At the best of times, the White House must be a pretty chaotic environment to work in. And whatever your politics, it is probably fair to say that the present is not one of the better times. President Donald J. Trump is having an insanely difficult time both filling his administration with new hires, and keeping those new hires longer than a dishwasher at a chain restaurant. Life inside the White House sure seems to have gotten a lot weirder in the past few months. And we've found the stories that prove it.
On any given day, a president is typically expected to read about as much material as a college student cramming for an exam, if that exam was about drones shooting up Yemeni villages. But Trump famously doesn't like reading.
So American intelligence agencies have been told to keep their reports short and free of nuance: Trump's intelligence reports are about 25 percent of the length of Obama's and allow no space for dissenting opinions. Policy papers have also been trimmed from 3-6 pages down to a single page, with lots of graphics and maps. Saddest of all, the National Security Council has taken things a step further by "strategically" including Trump's name as often as possible, knowing that he tends to keep reading if he sees his name being mentioned.
Which means we all effectively live in a Choose Your Own Adventure being read by a moron.
A bigger problem than just these oversimplified briefings, as the guy who used to deliver Obama's briefings pointed out, is that apparently Trump often doesn't even bother to read them. Which can lead to Trump embarrassing himself in talks with foreign leaders, or drafting woefully inept executive orders, or signing off on documents he doesn't know the meaning of. It's almost enough to make you want FOX News to start doing a special "Morning Briefing" segment that airs exclusively to the Oval Office.
To be fair to Trump, if we were elected president we would also absolutely goof around on Twitter all day. To be less fair to Trump, we absolutely should not be President. It's OK tweeting a bit when you're on your break from the local Jamba Juice, but it's a bit less acceptable when your ramblings can affect the economy and international relations.
Trump's staff agrees, which is why they do anything they can to keep him off social media. According to a Politico interview with former campaign staffers, the key is constant praise, not unlike how you might tell your dog that he's a good boy for resisting the urge to eat out of the garbage. By putting lots of positive media in front of Trump, he might not feel the need to vomit 140 characters into the world for a bit. Also like a dog, his staff worry about leaving him alone for hours at a time. In Trump's case, that's because he watches too much television, gets annoyed with what he sees, and takes his complaints to Twitter.
Do they make cones of shame for hands?
Other techniques for keeping Trump happy have included hanging a map displaying his electoral victory in the West Wing, giving the whole place an eery vibe of "high school quarterback showing off his trophies while his adult life falls apart around him." Trump loves this thing; he's also asked the Washington Post to put it up on their front page, and handed out copies during interviews, months after he was elected. It's all so sad that if he wasn't capable of killing us all, we'd want to cry.
Sometimes the cheerleading is a little less metaphorical. While Trump was giving a speech at the CIA's headquarters, he was passionately cheered ... by non-CIA Trump supporters stuck in the front rows for that specific purpose. This annoyed the CIA, who consider themselves apolitical and, like the rest of us, probably don't appreciate being herded into a meeting to listen to someone complain about how hard and unfair their job is. They were also annoyed that Trump's tiresome, self-serving speech was done in front of the CIA's Memorial Wall.
How often should you boast during a eulogy? Experts are not divided on this subject at all.
But at least it kept him off of Twitter for several minutes, so thanks for continuing to make the necessary sacrifices, CIA.
As of June 4th, Trump has taken 24 trips to golf courses during his presidency, or about four times as many as the average retired dad in the same timespan. Now, being president is a stressful job that needs some downtime, and golf can have political or diplomatic benefits if done with the right people. It's like masturbation for presidents -- everyone does it, and there's no shame in admitting it. But considering that Trump both frequently slammed Obama for his time on the links and swore that if he were elected he would be too busy to ever golf, the optics are not suuuper great.
