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House of Cards: Trump’s Accumulating Worries

The White House is more and more looking like a house of cards. After 16 months the staff is demoralized, in disarray and divided, some prone to leak embarrassing news to the press. (Trump in January banned personal cell phones in the West Wing, indicating that he mistrusts everyone around him.) While Trump is reported to dislike firing people (in real life as opposed to his reality show The Apprentice), over 12 top officials have left so far, among them the secretary of state, who called him a moron. The high rate of staff turnover suggests that Trump lacks judgment; he picks people on the grounds and physical appearance, personal rapport, and expectations of loyalty winding up with a contentious cabinet that can’t act as a team. Trump in his narcissism demands to be the decision-maker. Having multiple views around him, he says, is good. Not that he necessarily listens to advice.

His son-in-law and top advisor Jared Kushner is in apparent legal troubles concerning his business dealings, and like Don Jr. is under investigation by the Mueller probe for Russia contacts during the campaign. His lawyer Michael Cohen has been indicted, and may well turn against the president if charged with crimes carrying lengthy prison terms. He has small children.

Scandals involving sexual harassment and assault have plagued this White House, while Trump has been generally supported the accused. He has himself been accused of, and indeed in the “Access Hollywood” tape virtually boasted of, sexual assault. His base may have brushed off criticisms of his private life up to this point, but now hes had to confess to his hush payments to Stormy Daniels—after denying (April 4) that he had any knowledge of them. And while he implausibly claims he didn’t know about the payments until after April 24, The Hill reports that he did know at this time that he had been paying Daniels (through Cohen) and had known it for months. So he lied on Air Force One. Not a big surprise to the people, but a humiliating experience for Trump.

His tweeting habit causes him to rave and rant spontaneously with minimal thought and analysis, causing most of us to cringe. His lawyers and advisors cringe. Chief of Staff Gen. John Kelly (who has reportedly called him an “idiot”) states that he doesn’t bother to read the tweets. Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) has declared that (former) Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, and Kelly are “those people that help separate our country from chaos.” Babysitters. trying to control a tantrum-prone child.

Trump’s former physician Harold Bornstein, dismayed by the Trump team’s raid on his office to steal his medical records shortly after the inauguration, now announces that his hyperbolic short letter concerning Trump’s health released by the Trump campaign in November 2015, was dictated by Trump himself. “His physical strength and stamina are extraordinary,” he wrote. “If elected, Mr. Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.” It was just another instance of Trump’s manipulative self-promotion.

Trump surely assumes that having seized Cohen’s documents the FBI has acquired intimate knowledge of his true wealth and its sources. And The Donald has to worry about developments in the Daniels’ case, especially if the identity of the man who allegedly threatened her can be found and traced to Cohen or Trump himself. He has to worry about the Russia probe and charges of obstruction if not collusion. He has to worry about the fact the special investigations tend to broaden out; the Whitewater investigation under Kenneth Starr in the 1990s wound up with Bill Clinton’s impeachment for the unrelated issue of office sex.

He has to worry about associates and even family members flipping on him. I imagine he has to worry about Melania’s reactions to all this stuff. He must wonder what’s on that disk that Daniels’ lawyer threatens to reveal, and whether the (alleged) Moscow hotel episode was captured on film. A marital separation would be embarrassing.

Meanwhile he must be frustrated by the fact that the men he calls “my generals” including an extraordinary number of cabinet members, continue to block his intentions. On April 4 he announced that the U.S. would be withdrawing its 2000 (?) troops from Syria. Put the Pentagon soon convinced him that the troops need to stay for the time being, as they lobby Congress for $ 300 million in arms for the Syrian opposition and continue to imagine that they can organize 65,000 Syrian militants for use (ostensibly) to destroy what’s left of ISIL He perhaps knows that his generals, the more they get to know him, hold his intelligence in contempt. He may be frustrated at how they keep challenging his grasp of foreign policy issues.

He has to worry too about the fact that even if he retains a 40% support base(or wait! a Rassmussen poll now says 49%), it might not necessarily help him if he moves against Mueller. A lot of Republicans have warned Trump against such action. If he does he could well get impeached or removed by Art. 25 of the Constitution. So he has to choose. Let the investigation run its course, confidant that it will find no “Russian collusion” or obstruction of justice. Or try to shut it down and produce a constitutional crisis and likely impeachment. Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.

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Gary Leupp is Professor of History at Tufts University, and holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: gleupp@tufts.edu

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