The Wall Street Journal is out with a report tonight that Trump plans to “revamp” top US intelligence agencies, including the CIA and the Director of National Intelligence, which seems to mean he wants to cut them back and restaff them with loyalists. This comes after months of him voicing great skepticism over their reports about the Russian email hacks, and showing a general display of distrust and disrespect toward the intelligence community.
While a dose of skepticism toward our intelligence agencies is healthy, the complete contempt Trump has shown them and his desire to remake them in ways that please his ego is extremely dangerous for national security and for the general concept of democracy. As this news has broken tonight, people with a background in intelligence, such as Evan McMullin, are pointing out that Trump is going out of his way to discredit any individual or entity that can act as a check on him or undermine the power of his victory. We’ve seen something similar since the very beginning of the campaign in how Trump has attacked the media, labeling them corrupt, biased and nasty, among many other things. His crowds thrilled at Trump calling out the “dishonest” press in the middle of his rallies. This was part of the very same tactic.
This got me thinking about the fact that Trump has really never been in a position where there was anyone who could him accountable or undermine his authority in any way (with only very short-lived, rare exceptions like during his bankruptcy restructurings). I suppose that’s become pretty obvious over the course of the last two years. But it’s not simply that he doesn’t follow the traditional “rules” of politics or politeness. When Trump entered the political scene, many Americans were hungry for a non-politician who would do things a new way, so breaking the rules in that way was part of his appeal. But another part of his appeal for many of his fans is that he’s this big, successful businessman (in their view). However, something that didn’t get much notice during the campaign is that Trump’s businesses are all private businesses (with one exception*). So even throughout his business life, Trump has been accountable to no one.
Unlike with a publicly held business, Trump never had to answer to shareholders. That’s not to imply that shareholders have tons of say over how a public company is run, but if executives are running a company into the ground, shareholders will respond. Whenever Trump ran a company into the ground, he just moved on to a reality show or found someone new to license his name, thereby maintaining the perception of the successful billionaire businessman. And because they’re all private, Trump’s companies never had to reveal any financials or make any of their documents public (the lack of financial disclosure is the only sense in which this topic was touched on during the campaign). With that arrangement, it was difficult for anyone to challenge his puffed up, hyperbolic presentation of himself. It was easy for him to keep up the façade of the booming businessman (even with the multiple bankruptcies) because there was rarely anyone looking beyond the surface, and it was a nearly impossible task for those who tried.
In this new world, the Trump-is-about-to-be-President world, there are people observing him, examining him, questioning him, digging for information on him around the clock. And this is an unbearable new affront for him, so Trump is using whatever manipulations he can to lock them out. It’s crucial that he is not permitted to succeed.
*The only public company Trump ever ran was started back in the mid-1990s, when he brought his Trump Hotel & Casino Resorts public. This venture was essentially a scheme right from the start for him to shift his debts onto the investors, and the shareholders lost massive amounts of money by the time the business filed for bankruptcy a decade later. They sued, and Trump ultimately settled for more than $17.5 million.