Watch What They Do, Not Just What They Say
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Watch What They Do, Not Just What They Say

The White House Family Feud Overshadows What’s Really Going On

Trump’s inner circle in April 2016. Among those now gone are former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus (second from left) and strategist Steve Bannon (center, yellow tie).

However momentarily delicious the gossipy and demeaning brouhaha yesterday between Steve Bannon and Trump, the immediate and broad dominance of the personal rift showed just how twisted our priorities about public policy and politics really are.

We’d apparently rather revel in a simple schoolyard dogfight than spend the same amount of time and effort thinking through our deep, serious and complicated problems. It seems indicative of the role we’ve assigned politics altogether that while we talk about values, what we rise to bay about is about one side winning or losing, or one personality lording over the other.

Over time, the president’s tweeting obsession has drawn criticism for trying to control the media’s attention and the public agenda.  But this case, among others, shows that it is the media who flock to the tweet, to the public fistfight, while leaving unaddressed serious news subjects.

The North Korean crisis should not be an idiotic personality battle between a looney “Rocketman” in Kim Jong Un and an egotistical Trump; indeed, the only “button” that each apparently has in easy reach is the Twitter release. Calming the Middle East, creating actually fair tax policy, addressing immigration and poverty trends, repairing bridges and roads, making right our justice systems—the list goes on and on—are the stuff that should get our attention.

Seeing the cable commentators and politicians dropping everything to lap up the discrediting blabbing of two worn-out, cliché-ridden sloganeers like Trump and Bannon reflects a gross and distorted view of what I would hope to be our values. For what it is worth, both Bannon and Trump seem at ease and well-suited to spewing gallons of personal insult and abusive remarks, almost all of which have no value beyond illustrating a public rift between old white men who like looking into the mirror to find the most peculiar in the land.

I don’t blame anyone in particular for rolling into the news—if Trump did not want to be president, as alleged in the arguments, he should have stepped down to avoid what we have inherited. But it is so sad that we cannot recognize that the reason for government is to make things work for its individuals—not to serve as a public WWE power wrestling mat.

Writer Michael Wolff

Of course, given the content of the Bannon-Trump personal pissing match, in the book excerpts from reporter Michael Wolff on his reporting of White House life as told by more than 200 sources, there were nuggets of news.

The most important involved Bannon’s accusations of “treasonous” behavior by Donald Trump Jr. in hosting a meeting that apparently was called to hear Russian proffers of political dirt on Hillary Clinton. Bannon basically said there was zero chance that Junior did not share the outlines of the meeting with candidate Trump, a finding that would advance the cause of those looking to find cooperation between the campaign and Russian operatives. Even Bannon seems beyond puzzled why Trump, Junior, Jared or Manafort would consider calling the FBI about inappropriate attempts by a foreign power, in this case a publicly identified foe, to interfere in the U.S. elections.

The lesser findings in the book reflected in the mean and biting observations about Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, about the chaos of the daily White House, about the behavior of former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, even about First Lady Melania’s reluctance to be attacked as a public official, and all the other characters of the early White House. Basically, there was a stream of derogatory comments about the president and his family from senior staff all the way down.

As you know by now, Trump hit back by saying that Bannon had “lost his mind,” and White House staff went out of its way yesterday to undercut almost everything about Bannon’s year in the White House, the degree of influence that he did or did not have with the president, and about the president’s right to be angry about a personal attack on himself and family.

To those embarrassed enough to want to put some context around the gossip, the airwaves were filled with searches for the political lessons for the 2018 elections, for the possibilities of hardening the power of the looming Special Counsel investigation into all-things-Russia, and for the disdain over the president’s absolute lack of any loyalty to anyone but himself.

Whatever.

What I find concerning is not the two men’s statements. They start with our apparent hunger for conflict—and specifically for political name-calling at the price of forgetting what these people are in their jobs to do. Yes, it is newsworthy that once political allies now seem to hate one another, but to drop all else for this stop-the-presses information? No. Our values should be better than having to turn the serious policy that Washington is turning on its head these days into another Kardashian moment. We should be better than a fight between movie star idols or who rules rap these days.

From the excerpts, there is also a healthy amount of anti-female chatter in the White House, a Wolff finding that just resurfaces everything about #MeToo that suggests that the president and all the president’s men are making chauvinist bad behavior a habit, with quotes of the president denigrating both communications director Hope Hicks and the former acting attorney general, Sally Yates.

And, throughout, there is the sense from the excerpts that it is not just the public that would rather take up arms in a personality fight than talk policy, it was the White House staff itself, from the president through the senior staff to junior staffers.

Whatever else, this is no way to Make America Great.

 

January 4, 2018