A Paper-Ripping Perfect Metaphor for the Toddler Presidency

Is there a better metaphor for Trump’s spoiled toddler presidency than this?

Under the Presidential Records Act, the White House must preserve all memos, letters, emails and papers that the president touches, sending them to the National Archives for safekeeping as historical records.

But White House aides realized early on that they were unable to stop Trump from ripping up paper after he was done with it and throwing it in the trash or on the floor, according to people familiar with the practice. Instead, they chose to clean it up for him, in order to make sure that the president wasn’t violating the law.

Staffers had the fragments of paper collected from the Oval Office as well as the private residence and send it over to records management across the street from the White House for Larkey and his colleagues to reassemble.

“We got Scotch tape, the clear kind,” Lartey recalled in an interview. “You found pieces and taped them back together and then you gave it back to the supervisor.” The restored papers would then be sent to the National Archives to be properly filed away.

Lartey said the papers he received included newspaper clips on which Trump had scribbled notes, or circled words; invitations; and letters from constituents or lawmakers on the Hill, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

“I had a letter from Schumer — he tore it up,” he said. “It was the craziest thing ever. He ripped papers into tiny pieces.”

The President has no conception of history, his place in it, or the need to preserve records either for legal accountability or academic interest, as he scorns both. He tears up papers into little pieces as a nervous habit and then throws them on the floor like a slob, nor can he be compelled to stop.

Then long-suffering people have to come back and clean up his messes to comply with legal requirements and the demands of essential decency.

And now? The officials who did the painstaking work of reconstructing the president’s destroyed documents have been unceremoniously fired with no explanation given:

Lartey said he was fired at the end of the work day on March 23, with no warning. His top-secret security clearance was revoked, he said. Later, five boxes of his personal belongings were mailed to his home.

“I was stunned,” he said. “I asked them, ‘Why can’t you all tell me something?’ I had gotten comfortable. I was going to retire. I would never have thought I would have gotten fired.” He signed a pre-written resignation letter that stated he was leaving to pursue other opportunities. But he is still unemployed.

Young, who was terminated April 19, said he fought back and had his official status changed from “resigned” to “terminated.”

“I was coerced to sign a resignation letter at that time,” he said. “Then they escorted me to the garage and took my parking placard.”

He described the firing as traumatic and frustratingly Kafkaesque. “The only excuse that I’ve ever gotten from them,” he said, “was that you serve at the pleasure of the president.”

It is not clear if anyone is now preserving the President’s paper as the law requires. It’s worth noting that destroying documents in violation of the Records Act and firing the only people who were trying to preserve them is also an impeachable offense–certainly a more problematic offense than sending work emails on a private server.

But in Trumpworld where every day is a struggle to contain the burgeoning messes and historic scandals of an overgrown petulant child, something like this barely merits a wry also-ran piece on a lazy Sunday. Still, it’s a perfect metaphor for this presidency.

 

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.