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Donald Trump



Reflections on Crazytown

The New York Times has published an Op-Ed piece by an anonymous senior official in the Trump administration who claims to be part of the „resistance“ within the White House against President Trump. The article came a day after excerpts were revealed from „Fear: Trump in the White House“, the latest book by Bob Woodward, a respected veteran journalist who uncovered the Watergate scandal.

An interview with Scott Lucas, Professor of American Studies at the University of Birmingham in the UK.

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Steve Crilley: what’s your reaction to these latest revelations?

Scott Lucas: Let me put the revelations in the New York Times into context: every administration has people who leak. It’s part of bureaucracy, it’s part of in-fighting, it’s part of the attempt by journalists to find out what’s happening on the inside. But this administration in the last 18 months has been the leakiest that I can ever recall, I mean almost on a day-to-day basis you’ve got information coming out about factions within the administration, or in this case, Trump’s unpredictability, his lack of knowledge, his almost irrational behaviour.

This week the sense of a dysfunctional administration led by someone who cannot lead has been crystallised by two events. First the revelations in the forthcoming book from Bob Woodward, the veteran journalist, based on more than a hundred interviews, in which officials are having to steal papers from Trump’s desk to prevent him from overreacting and taking certain action they see as counterproductive; where you have officials who were threatening to resign because of Trump apparently siding with white supremacists; where you have officials, senior officials, including his chief of staff, calling him a liar, an idiot, a moron; where you have, in the words of White House Chief of Staff John Kelly (according to the book although he denied it later), saying “we’re in Crazytown”.

You had that come out on the Tuesday and then on the Wednesday we get this senior administration official who brings it all together, who says: look, these aren’t just individuals on their own who are leaking this, we are actually working with each other because, even though we support the policies that the administration is supposedly pursuing, we think that the man at the top is not only a threat to us, he’s a threat to the American system.

Steve Crilley: Do you think this is also a call to Republicans, not Trump’s base, saying “we have this in hand, don’t dump us in the mid-term elections”?

Scott Lucas: I think it may be a call to support what they’re trying to do, if not in terms of specific policy, but it’s not a call to go out and vote Republic in November’s elections. I think the message is actually to Republicans in Congress: you’ve got to stand up to this individual, you’ve got to not just simply be co-dependent on him and allow him to get away with this because of your own individual interests, at some point you’ve got to call him to account (which by and large the Republicans in Congress have not done. So – in the words of another Republican, John Kasich, former presidential candidate and Governor of Ohio, the message here is don’t necessarily go out and vote Republican in November, vote for the best person. The person who at this point can deal with the critical issues. And I think in a way, this is going beyond a Democrat versus Republican issue, it’s going beyond a liberal versus conservative issue. Given this unique situation and threats, and that Trump actually thinks his own agencies are his enemies this is a question of the American system versus the man who is in the White House.

Steve Crilley: Mr Trump has responded with a Tweet that includes the word “treason” with a question mark, he said the source should be identified and handed over to the government. Has this person broken any law, can Mr Trump call in the security forces to find this person and bring them to justice?

Scott Lucas: What Donald Trump is trying to do, and has been trying to do since Tuesday, when he found out the Woodward revelations were coming out, has been ordering his staff to find anybody who spoke to Bob Woodward for the book. He doubled down on this yesterday by saying “find the person who wrote this New York Time piece. But it’s one thing to order your staff to find them and it’s another to say we are now going to put this person on the highest federal charges possible - charges that carry the death penalty – of treason against the United States.

No. Saying that the president is irresponsible, saying that the president is amoral, is not a specific crime against US security. Indeed the argument that this person would make, I suspect, in writing this is that in fact he is protecting security against the real threat, who is Donald Trump. And when Donald Trump reacts to this by saying that he hopes the press – the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN – goes out of existence within the next few years, when he says he doesn’t really want a free press, at least not one that criticises him, and then when he says “I don’t want anyone who criticises me and I am prepared to put them into court so they face the death penalty “ … I think that only reinforces what is in that Op-Ed, that at the end of the day Donald Trump is concerned about one thing, and it’s not the good of the nations, it’s the good of Donald Trump’s ego.

Steve Crilley: If there are internal forces trying to frustrate the president’s agenda – isn’t it strange that somebody would go public? Trump could just root out this person and bring in people more loyal to him …

Scott Lucas: I don’t think that works here because we’re talking about Donald Trump facing many, many people in multiple agencies. I think the person who wrote this is within the national security agencies.

(S)he makes reference to being troubled by Donald Trump’s embrace of Vladimir Putin and going soft on the Russians. (S)he talks about being troubled about Donald Trump’s support for autocrats and dictators, such as Kim Jong Un of North Korea. I think that tips off the idea that you have right now a State Department, a CIA and a military that are trying to contain Trump and push him off to the side. They have implemented sanctions against Russia over the opposition of the president. They are pursuing negotiations with North Korea and trying to do so while at the same time Donald Trump is talking about how much he loves Kim Jong Un. They are trying to maintain NATO when Donald Trump has threatened to withdraw from the alliance.

So I think it is not a question of Donald Trump versus one person writing in the New York Times, it is Donald Trump versus an American establishment, Donald Trump versus a set of rules and an approach to the world by the United States since 1945. I’ve said for months either Donald Trump wins or the American system wins, and this New York Times Op-Ed is simply one bit of headline gloss on that battle.

Steve Crilley: Do you have an idea of who this anonymous source is?

Scott Lucas: If I knew that I would be writing my own book! There are rumours that this person is connected to Vice President Mike Pence, because Pence has used a couple of key words that this person also uses such as “lodestar” and it may well be that this person has written speeches for Pence, or is adopting the language that Pence has used. There are, however, also clues that this person is probably connected with the national security agencies in some way.

But any good operative maintains deep cover and whoever wrote this is trying to make sure that their deep cover is protected even as Donald Trump is charging around shouting “treason!” and organising a witch hunt to find him or her.