Trump’s sycophants are his worst enemies

Congressional Republicans who fawn over Trump, whether out of genuine infatuation or political self-interest, bear a special responsibility for the president’s errors. The Democratic impulse to find fault with his every move does not help in this regard, as it devalues the criticism he needs to hear while justifying a sense of permanent siege within his White House. It is also unhelpful for aides who cast themselves as defenders of the republic to wage bureaucratic warfare against the president, as many have reportedly done. Such behavior makes claims of “deep state” conspiracy more plausible, whereas confrontation or resignation would better serve the president. Still, the primary responsibility for correcting Trump lies not with his critics but rather with his confidantes. They would serve themselves and him better by heeding the aphorism Plutarch attributes to the Athenian statesman Phocion: “You cannot have for me both a friend and a flatterer.”

Trump’s recent cancellation of the White House subscriptions to critical newspapers was more a revelatory than a symbolic gesture. So are his attacks on Fox News personalities who deviate even slightly from his desired narrative. The resulting portrait is one of a president stewing in executive time and gazing constantly, like Narcissus, into the reflection of Fox and Friends to confirm what he already thinks. His staff helps, reportedly feeding him daily folders of favorable press clippings.

All this suggests that the most important trait of presidents may be the self-confidence Trump thus far has lacked. An important question to ask candidates for the office is: Which adviser last disagreed with you, and what was your response?

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