The big question prompted by White House adviser Steve Bannon’s departure is whether President Donald Trump will engender more loyalty and self-discipline from his staff on matters of policy and protocol.
So far a few of Trump’s chosen subordinates have stood out for their stunning shows of insubordination.
One obvious example is Bannon — who clearly suggested to a left-wing magazine that Trump’s “fire and fury” threat against North Korea over its nukes was beside the point since economic rivalry with China takes regional precedence.
The other obvious example is Anthony Scaramucci who perhaps might have lasted longer than 10 days as communications director if he hadn’t so openly defied and denounced those in the hierarchy Trump established.
Much has been published from those on the scene describing a chaotic, divided, self-interested, leaky presidential staff — and about Trump’s looking to close relatives and longtime business aides for advice and aid.
But it is clear from afar that these underlings are operating in a workplace where the tone is set by a celebrity-in-chief — whose critics note he does a pretty good job of undercutting some of his own arguments using his mouth and iPhone.
Last Thursday the president appealed for the preservation of Confederate statues. “You can’t change history, but you can learn from it,” he said.
Everyone sane can accept that statement by itself — no matter how they feel about the symbolic debate.
But hours later, in another context, Trump mangled history by coyly alluding to an urban legend of how U.S. General John Pershing pacified Muslim insurgencies in the Philippines through a supposed atrocity nobody can show ever happened.
To whom Trump listens, and when, has become a big theme in Washington’s tabloid opera as it relates to policy.
Bannon had a clear stake in the “antiglobalist” right and thus some overlap with left-wing nationalists who, say, opposed trade agreements of recent decades. Trump’s politics are geared to his adopted Republican Party and not his former Democratic Party, but still vague on governance.
Nobody so far can point to a document or description or budget that says precisely how the president proposes to fix health care, or cut taxes without ballooning the deficit, or fund roads, bridges and dams.
Trump has proved ready to blame outsiders who fault him. But can he show he’s leading his inner circle and not just winging it? If not, Bannon’s departure may end up making little difference to those outside the Beltway.