Op-ed: In Trump’s White House, it’s the survival of the servile

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An atmosphere of flattery is often an atmosphere of fear. When staffers set out to win the favor of an egotistical and mercurial boss, they are generally pitted against each other.

WASHINGTON — White House staffers have two general objectives: to serve the president and to please the president. The two do not always coincide.

I can recall, as a policy adviser to President George W. Bush, sending him articles and columns (including some by Nicholas Kristof) savaging the administration’s reaction to the unfolding Darfur genocide. Predictably, Bush called me into the Oval Office to vent against the unfairness of the criticism. Just as typically, he ended the meeting by telling me a series of steps he was taking to review and toughen our policy.

Or take the example of Bush’s chief of staff Joshua Bolten. In 2006, Bolten sent clip after clip to the president demonstrating how American strategy in Iraq was failing. A more successful approach — “the surge” — was built on this foundation of presidential disillusionment.

It is clear that President Trump does not reward this type of service. The way to reach Trump is to flatter him in the extreme. This does not mean that everyone in the administration is always obsequious. But it does mean that all the incentives run toward obsequiousness. It is Trump’s form of natural selection: the survival of the servile.

White House senior adviser Stephen Miller has risen by climbing this greasy pole. His appearance last Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” — in which he hailed his boss as a “political genius” — was a master class in toadying. Miller’s purpose was not to make public arguments but, as Jake Tapper appropriately put it, to please “one viewer.” And that viewer immediately provided a reward: “Jake Tapper of Fake News CNN just got destroyed in his interview with Stephen Miller,” tweeted the president. A crass and obvious feedback loop was immediately at work.

Miller is not alone. Members of the Cabinet have been trained to burst out in praise of the Great Leader on a moment’s notice. Members of Congress — even past critics — have figured out the power of subservience in the Trump era. Media figures…

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