We’ve all seen the photos. One of a president in his first year of office, youthful and clear-eyed, and another in his last year in office, gray-haired and weathered.
It’s no secret that working in the White House — any White House — takes its toll. It’s long hours, high-intensity and all-consuming, and for comparatively modest pay. Talk to anyone who’s done it, and they’ll tell you it feels like walking into a giant black hole, and finally emerging only to find you’ve aged 20 years, while everyone around you hasn’t.
But it seems like working in Donald Trump’s White House — even if just for 10 days — has a particularly deleterious effect on a person’s life.
Exhibit A, of course, is the very short saga of in-and-out Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci. While he was a colorful character and a self-detonating stick of dynamite ripe for “Saturday Night Live” parody, the pathos of his journey truly makes his story a tragedy, not a comedy.
The Greeks couldn’t write it any better. Just imagine: In the hopes that you land a White House job, you sell your stakes in your $11.4 billion hedge fund to a Chinese conglomerate. You miss the birth of your child to watch the President give a heavily mocked speech to Boy Scouts in West Virginia. Then your wife announces she wants a divorce.
After delivering an expletive-filled rant to a seasoned journalist — who, naturally, records it — you are summarily dismissed, having ticked off an entire generation of political operatives in Washington. All you have to show for your White House adventure is a trip aboard Air Force One and a couple of sad #MAGA (that’s the “Make America Great Again” hashtag) tweets.
Along the way, Scaramucci bent over backward to sing the President’s praises. Recall the comical mythmaking he spouted his first day on the job:
“I’ve seen this guy throw a dead spiral through a tire. I’ve seen him at Madison Square Garden with a topcoat on. He’s standing in the key; he’s hitting foul shots and swishing them, all right? He sinks 30-foot putts.” (Actually, Scaramucci said “3-foot putts”; the transcript later revised that to “30.”)
The genuflecting was for naught. If you’re not family, it seems President Trump has little affection for loyalty, putting hires both new and old in precarious positions. As New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman put it, “There are two types of nonfamily members in Trumpworld. Permanents and instruments. Sometimes instruments mistakenly think they’re permanents.”
Thinking back on the campaign, you can point to any number of mistaken instruments — Corey Lewandowski, Paul Manafort, Chris Christie, Rudy Giuliani — who all found themselves quickly on the outside of Trump’s inner circle once they proved useless or detrimental.
His White House has similarly been a revolving door of staffers who were either fired or resigned under duress. From Sean Spicer to Reince Priebus, Michael Short to Mike Dubke, Scaramucci is hardly alone in his abrupt departure.
Having staying power in this White House, particularly in its press shop, apparently means submitting to a “Hunger Games” kind of fight for your own survival.
This isn’t colorful speculation — it’s a known directive. “The President likes that competition,” says current White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. “He encourages it.”
In Scaramucci’s case, that encouragement apparently came in the form of the President’s “blessing,” according to Scaramucci, to publicly bully then-chief of staff Priebus.
Scaramucci delivered, calling Priebus a “f—ing paranoid schizophrenic, a paranoiac,” in a conversation with The New Yorker, which seemed to excite and delight Trump until he appointed John Kelly as chief of staff and changed his mind.
With a President this insecure and zealous for the demonstrated fealty of his staffers, the actual job of advising the President is going undone. Who could, for example, prep him for a meeting with a head of state, or hone his talking points on a new policy, when staffers are all busy slinging arrows at their fellow “Hunger Games” tributes?
It’s no wonder few want to fill the remaining jobs in Trump’s survival-of-the-unfittest White House. Those who have tried to serve inevitably leave as ineffective, embarrassed and worn-out dancing monkeys who gained little, if any, prestige or power, despite their proximity and devotion to the most powerful leader in the world.
Forcing your underlings to fight among one another might indeed weed out the disloyal and the lethargic. And it clearly pleases a childlike Trump, who delights in the desperate performances.
But it also wastes a lot of time. And as any President will tell you, time is not on anyone’s side in the White House.