If you’re reading this furtively on your secure phone during a senior staff meeting in Washington, and if the room you’re standing in has no corners and you can look out a window and see a lot of pretty roses planted outside, and if your boss is carrying on about what a mess everything is and how incompetent you are, then listen to what I’m about to say very carefully, because you may not have much time.
Leave the room as quietly as you can. Find a box. Go back to your office, pack up your things, leave the badge on the desk and go.
It’s hard to get perspective when you’re living in a bunker, sacrificing sleep and solid meals, holding tightly onto a dream you’ve had since you were a kid. It’s impossible to see how desolate it looks from the outside, how inevitable the finale.
But maybe you’ve seen that terrific movie “Get Out,” about the dude who finds himself stuck in a house full of deranged predators he thought were his friends?
Yeah, I know this is hard to get your head around, but you’re the black guy.
Because every day you spend at the White House now, trying to keep this thing on the tracks, is a disservice to yourself, and ultimately to the rest of us.
I get why you wanted the job, I really do — even if you didn’t especially know or trust Donald Trump, even if you rooted for someone else in the primaries. Serving was the patriotic thing to do. No one should blame you for that.
I, too, thought it was possible, if unlikely, that Trump could be a force for good, a reformist rather than an arsonist. With some experienced hands to guide him, with just an ounce of humility, it didn’t seem crazy that he could figure out how to reinvent himself — yet again — as a kind of confounding pragmatist.
And what were you supposed to do? Turn down the chance to become a James Baker or a Peggy Noonan? Leave the guy to figure it out on his own, surrounded by nothing but his dilettante kids and some alt-right conspiracy freaks?
We all saw what happened when he let that Stephen Miller character defend the travel ban on the Sunday shows. It was like sending out an undertaker to entertain kids at the Chuck E. Cheese. No, Trump needed some professionalism, and you were right to answer the call.
But here’s the thing: all that stuff about history and transforming government? That all ended this week. You just haven’t internalized it yet.
Every president gets a narrow window in which to accomplish something real. I don’t mean just undoing what the last guy did in his last 12 minutes in the chair, or a bunch of vague executive orders that direct all Cabinet agencies to take immediate steps to form a preliminary plan to make America great again.
I mean actual legislating. Even a president whose party controls Congress gets maybe 10 months — the period stretching from the glow of the transition to the onset of midterm elections — to push through any big, meaningful agenda items. After that, anything you do is bound to be both a grind and a painful compromise, assuming you have the skill and the public approval rating needed to negotiate even that.
That whack you just heard was the sound of Trump’s governing window slamming shut. Forget his vision for health care or the tax code — he couldn’t pass one of those little novelty footballs through Congress right now. Anything that reaches his desk will be purely coincidental.
After all this stuff about trying to shut down an FBI probe and gossiping with the Russians about top secret assets, the only thing the Senate’s going to be debating for the next few months is whether it needs a special prosecutor or an investigative commission.
And what happens to you in the meantime? Let me direct your attention to Rod Rosenstein, a career prosecutor so highly regarded that he was able to serve as a U.S. attorney for more than a decade under presidents of both parties, and whose reputation Trump treated like a hand towel at one of his hotels before Rosenstein managed to strike back by naming a special counsel.
Or the decorated general H.R. McMaster, universally hailed as a solid statesman when Trump hired him a few months ago, whom future historians may now get confused with H.R. Haldeman.
And I won’t even bother with poor Sean Spicer.
Trump is a reputation vortex, plain and simple. He feeds off credibility the way a vampire sucks blood. Sooner or later, if you hang around, and if you have any integrity left, he will expertly find a way to compromise it.
And that’s assuming you even have the option to hang around. That growing murmur of dissatisfaction among Republicans in Congress has to find an outlet somewhere. Very soon it will occur to Trump, if it hasn’t already, that nothing short of a full and public reset will assuage party leaders who are sick of the “drama,” to use Mitch McConnell’s word, and who are on the verge of abandoning him altogether.
Richard Nixon tried this same thing, you’ll recall. He very publicly axed the aides who’d been his most loyal and committed, because that was the only way to show how upstanding a guy he really was.
And what do you think’s happening to you when Trump hits that giant reset button? You think you’re still going to have an office when the chief of staff, the senior advisers and the press secretary make their trail of tears across the South Lawn?
If you go now, there will still be some law firms or lobbying shops that will look past this debacle. Or cable networks — they’ll hire any Republican who’s ever been in the same room with Trump for 20 seconds.
Who knows? If you’re not around when the whole thing finally craters, and if you haven’t yet broken any laws, Mike Pence might even hire you back.
But forget about you for a minute. Think about us. Think about the country, for a change.
This disastrous start to a presidency only becomes truly untenable in a couple of ways. One is that he gets impeached or removed from office some other way, which seems pretty unlikely, even now.
The other is that the professionals who work for him find some inner steel and walk out, because they can’t abide the stifling of federal investigations, or the lies and dangerous abuses of power, or the manifest ineptitude of a family-run regime, or the increasingly bizarre servicing of Russian autocrats.
High-level defections would paralyze this White House and send a message to Republicans nationwide — a cry for help. Something would have to give.
Maybe Congress would act, or maybe Trump would finally acknowledge how deep he’s into it and turn the operation over to serious governing types. Think of it as a necessary intervention, while the damage can still be contained.
Leaving with what’s left of your integrity isn’t just the smart career move. It’s the patriotic thing to do now.
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