Nice story in the Washington Post today that just confirms what we already knew, only in a bit more detail of the sort designed to leave your jaw dropped and your mind reeling: Donald Trump doesn’t read his Presidential Daily Breifings (PDB), the digest of top-secret stuff the intelligence community prepares for every president to inform them of what’s up in the world’s hot spots, with the aim of making sure that in a crisis, the president has accumulated some knowledge of stuff that might be useful. Hey, not his style. Donald Trump doesn’t read, and if Michael Wolff’s book Pants on Fire: Like, Not Regular Fire But White Phosphorus Flares Type Fire has it right, it’s entirely possible he can’t read more than a paragraph or so before his brain is full. As the Post notes, Trump’s not the first president to eschew written briefings; Nixon reportedly preferred oral too, especially from Henry Kissinger.
Still, the WaPo story often sounds like an intelligence-world version of a parent-teacher conference where the parent is threatening to strangle the teacher if there’s any suggestion that little Donnie is, well, an incurious dullard who refuses to take any interest in anything that isn’t about him. And they’ve already tried printing the PDB with glitter headings. Sample:
Reading the traditionally dense intelligence book is not Trump’s preferred “style of learning,” according to a person with knowledge of the situation.
The arrangement underscores Trump’s impatience with exhaustive classified documents that go to the commander in chief — material that he has said he prefers condensed as much as possible. But by not reading the daily briefing, the president could hamper his ability to respond to crises in the most effective manner, intelligence experts warned.
Translation: The president can’t/wont read, and you should be scared.
The story notes that after a few months in office, Trump stopped even pretending to review the written version of the PDB. Instead, the briefers did what they could to catch his eye with “photos, videos and graphics.” Attempts to simplify things to a form that would keep him engaged, however, would often be met with Trumpian anger, because then he thought the briefers were “talking down to him,” when in fact he is, like, a really smart person.
But just listen to the glowing assessments of his intelligence people, who don’t at all sound like they’re complimenting a flabby naked Trump on his fine suit of clothes:
Michael Anton, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said Trump “is an avid consumer of intelligence, appreciates the hard work of his briefers and of the entire intelligence community and looks forward every day to the give and take of his intelligence briefings.”
Daniel Coats, the director of national intelligence, said in a statement that “any notion that President Trump is not fully engaged in the PDB or does not read the briefing materials is pure fiction and is clearly not based on firsthand knowledge of the process.”
Indeed, said Coats, Donald Trump “engages for significantly longer periods than I understand many previous presidents have done.” What’s more, he had the biggest inauguration crowd in history, period. And his beautiful magic clothes are surely the finest in the kingdom.
There’s a lot of condescending observations from former officials from other administrations, like Leon Panetta, who thought Barack Obama was all hot shit because he went to Harvard Law and never had to work for a living, him with his briefings delivered on a secure iPad like a stinking effete yuppie. Panetta said oral briefings just can’t give the depth of knowledge a president may need in a crisis:
Something will be missed,” Panetta said. “If for some reason his instincts on what should be done are not backed up by the intelligence because he hasn’t taken the time to read that intel, it increases the risk that he will make a mistake.”
Trump’s defenders, however, point to his willingness to call the status quo into question, to shake things up:
Trump’s admirers say he has a unique ability to cut through conventional foreign policy wisdom and ask questions that others have long taken for granted. “Why are we even in Somalia?” or “Why can’t I just pull out of Afghanistan?” he will ask, according to officials.
Why is there air? Who put the moon there? Why is Kim Jong Un? Where was that stooped and mealy-colored old man I used to call Poppa when the merry-go-round broke down?
Another “senior administration official” said Trump
asks “edge” questions […] meaning that he pushes his staff to question long-held assumptions about U.S. interests in the world.
Like, why don’t Australians just fall off? Tell me that, smart guy. That kind of edge.
Give the whole thing a read, if only to get yet another appreciation of just how abnormal this president is. We especially liked the parts where the White House staffers explained Trump had bright eyes and seemed almost to know exactly what you’re saying when you talk to him. He thinks he’s people!
Update: Darn it, I went and forgot a thing again, so here is this inevitable thing: