Let’s recap where we are in the staffing tumult of the Trump administration.
The turnover among the President’s so-called “A-Team” of senior level advisers is record setting: roughly two out of three.
As for Cabinet-level jobs, almost one half have turned over so far. Stunning, I’d say.
And the purge of the Department of Homeland Security leadership is equally remarkable.
As for replacements for those no longer on Team Trump, there seems to be a presidential preference for “acting” leaders, no matter how crucial the jobs.
“I like acting because I can move so quickly,” Trump said in January. “It gives me more flexibility.”
It also gives him no controversial confirmation hearings — for jobs like secretary of defense, homeland security and interior. Besides, Trump likes to run things himself. So why put anyone who might disagree in a position of power? As someone who has known Trump for decades reminds me, “He never liked having anyone higher than the equivalent of a vice president” in his own organization. Sure, some folks had titles, but as far as Trump was concerned, “that didn’t matter. They knew who was the boss.”
But the boss operates on his very own chaos theory. It’s not new to Trump, but its new to the Oval Office. And it’s a disturbing – even frightening – way to govern. Trump’s version of chaos, according to this longtime associate, “has to do with his level of entertainment of himself. That means doing the opposite of what everyone suggests and then showing that I was right.” His instincts, this source says, “are not well thought out or researched,” but he has “found this place of doing the remarkable unexpected thing and, at the end of the day, sometimes he gets lucky.”
In his mind, at least.
At the outset of the administration, even Trump thought he needed to learn the ropes. So he hired an insider like former Republican Party boss Reince Priebus to be his chief of staff, but that didn’t last long. Trump doesn’t like anyone else running things – or even trying to run things. “This is the voraciousness he has always had,” says this source. “But there’s no loyalty. If you ever need him, you’re finished…The minute you work for him, it’s over. He lured you in so he can crush you.”
And that’s exactly what he does. That’s why there’s no deep bench in Trumpworld, just Trump, a few folks he made rich and his family.
Consider what became of his casinos in Atlantic City, more specifically the Taj Mahal in 1990 – the iconic demonstration of Trump dysfunction that has not changed in decades.
“Donald always operated with a very thin group,” says Alan Lapidus, Trump’s architect, adding there were about six people running the whole endeavor. When one-third of the slot machines were shut down because they didn’t pass muster, it was chaos. “It was a breakdown of monumental proportions,” says Jack O’Donnell, one of Trump’s casino managers. And what did Trump do to try and solve the problem? He decided to “shame and belittle, and berate, and to threaten to fire, and demand firings in the midst of the chaos.”
Gee, does that sound familiar?
Allow me to spell it out: Immigration policy and border security aren’t going the way he wants, and he decided to fire Kirstjen Nielsen, the head of the Department of Homeland Security. CNN’s reporting recounts that she dared to oppose the President’s desire to possibly reinstate the family separation policy or listen to Trump ideas on denying asylum that were potentially illegal.
Presidents are supposed to be islands of calm in the middle of chaos. Not this one; he is the chaos. When the Taj Mahal was at a breaking point, says O’Donnell, “what the place needed was calm, a clear thinker. And in the midst of chaos, Donald Trump could not provide that in any way.”
Because that’s not how he rolls – not now, or in the past. “Donald has always managed to walk into a meeting and say something that no one ever expected him ever to say, upend the entire meeting, leave everybody agog…and control every situation that way. By the time he leaves the room … he owns the store,” says former Trump Organization Vice President Louise Sunshine.
Yep, he owns the store. We are reminded of that every way, with every whim, with every flip flop on policy and personnel. And if he succeeds with one whim or idea, there’s another that “fuels the next absurdity,” as the source who has known Trump puts it. “He continues to believe that he has proven he is immune to consequences.”
Yet there is one thing about chaos theory: Instability and turbulence can backfire. And it’s those unintended consequences that can get you. Especially when you’re not paying much attention.