Wednesday, October 4, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He spent much of it directing the counter-spin to revelations that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called him "a fucking moron" and threatened to resign.

Tillerson's outburst was reported by NBC News this morning, prompting an extraordinary response from several different echelons of the Trump administration. Trump posted periodically on Twitter throughout the morning, condemning the "fake news" in general and NBC specifically. He also said that Tillerson had "totally refuted" the NBC report.

But in reality, Tillerson's "refuting" was highly qualified. He dutifully appeared before reporters to bemoan the situation and to deny that his loyalty to Trump had wavered, but conspicuously passed on a chance to explicitly deny the "moron" remark. (Later, CBS and CNN both independently verified the "moron" comment, as well as the fact that Trump had already known about it.)

Trump chose Tillerson in part for his close ties to the Putin regime in Russia, but the relationship has been strained from the start. The State Department has been working on a skeleton staff and has been pushed aside from its basic function of implementing US foreign policy. Trump was furious with Tillerson (among others) for what he perceived as insufficient support in the wake of his "many fine people" remarks about Klansmen and neo-Nazis. Last weekend, Trump publicly undermined Tillerson's attempts at backchannel diplomacy with North Korea on Twitter, which former diplomats said would normally lead to Tillerson's resignation.

Why does this matter?

  • It's bad if members of a president's cabinet hold him in this kind of contempt.
  • It's even worse if you can understand why members of his cabinet might feel that way.