February 3, 2017 2:00 pm -

The paranoid style, to use the term made famous half a century ago by Richard Hofstadter in a legendary Harper’s article, has come to the Oval Office in a big way.

President Trump and his staff distrust each other – and everyone else in the government:


In President Trump’s first two weeks of office, damaging reports involving White House aides and staffers have steadily emerged from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Embarrassing stories — from the the president’s unhealthy TV diet to his tendency to throw temper tantrums — have been sourced through people reportedly close the president. Now, a longtime Trump adviser has leaked to Politico that the president is paranoid about all the leaks streaming from his office.

“Trying to nail down who the leakers are is like trying to count the cockroaches under the couch,” said Michael Caputo, a longtime adviser of Trump who has stayed in touch with people connected to the president.

Some Trump staffers told Politico that they were shocked by the amount of secrets leaking from the White House. “People are just knifing each other,” one said.

Just in the past day, reports of tense conversations between Trump and the leaders of Mexico and Australia have surfaced. Direct quotes, such as Trump telling Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull that his call was “the worst by far,” have now made international headlines.

Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s senior counselor, told Fox News that no one in the Trump administration is responsible for the leaks.

“Obviously, we’re not commenting on private conversations in that way. We give a readout to the media on most conversations but we don’t release transcripts and we certainly don’t mischaracterize them as some others have. This is the practice for us though. We’re the ones not leaking,” Conway said.

Trump and his team are reportedly distrustful of government bureaucrats, whom they see as loyal to former President Obama. “Every time something got to one of the agencies, it got out,” one person told Politico.

Agency staff reportedly think the White House’s unwillingness to share information is causing implementation problems with the executive orders. The result is an undeniable disconnect between the White House and federal agencies.

Could one of the reasons be a close advisor who makes Doctor Strangelove‘s Jack T. Ripper seem almost rational by comparison?

The United States and China will fight a war within the next 10 years over islands in the South China Sea, and “there’s no doubt about that”. At the same time, the US will be in another “major” war in the Middle East.

Those are the views – nine months ago at least – of one of the most powerful men in Donald Trump’s administration, Steve Bannon, the former head of far-right news website Breitbart who is now chief strategist at the White House.

In the first weeks of Trump’s presidency, Bannon has emerged as a central figure. He was appointed to the “principals committee” of the National Security Council in a highly unusual move and was influential in the recent travel ban on citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries, overruling Department of Homeland Security officials who felt the order did not apply to green card holders.

“We’re going to war in the South China Sea in five to 10 years,” he said in March 2016. “There’s no doubt about that. They’re taking their sandbars and making basically stationary aircraft carriers and putting missiles on those. They come here to the United States in front of our face – and you understand how important face is – and say it’s an ancient territorial sea.”

And that’s not the only thing Bannon said that has rational state and defense professionals worried:

Here’s an actual quote that he gave to The Hollywood Reporter after the election:

“Darkness is good… Dick Cheney. Darth Vader. Satan. That’s power. It only helps us when they” — I believe by “they” he means liberals and the media, already promoting calls for his ouster — “get it wrong. When they’re blind to who we are and what we’re doing.”

The dude compared himself to Satan, AND HE MEANT IT AS A GOOD THING. It would be so great if we could confidently sit here and be able to believe that most idiotic of excuses the alt-right loves to use in cases like this and say that Bannon was just “trolling.” But now he’s in power, and we see that he was just being honest. And as we discussed yesterday, he has now ascended to an unprecedented position of power for a political operative and has unseated two veteran security officials on the National Security Council, making him a huge player in dictating our foreign policy. This wouldn’t be quite as scary if it weren’t for the fact that Steve Bannon believes we’re in a holy war with Islam, according to The Washington Post:

At the same time, Bannon was concerned that the United States and the “Judeo-Christian West” were in a war against an expansionist Islamic ideology — but that they were losing the war by not recognizing what it was. Bannon said this fight was so important, it was worth overlooking differences and rivalries with countries like Russia…
In the past, Bannon had wondered aloud whether the country was ready to follow his lead. Now, he will find out.

“Is that grit still there, that tenacity, that we’ve seen on the battlefields . . . fighting for something greater than themselves?” Bannon said in another radio interview last May, before he joined the Trump campaign.

And in truly horrifying news, we won’t even be able to track what exactly he’s doing on the NSC because, as an anonymous intelligence official told Foreign Policy, Bannon decided he didn’t want a paper trail to follow his decisions:

The lack of a paper trail documenting the decision-making process is also troubling, the intelligence official said. For example, under previous administrations, after a principals or deputies meeting of the National Security Council, the discussion, the final agreement, and the recommendations would be written up in what’s called a “summary of conclusions” — or SOC in government-speak…

These summaries also provided a record to refer back to, especially important if a debate over an issue came up again, including among agencies that needed to implement the conclusions reached.

So not only does Steve Bannon seem ready to go to war with the entire Muslim religion, he also doesn’t want anyone to know he’s doing it.

Is Bannon the reason Trump is freezing out authoritative analytical minds from the National Security Council?

National Security Advisor Michael Flynn is stacking the National Security Council with friends of the Trump administration in a move insiders fear will create a wall between President Trump and the intelligence community.

Flynn’s appointments — announced Thursday, according to a Politico report — include David Cattler, a former Defense Intelligence Agency official; John Eisenberg, a former Justice Department official; Kenneth Juster, a former Commerce and State Department official; and Kevin Harrington, a former managing director and head of research for the global macro hedge fund Thiel Macro LLC — which was owned by Trump friend Peter Thiel.

Cattler will specialize in regional affairs, Eisenberg will be the NSC’s top legal adviser, Juster will oversee economic policy, and Harrington will be in charge of strategic planning.

All four of these new appointments have the title of deputy assistant to the president.

A White House spokesman told Politico that the goal was to reduce the size of Flynn’s staff so as to “run a very precise and orderly and quick process,” but multiple sources told Politico that staffers that they were concerned this organization structure will lead to an insular policymaking process within the White House.

This isn’t the first time that reports have leaked about federal staffers and policymakers being displeased with how the Trump administration is conducting himself. Many talk with Obama’s recently-departed personnel over how they can resist the president’s initiatives or created social media accounts to anonymously leak their dissatisfaction with the new president’s policies and actions, according to a report by The Washington Post on Tuesday. These developments among State Department employees prompted Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, to say that they “should either get with the program, or they can go.”


D.B. Hirsch
D.B. Hirsch is a political activist, news junkie, and retired ad copy writer and spin doctor. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.