- President Donald Trump has often seemed at odds with his national security staff.
- Those staffers appear to have joked about that disconnect at least once.
- But, according to The New Yorker, those staffers seemed to actively ignore the strange dynamics of the Trump administration.
Throughout his time in office, President Donald Trump tweets and off-the-cuff remarks have often seemed at odds with, or even in opposition to, the stated positions of his administration.
According to a New Yorker profile of former national security adviser Army Gen. H.R. McMaster by Patrick Radden Keefe, McMaster and other current and former national security officials often steered clear of “the profound upheaval of the present moment” under Trump.
Many of them evinced “a sense of willful disconnection” to that dynamic – with the exception of at least one incident.
“According to a former official, at another meeting on North Korea in the White House Situation Room, K.T. McFarland joked, ‘You know, the President could send one tweet and all of this will be overturned!'” Radden Keefe writes.
- Thomson Reuters
McFarland was a veteran of Republican administrations, but came to the Trump White House from Fox News. As deputy national security adviser, her style reportedly grated with many of the more non-political members of the national security staff. She was nominated to be ambassador to Singapore in May 2017 but withdrew her nomination in February, after it stalled in the Senate.
“We all laughed,” the former official told Radden Keefe of the incident. “But this was the deputy national-security adviser. I mean, it’s scary.”
“When I asked people who worked for McMaster if it was difficult to engage in a deliberative policy process when Trump might embrace a radically different course in one of his predawn tantrums, they reminded me, with the frozen smile of a Stepford wife, that ‘different Presidents communicate in different ways,'” Radden Keefe writes.
- REUTERS/Carlos Barria
While this refusal “to acknowledge obvious anomalies” may have been a sign of fear about Trump’s wrath, Radden Keefe adds, “I also sensed, in the robotically sanguine accounts of McMaster’s team, a collective delusion.”
Shunned by the “Never Trump” crowd on the center-right, disdained by those on the left who denounced Trump’s “America first” project, and scorned by those on the far-right, led by Steven Bannon, who did not see them as extreme enough, those staffers may have adopted a “bunker mentality,” according to Radden Keefe.
“At times, they seemed to be living out the twelve-step adage about faking it until you make it,” he notes. “If they instituted a policy architecture resembling what had come before, maybe they could contain the chaos emanating from the Oval Office.”
Trump appeared to have little regard for that policymaking process, however.
“There are two parallel tracks-there’s the interagency process, and then Trump makes a decision,” a former National Security Council official said. “But there’s often no suggestion that he’s making decisions with reference to that process. It’s two ships in the night.”
On March 22, Trump called McMaster to tell the three-star general of his firing. The morning after his ouster, McMaster called an all-hands meeting in the same auditorium where he first addressed staffers as national security adviser. They gave him a three-minute standing ovation.