Ian MacNicol/Getty Images
Trump's aides are aware of this, and now do everything they can to disguise his trips. When Trump visited his golf courses near Mar-a-Lago in February, his aides refused to acknowledge that golf occurred, even after the pro-golfers he played with discussed the games. When caught, they tried to downplay it -- when Rory McIlroy told a golf website about what it was like to shoot 18 holes with Trump, the White House insisted that Trump only played a couple of holes, and that he didn't even like it and was only doing it because Rory needed it.
But that's just simple, honest lying. Less understandable are the sitcom-style shenanigans they've pulled to cover up these little golf trips. Like when Trump's aides subjected reporters to a literal blackout by putting plastic over the doors and windows at the club where he was golfing with Japan's prime minister.
This is all normal as hell.
There's privacy that's needed by a President in his downtime and then there's the privacy needed by a serial killer tormenting victims in his basement. It is now fair to say that Trump may just be drifting towards the latter.
Every administration tries to control the media in its efforts to advance the president's agenda. But seeing as Trump's agenda is comprised entirely of rambling, contradictory statements about whatever he saw on TV five minutes earlier, that's left his aides a lot of freedom when interpreting his wishes. Which, according to a Vanity Fair investigation, has led to a Cold War between the president's top advisors, Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
Which, according to a Google search, has led to some hot steamy fanfiction.
The media is their battlefield of choice, lackeys of both men regularly contacting reporters to plant stories about their rival or other close advisors of the president, like his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images
Like a Neiman Marcus mannequin secretly plotting a murder.
The main reason the White House so closely resembles Mean Girls is that while experienced politicians take office alongside a staff that's worked together for years, Trump's largely inexperienced administration was mostly thrown together at the last minute. With few clear goals, no obvious chain of command, and Trump himself actively encouraging competition, everyone thinks their way of doing things is best, and isn't hesitant to stab a few people in the back along the way.
Here's the weirdest part. The evident best way to influence Trump isn't to sit down and have a conversation -- it's to get your ideas into the news he absorbs. For example, when cable news began to go on and on about how Bannon was a master manipulator and the de facto president, Trump slashed his responsibilities, a huge victory for the several hundred people who leaked the stories about Bannon in the first place. An even cruder approach is to just plunk some fake news on Trump's desk. Politico reported that Deputy National Security Advisor K.T. McFarland slipped Trump a printout of two Time Magazine covers which got Trump angry about climate change and the duplicitous media:
The problem with this is that the 70s cover is a fairly well-known fake. In this case, staffers were able to chase down Trump and wrestle the phone out of his hands before he could tweet about it, but it does illustrate how people trying to slip him news stories -- fake or otherwise -- do influence him. In fact, the first thing Trump's staff does when he gets upset about a news story is to try to figure out who made him read it and why. Worse, this incredible system of manipulation and deceit affects more than just White House office politics, it appears to affect actual policy. When Trump told his team to move forward on a tax plan, it was clearly based on one laid out in a New York Times op-ed that someone made him read.
And now you know why we keep writing those op-eds calling for Federal Free Beer and Wings Day. It only takes one time to work, people.
Becoming president doesn't mean that you're instantly handed the folder full of state secrets about what really happened in Area 51 and the location of the secret island currently housing Elvis and John F. Kennedy. There's just too much information out there, so there's always a filter of sorts as intelligence agencies decide what's most relevant. But these days, it seems like American agencies are holding back an unusual amount of information from Trump. Part of this might just be spite, given Trump's habit of expressing scorn for the intelligence community. But a bigger concern for them might be his habit of casually announcing classified information to rival governments.
David B. Gleason/Wiki Commons
"He said what? To who?"
In May, while meeting with Russian officials, Trump reportedly boasted about the quality of the intelligence he received every day, revealing details of a particular terrorist plot he'd recently been informed of. The problem with that is that revealing you know something can let someone fairly quickly guess how you know it, which can in turn compromise the original source of the intelligence, a source who might really not want to be known to the Russians. America's relationship with the Russians is complex; we don't necessarily need to be hostile with them anymore, but they have very different goals and ambitions than we do, which means a degree of caution is still needed when dealing with them.
