No Honor Among Thieves in the Trump White House

In Star Wars lore, the ancient Sith were once a large order of acolytes much like the Jedi. Unfortunately, their ideology of selfish greed and lust for power led to perpetual murder, betrayal, internecine conflict and revolt such that the order as such was disbanded in favor of the Rule of Two: one master and one apprentice, each looking over their shoulder lest they be replaced and betrayed by the other.

Apropos of that:

he White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, has cooperated extensively in the special counsel investigation, sharing detailed accounts about the episodes at the heart of the inquiry into whether President Trump obstructed justice, including some that investigators would not have learned of otherwise, according to a dozen current and former White House officials and others briefed on the matter…

Mr. McGahn and his lawyer, William A. Burck, could not understand why Mr. Trump was so willing to allow Mr. McGahn to speak freely to the special counsel and feared Mr. Trump was setting up Mr. McGahn to take the blame for any possible illegal acts of obstruction, according to people close to him. So he and Mr. Burck devised their own strategy to do as much as possible to cooperate with Mr. Mueller to demonstrate that Mr. McGahn did nothing wrong.

Loyalty is not reciprocated in Trumpworld, and every underling expects to be the fall guy for their criminal superior. It’s part of the institutional culture that Greg Sargent laid out yesterday:

Omarosa’s machinations shed new light on the peculiar loyalty code at Trumpworld’s core. It is striking that Trump’s family members feel so betrayed, because Trump himself is not generally a loyal person. He has long run his operations and conducted himself personally with little fealty to any loyalty ethic — except perhaps to a very small group that mostly includes very close family members (and even there strains have shown). He has left behind a long trail of people he betrayed, ripped off, and used and cast aside. And no one knows this better than his own family members…

When the Omarosa tapes first started surfacing, Trump blasted his own former director of African American outreach as a “lowlife,” leading many to chortle that Trump had revealed his own bad judgment in hiring. But the better way to view this is that Trump hired her expecting at the outset that she would inevitably prove a lowlife who would turn on him at some point for a quick buck — because Trump thinks just about everyone is a lowlife and expects everyone to always sell each other out eventually…

“Trump views life in very Darwinian terms, and believes that people are going to turn on each other at any moment,” O’Brien told me. In Trump’s universe, “only those who are untrusting and hard-headed survive.”

Beyond its moral perversity, this is an unsustainable institutional culture. It may work haltingly in a shady family enterprise where all underlings are expected to kiss the ring and turn on each other to seek favors. The mafia functions similarly. Organizations that continually skirt the law and operate in the shadows must perforce run this way to a certain extent, but they cannot run efficiently. And turnover is high, including at the very top.

But you can’t run a public institution on these values. Ayn Rand’s famed Galt’s Gulch would tear itself to pieces within months as each ubermensch tried to take advantage of the others and hold pogroms against accused parasites and “low lifes.”

When Trump’s White House does fall, this is how it will do so: with each person looking to save their skin at the expense of the others, a den of thieves entirely without honor. As Yoda said, “once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny. Consume you it will.”

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.