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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 39 New Delhi September 15, 2018

Chaos in the White House

Saturday 15 September 2018

by Monaem Sarker

President Donald Trump’s 20 months in office have aged many Americans at least by a multiple of that length of time.

This week two events provided glimpses of White House staffers in panic mode. First, there were news reports about Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward’s new behind-the-scenes book, Fear, which described a nervous breakdown in the Trump Administration as top aides manoeuvred to prevent the President from taking disastrous and impulsive missteps. We also learned that Gary Cohn, one of President Trump’s advisors, lifted a letter off Trump’s desk so that the President wouldn’t act on his worrisome threat to scuttle a trade deal with South Korea.

Then came the jaw-dropping confirmation of Woodward’s point when an anonymous ‘senior administration official’ wrote an opinion piece in The New York Times describing himself or herself as a member of the internal resistance resorting to crafty efforts to keep the country from running off the rails. “There are adults in the room ... trying to do what’s right even when Donald Trump won’t,” the opinion piece asserts.

Woodward’s book uses unnamed sources to describe life in the White House. Readers will be able to draw their own conclusions based on the reporting of a respected journalist. The opinion piece is a different matter. The unidentified official gave the piece to the Times and then sneaked back to work, hoping not to be uncovered later by a livid President.

The criticism of Trump is on-point and damning, as it should be, as it has no other way to be for a President who surrounded himself with associates many of whom are now felons.

“The root of the problem is the President’s amorality,” the anonymous opinion piece writes. “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.”

The anonymous writer goes on to denounce Trump’s “mass-marketing of the notion that the press is the ‘enemy of the people’”, and says his “impulses are generally anti-trade and anti-democratic”.

That’s great to finally hear from an insider, but anonymous isn’t revealing something we don’t already know about Trump. The piece says the President is morally rudderless, holds no coherent worldview and careens from objective to objective. We know that; we read his tweets. The piece says the President, while being alarming, has also notched achievements such as tax reform and deregulation. We know that as well.

Sooner or later it’s likely the anonymous writer will be ousted, with unpredictable results. What’s certain is that as long as Trump is the President, chaos will be part of the picture.

The US President has a base of supporters who embrace or ignore the chaos. For others, who try to judge Trump’s policy work separately from his erratic personality, these are trying times. With him in charge, the circus never shuts down.

The author, a politician and columnist, is presently the Director General, Bangladesh Foundation for Development Research.

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