Donald Trump’s White House has to be the most fascinating workplace in the western world.
I do not mean “fascinating” in the customary sense of being alluring or charming. I’m thinking of “fascinate” in what my dictionary says is its obsolete meaning: to “bewitch” or “cast an evil spell on.”
Obsolete or not, it is impossible escape the spell cast by a world power centre commanded by an uninformed and irrational head of state who thrives on chaos, who rules by tweet and whose three-step modus operandi is: deny, lie and attack.
Canada has never had a Trump. We have had prime ministers who seemed somewhat off-centre, including Mackenzie King who consulted with psychics and talked to his dead mother. But King was eccentric, not dangerously unhinged.
Trump has surrounded himself with a cast of characters who would not be believable even in a theatre of the politically absurd.
Let’s see. There’s the new communications director who calls himself “The Mooch” – Anthony Scaramucci, the potty-mouthed outsider in bespoke suits and designer sunglasses, who arrived, announced he would report only to the President, and set about settling old scores by firing anyone he thought was in his way.
He very publicly got rid of the man to whom he would have reported on a normal organization chart – the chief of staff, Reince Priebus, a faithful and conventional Republican, whose mission impossible was to make Trump pay some attention to the party line. He also got rid of Priebus’s loyal subaltern, Sean Spicer, the press secretary whose mission was equally impossible. It was to persuade the White House press corps that the president actually knew what he was doing.
Next, Steve Bannon, Trump’s policy guru, an alt right blogmeister, who boasts that his aim is to tear down the government so that it can be reconstructed. Bannon, who is said to have an even fouler vocabulary than The Mooch, was accused by the latter in an on-the-record interview with the New Yorker last week of trying to suck his own (expletive deleted).
Nice folks, eh? They are rivals for Trump’s attention and for control of White House operations. However, there is a shred of good news – chances are, only one will survive their struggle. With luck, neither will.
Let us not forget. Reince Priebus was barely out the door before Trump replaced him with a four-star Marine Corps general – John F. Kelly, who had been Trump’s secretary of Homeland Security. Kelly has a reputation as a soldier’s soldier, a straight shooter, a man who believes in order, discipline and the chain of command. Chaos is not his thing.
How long he will last as chief of staff is anyone’s guess. Last week, when he should have been paying attention to his health insurance law as it went down to defeat in the Senate, Trump issued an edict – by tweet, naturally – that transgender individuals be barred from military service. He did it without consulting or informing his defence secretary and the heads of the armed services.
Finally, protecting Trump’s flanks, are two family members who – nepotism be damned – have offices and (unpaid) positions in the White House. They are his daughter, Ivanka Trump, and her husband, Jared Kushner.
As far as can be determined, Kushner’s mandate is to bring peace to the Middle East. Ivanka’s is trickier. She has to protect her father from the likes of Bannon and The Mooch, who would drain the Washington swamp by turning it into a sewer. While she is at it, she must protect her father from a more formidable threat – from Trump himself.
We don’t seem to generate such drama in Ottawa in the Prime Minister’s Office, as far as we know.
Justin Trudeau goes steadfastly about his prime ministerial business – hugging refugees, taking selfies, marching in Gay Pride parades and posing for the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. How frightfully Canadian! How thoroughly boring!