Jared Yates Sexton is an associate professor at Georgia Southern University. He is the author of The People Are Going to Rise Like the Waters Upon Your Shore: A Story of American Rage.
"Even if you thought that this was not treasonous, or unpatriotic, or bad shit, and I happen to think it's all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately."
These words, in reference to Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with Russian lawyers, and reportedly spoken by former Trump strategist Steve Bannon, sent shock waves through the political establishment on Wednesday when The Guardian reported they were to be published in journalist Michael Wolff's upcoming book, Fire and Fury: Inside The Trump White House. The immediate reaction was surprise that Mr. Bannon had obviously turned on the man he'd helped make President and made sure to throw him under the bus on his way out.
Those anticipating a reaction didn't have to wait long: "When [Bannon] was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind," Mr. Trump said, before adding that Mr. Bannon "doesn't represent my base – he's only in it for himself."
Though this flare-up might have stunned some, the rift between the two men had been growing since Mr. Trump took the oath of office, as Mr. Bannon almost immediately began working against Jared Kushner and Reince Priebus, the President's son-in-law and chief of staff, respectively. Following Mr. Priebus's resignation, Mr. Bannon used his contacts in fringe media, including conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and Breitbart – the publication he'd helmed – to frame new chief of staff John Kelly and Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis as "globalists" who were effectively plotting a coup against the President.
What's most surprising in all of this is just how unsurprising it is. Mr. Trump has long employed a management style in which he's pitted his employees against one another, provoking palace intrigue, backstabbings and generally an environment where loyalty to anyone but himself is eradicated, leaving his businesses, and certainly his administration, dysfunctional environments. All of this is exacerbated, however, as the Trump administration isn't united by any particular philosophy, goal or even a desire to improve the country, but is rather a collection of individuals looking to use its power and influence to enrich or empower themselves.
Those individuals certainly take their cue from Mr. Trump, who seems devoid of any principles or philosophies of his own. Just as he chased riches by hawking vodka and steaks, the President won power with a reactionary agenda that leveraged growing fear of immigrants and Muslims rather than promoting any plan for the future.
Additional developments from Mr. Wolff's book include the revelation that nobody inside the Trump campaign expected to win the presidential election, most of all Mr. Trump himself. According to Mr. Wolff, all of the President's advisers viewed their roles as stepping stones to other jobs or as a means to grow their power and influence. In my conversations with staffers on the campaign, I've only heard similar stories of how their association was meant to be an entry-level position into politics that might lead to gigs in the media or the Republican Party.
Their biggest fear was that Mr. Trump might win.
Now the administration is falling apart in record time because there was never a binding philosophy. All presidents enter their years in power with a focus toward an agenda, some idea of how they might make the country better, but Mr. Trump and his associates never intended to help the United States, it was all a matter of how to help themselves.
'Mr. Bannon's quote and sudden posturing against Mr. Trump and his inner circle seems self-interested only because that's exactly what it is. He, like a growing number of Trump supporters, can see the writing on the wall and knows it's time to put as much daylight between himself and the President. Their transactional relationship, it seems, has reached its point of diminishing returns.
In past cases, whether it was Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton, a president caught in the midst of a scandal can at least count on the loyalty of those around them that shared their worldview or had weathered hard times with them, thus creating a sense of intimacy and trust. In those cases, the presidents maintained an inner circle of dedicated true believers who stayed to the bitter end.
We might be seeing the fall of a captain devoid of followers, and the rats might already be preparing to abandon ship.