing a lot of traveling in April when people realize the effect that this has … The vast majority will be [doing their taxes] on a single postcard.” Thunk. There’s no postcard. That was a prop. And the filing for the first year under the new tax code will be in 2019.
She also declared of Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who decided to vote for the final tax bill after voting no on the Senate version: “He really believes that tax relief, coupled with the administration’s deregulatory actions, will create the growth that will start to erode and ultimately eliminate the national debt that has been accrued over the last several decades.”
I’m confident Corker believes no such thing because that would be preposterous, unsupported by any reputable economic analysis. (Corker voted for the final bill upon concluding it was flawed but helpful in promoting economic growth.
.. If Trump cared to do her homework, she wouldn’t say objectively false things. She wouldn’t treat the pittance that Republicans gave to poor families as a grand accomplishment. Then again, perhaps she has learned at her father’s knee to be a flim-flam artist, a con woman and an entitled child of wealth who looks out for herself and only herself. Those who thought that she’d bring smarts, empathy and reason to the White House sure missed the mark.