No television serial or reality show can match the intrigues and drama within the White House. It is dirtier and nastier than any scriptwriter’s tale. Power centres are always battlegrounds, but this White House is a venomous snake pit—high on testosterone, turmoil and treachery, low on coherence, discipline and governance. The leaks, infighting, ideological rivalries, foul language, front-and-back-stabbing by the dysfunctional White House team are outrageous. Donald Trump probably likes it that way, calling it healthy competition that avoids group think!
Trump insults and squabbles on a daily basis, but now it is war between him and the Republican Party. He got away with firing FBI director James Comey, who refused to end the investigation into Russiagate—Trump campaign team’s collusion with Russia. But Trump’s attempt to humiliate and eject his loyal attorney general Jeff Sessions is causing a backlash. To Trump, Sessions is now worthless. Having recused himself from the Russiagate investigation, Sessions cannot end it.
The Republican Party reacted. “If Jeff Sessions is fired, there will be holy hell to pay,” warned Republican senator Lindsey Graham. Chuck Grassley, the Republican chairman of the judiciary committee, flatly ruled out confirmation hearings for Sessions’ replacement until December because their schedule was full. Meanwhile, White House feuding intensifies. Chief of staff Reince Priebus resigned after the incoming communications director Anthony Scaramucci slandered him. Priebus was the bridge between Trump’s White House and the Republican Party. Now that bridge has been burnt.
Trump’s narcissistic, arbitrary style of functioning is subversive. This chaos can escalate into a full-blown constitutional crisis if Trump fires his next target, Robert Mueller, the special counsel heading the Russiagate investigation. A man of integrity and thoroughness, Mueller has expanded the probe from collusion during the elections to obstruction of justice and Trump’s business dealings with Russia. This is clearly Trump’s rawest nerve. After all, he managed to keep his tax returns secret and fired New York attorney Preet Bharara who was investigating his business transactions. Asks journalist Jennifer Rubin: “Why would Trump do those things unless there was something really, really bad to find?” Knowing Trump’s penchant for lawsuits, Mueller has assembled the best legal brains to assist him. The only way to stop the investigation is to fire Mueller. “That would be the beginning of the end of this presidency,” predicts Republican senator Graham.
Trump’s character flaws make him a dangerous president. He tweets major policy changes, unmindful of its destabilising effects on institutions and individuals. He injects toxic partisan politics to boy scouts. He seems unable to make the critical distinction that he heads, not owns, the United States government. It is not his company or TV show that he can hire and fire at will. When he appoints people to government positions, they take an oath of allegiance to the Constitution, not to him. Trump regards “serving at the President’s pleasure” to mean loyalty unto him, a whimsical, authoritarian interpretation that the founding fathers never intended. Trump’s political behaviour is not only vulgar, but to quote New Yorker, “becoming more bizarre”. While North Korea provokes with missile-testing, Trump itches for war with Iran. When the commander-in-chief becomes a destabiliser-in-chief, who surrounds himself with acquiescing millionaires and military men trained to obey orders, the danger is obvious.
Trump contributes to legitimising authoritarianism and sycophancy within America and around the world. Ironically, the more autocratic he is, the more embattled and powerless he becomes. His diminished Obamacare repeal and replace health bill collapsed in the senate. A near unanimous US Congress that sanctioned Russia for meddling in the US elections curtailed Trump’s veto power to ease the sanctions. Under a feckless, reckless president, the White House wars become more destructive. This cannot end well.
Pratap is an author and journalist.