U.S. government sources tell CBS News that there is a sense of unease in the intelligence community after President Trump’s visit to CIA headquarters on Saturday.This was part of a pattern of dishonesty on the administration's part over the weekend -- see also the fights with the press over crowd size, and the insistence by Kellyanne Conway that lies and exaggerations are merely "alternative facts."
An official said the visit “made relations with the intelligence community worse” and described the visit as “uncomfortable.”
Authorities are also pushing back against the perception that the CIA workforce was cheering for the president. They say the first three rows in front of the president were largely made up of supporters of Mr. Trump’s campaign.
An official with knowledge of the make-up of the crowd says that there were about 40 people who’d been invited by the Trump, Mike Pence and Rep. Mike Pompeo teams. The Trump team expected Rep. Pompeo, R-Kansas, to be sworn in during the event as the next CIA director, but the vote to confirm him was delayed on Friday by Senate Democrats. Also sitting in the first several rows in front of the president was the CIA’s senior leadership, which was not cheering the remarks.
It's easy to see this as not just brazen but sinister. In a piece for The New Republic titled "Donald Trump Is Becoming an Authoritarian Leader Before Our Very Eyes," Jeet Heer writes:
The purpose of the Trump administration’s lies is not necessarily to deceive, but to separate the believers from the disbelievers -- for the purpose of rewarding the former and punishing the latter. As chess champion Garry Kasparov, an expert in authoritarianism as an outspoken opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin, tweeted on Saturday:
Obvious lies serve a purpose for an administration. They watch who challenges them and who loyally repeats them. The people must watch, too.— Garry Kasparov (@Kasparov63) January 22, 2017
But -- so far, at least -- this isn't Putin's Russia. Dissenting news outlets aren't being shut down; dissenting journalists aren't being murdered. Maybe we're really about to descend into the twilight, but for now the press is challenging Kellyanne Conway and Sean Spicer, and leakers within the government are still telling reporters things Trump doesn't want them to say. It's not totalitarianism yet.
Is totalitarian control Trump's real goal? I think he's content with the notion that if enough people (46%, say) accept his version of the facts, then he can dominate the rest of us. That worked for him until Election Day (or maybe Inauguration Day). We'll see what he does when it stops working.
I also think Trump just wants to maintain a bubble in which the news is all good for him. Maybe the cheering section at CIA headquarters was meant to manufacture consent, but it also seems possible that it was meant to reassure Trump that, yes, he is loved. Maybe the lies about crowd size were directed less at us than at him.
We keep being told that, in the social media age, we no longer have a common reality, and instead have retreated to partisan demimondes where we and our ideological soul mates hear only opinions (and assertions) with which we agree. I think Twitter-junkie Trump could be an extreme example of this. At all times he apparently needs to be in a gated information enclave in which the political issue he cares most about -- the excellence of Donald Trump -- is discussed only in the most favorable terms. As we learned from Politico today,
One person who frequently talks to Trump said aides ... have to control information that may infuriate him. He gets bored and likes to watch TV, this person said, so it is important to minimize that.Maybe Trump isn't trying to be a dictator. Maybe he just wants to make all the stuff on TV that infuriates him simply go away.
UPDATE: As I was saying....