In the movie “Animal House,” a young Kevin Bacon dressed in ROTC uniform had a memorable moment near the film’s end in which he is trampled flat by panicked parade viewers as he repeatedly insists, “all is well” and “remain calm.” That disconnect between reality and the empty claims of an authority figure was awfully funny 40 years ago. Well, the latest version of this proved a hoot this week, too — as well as earning Alternative Fact of the Week honors — when President Donald Trump announced there wasn’t any chaos in the White House, “only great energy.”
“The new Fake News narrative is that there is CHAOS in the White House,” the president tweeted Tuesday. “Wrong! People will always come & go, and I want a strong dialogue before making a final decision. I still have some people that I want to change (always seeking perfection). There is no Chaos, only great Energy!”
Ah, where to begin. The abrupt departure of Gary D. Cohn, one of Mr. Trump’s top economic advisers as director of the National Economic Council was the most recent and high-profile departure but was hardly the only one. Just in the past two weeks, there’s been Hope Hicks, his communications director, hitting the road as well as Rob Porter, the staff secretary who left over abuse allegations. And don’t forget the fall of aide Omarosa Manigault-Newman, Health Secretary Tom Price, the inexplicable Sebastian Gorka, who supposedly had some involvement in foreign policy, or real-life Sith Lord Steve Bannon. Not since Omarosa was a regular on “The Apprentice,” where each week a contestant was dramatically ejected from the boardroom, has a Trump enterprise produced such a rush to the exits.
In all, an estimated 43 percent of top White House advisers have hit the bricks in the first 13 months in office, a turnover rate that dwarfs his predecessors’ (Barack Obama’s was pegged at 24 percent after the first two full years, according to The Brookings Institution). That’s not great energy, that’s an advertisement for LinkedIn or Glassdoor. People aren’t looking to put West Wing experience on their resume these days, they’re looking to put West Wing departure on it.
But wait, there’s more. Mere staff turnover is hardly the only, or necessarily the best, barometer of how chaotic Mr. Trump’s world has become. Is he even on speaking terms with Attorney General Jeff “Mr. Magoo” Sessions? What about his chief of staff, Gen. John F. Kelly, who got flamed on cable TV this week by Anthony Scaramucci of all people. You may remember he’s the Trump ally with the 10-day career as communications director but who apparently still stays in touch. What about disgraced son-in-law Jared Kushner, who was supposed to find peace in the Middle East but lost his security clearance instead? Or adult film star Stormy Daniels with whom Mr. Trump absolutely did not have a relationship but whom his lawyer paid $130,000 in hush money anyway (and against whom Mr. Trump’s legal team last week got a temporary restraining order to prevent her from discussing the past despite her lack of a relationship with the president)?
President Trump’s tariff talk this week was chaotic all by itself. First, there was a hard line on steel and aluminum, then the stock market tanked, some of the country’s closest allies threatened retaliation, congressional Republicans pushed back, and Mr. Cohn resigned in protest. By Thursday, the message started softening. Where is he on the subject today? How about tomorrow? His recent reversals on gun control and DACA were similarly mind-bending.
And that’s not even mentioning the elephant in the room — special counsel Robert Mueller III and his investigation into Russian meddling in the last election, which keeps drawing in people from Mr. Trump’s circle who, with the possible exception of former campaign aide Sam Nunberg who proved chaotic all by himself in a series of TV interviews this week, keep spilling the beans. What was the level of contact and cooperation between the Trump campaign and Russian authorities? Is it collusion to encourage a foreign government to get dirt on your political opponent through illegal means like, say, hacking email? This chaos business could get a whole lot more chaotic, or, as Mr. Trump might say, there’s going to be a lot more “great energy” where that came from.
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