A new Politico report, based on interviews with almost a dozen White House aides and agency staffers, describes an “environment of fear” in which staffers are suspicious of each other, of the press, of anti-Trump department staffers, and overwhelmingly, of the CIA and the “deep state.” Shockingly, an administration that values conspiracy over fact and loyalty over competence is now reportedly caught in a whirlpool of self-inflicted psychosis.
It’s an environment of fear that has hamstrung the routine functioning of the executive branch. Senior advisers are spending much of their time trying to protect turf, key positions have remained vacant due to a reluctance to hire people deemed insufficiently loyal, and Trump’s ambitious agenda has been eclipsed by headlines surrounding his unproven claim that former President Barack Obama tapped his phone lines at Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign.
One senior administration aide, who like most others interviewed for this story spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the degree of suspicion had created a toxicity that is unsustainable.
“People are scared,” he said, adding that the Trump White House had become “a pretty hostile environment to work in.”
According to sources, staffers are using encrypted apps, not speaking in meetings from fear of leaks, and spending “hours” in the office dissecting palace intrigue stories. Time that could be better spent, perhaps, deciding what they think about Israel or spelling words better. One source told Politico that “Everyone at the top is so suspicious that it trickles down the org chart,” and it’s noted that Trump himself has been reported to have a substantial taste for surveillance; it’s also worth pointing out that Trump likes to accuse others of doing things he himself has been accused of.
That’s not to say that this paranoia is coming out of nowhere. There are certainly government employees who are not fans of the president, and the leaks bursting from Trump’s White House are fairly unprecedented. But like—of course? This was going to be messy! It isn’t really a normal situation! The president is incompetent and unstable, his staff is incompetent and unstable, he’s threatening alliances, he’s a national security risk in a billion different ways, his right-hand man admires Lenin and snuck himself into the NSC and wants to “deconstruct the administrative state”—and they actually seem to be doing it, minus the “administrative” part.
He’s threatening the Intelligence Community, he’s threatening the EPA, he’s threatening the State Department, not to mention the fact that he’s threatening democracy. It’s pretty weird for a White House that is loudly waging war on government agencies to be this terrified of bureaucratic hostility.