"Also check this out! It's got all my nuclear codes and a snack for later."
This could be more than a one-time problem -- in the wake of this story leaking, an unnamed European country warned that they may stop sharing their intelligence with the United States, because they don't like the idea of their sources being compromised by a child president trying to impress people.
Presidential trips abroad require enough flow charts to give an MBA student a wet dream. Everything from the scheduling, to the security, to the protestor-ignoring is mapped down to the smallest detail. Details which -- if you're planning a trip for Trump at least -- will likely be upended at a moment's notice for the most pitiful of reasons.
Ian MacNicol/Getty Images
Like not enough golf carts.
For instance, during Trump's recent trip to the Middle East, he was scheduled to give a speech at Israel's historic Masada fortress. However, upon learning that his helicopter couldn't land directly on the site because of some bullshit about how that's super bad for 2,000-year-old structures, he abruptly called the whole thing off. Which is weird; it wasn't like the trip required a six-day odyssey through the desert. Previous presidents have helicoptered to the base of the fort and then taken a cable car up.
This wasn't the only peculiar decision Trump made during his trip to Israel. Notably, he decided to spend just 15 minutes at Yad Vashem, the national Holocaust memorial, which not only threw a wrench into the schedule, it also, according to a former American ambassador to Israel, soured the mood of the visit.
Amos Ben Gershom/GPO via Getty Images
Is it not obvious that Israelis take the Holocaust pretty seriously? It seems obvious to us.
According to The New York Times, other countries have been scrambling to figure out how to engage with Trump when he visits. The key strategies that have emerged include congratulating Trump on his electoral victory, assuming he knows next to nothing about the land he's visiting, and keeping the conversation short enough to match his attention span. If the hosts can somehow engineer events to let him "win" the trip, that's also good.
Saudi Arabia seemed to have this figured out. During his recent visit they ensured that well-done steak with ketchup would be offered alongside traditional meals.
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
They also gave him a ball to play with.
Even more hilariously, during an intermission in a series of meetings in Sicily, while the rest of the G7 leaders walked a few hundred yards through a historic town, the hosts also thoughtfully managed to wrangle up a golf cart so that President Trump wouldn't have to do that at all.
Given everything we've just told you, it shouldn't be a surprise to learn that there's been talk of impeachment. That doesn't necessarily mean much -- every president gets threatened with impeachment. But even beyond that, the Trump administration does seem somewhat less stable than some of its predecessors, which is having some knock-on effects on the staff.
First there's all the internal politics and backstabbing and gross, overcooked steaks. That'd take a toll on anyone, and staffers are evidently getting regular check-ups from friends and family on the state of their mental health.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
"Hello, darkness, my old friend ..."
Worse still might be Trump's own treatment of his staff. Trump has long had a habit of telling people to say something, then immediately undercutting them. For instance, after H.R. McMaster took a break from the wrestling career he obviously had with that name, and become the national security advisor, he often found himself having to defend Trump's actions in the media. In particular, shortly after news leaked of Trump revealing classified information to Russia, he stated that he was at the meeting, and that those reports were false. But the very next day, Trump said he had given information to Russia but that it was like, totally nothing to worry about. One of the effects of all of this was that McMaster -- a previously fairly well-regarded general -- now looks like a lying chump.
And whether you like Trump or not, this is the team that will have to step up to the plate if America enters a crisis. They're the ones answering the phones, and putting out fires, and distributing copies of the electoral map to first-responders. So maybe we should all be a little concerned that the White House currently sounds like a workplace that any sane person would ditch the moment the local Arby's made an offer.
For more from the Trump Dump, check out 7 Weird Side Effects Of President Trump (Nobody Saw Coming) and The Secret Good President Trump Is Doing For America.
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