Editor’s Note: Michael D’Antonio is author of the book “Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success” (St. Martin’s Press). The opinions expressed in this commentary are his. View more opinion articles on CNN.
Years ago, businessman Donald Trump advised those who would succeed in business that a little paranoia might help. With some inside his administration announcing that trusted appointees are trying to thwart him, he now has support for any paranoid inclinations of his own.
“TREASON?” was the one-word message the President issued via Twitter, as the world absorbed an anonymous opinion piece said to be written by a senior administration official and published by The New York Times. In it, the writer declared, “I have vowed to thwart parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.”
The most troublesome parts of Trump’s agenda involve favoring Vladimir Putin and other authoritarians while undermining traditional allies. His worst inclinations find him impulsively insulting friend and foe, provoking racial animus, lying, and railing against enemies, real and imagined.
The main problem with the shocking article, which seems unprecedented in American history, is that it could make Trump behave in an even more deranged way, as the palace intrigue grows more intense. The White House was already roiled by the early reports on Bob Woodward’s upcoming book, “Fear: Trump in the White House,” which depicts an administration lost in what one insider was said to have described as “Crazytown.” Imagine what has happened within those walls in the wake of the anonymous op-ed.
Hours into the latest twist in Trump’s incredible saga of disruption and corruption, a writer at the Atlantic was warning of a “soft coup,” and social media was ablaze with speculation over the Times op-ed writer’s identity. Little-used words in the piece – “lodestar” was one – were being cited as forensic evidence, and a mistaken tweet describing the writer with a male pronoun was seized upon to eliminate half the population.
Most amateur detectives, with no evidence to go on, seemed to be focused on chief of staff John Kelly and outgoing White House counsel Don McGahn. On Twitter, Vice President Mike Pence became a trending topic, as his proximity to power – he would succeed Trump should the President resign – made him one person who would obviously benefit from the perception that Trump couldn’t handle the job and had to be replaced.
Since his election, Trump’s fear, to borrow Woodward’s title, has been that he would be deemed illegitimate and somehow forced from office. Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s election interference, and Team Trump’s possible collaboration in that effort, has long stood as the most serious threat to the President.
That probe, and its offshoots, led to Trump fixer Michael Cohen’s cooperation with prosecutors. If Trump saw this defection as betrayal, and he surely did, news that several insiders at the White House are actively working against him will only make Trump livid.
Ill-tempered and erratic to begin with, a Trump energized by rage will be even more unstable and dangerous. If the op-ed writer didn’t know this before sending the article to the Times, then he or she hasn’t been paying close attention.
People with the President’s level of heedless narcissism don’t back down. Instead, they double down – and in this case, doubling down could have awful consequences.
If the author’s intention was to bring Trump under control, he or she has taken a big gamble with the condition of the republic.
This gambit will only stop Trump if he is provoked into self-destructive action and his departure is hastened. This is the most likely outcome of this latest installment of this episodic nightmare, and the writer who has pushed us further along this course will deserve an ample share of the credit and the blame.
An earlier version of this article incorrectly described President Trump’s tweet. It was “TREASON?”, not “TRAITOR?”