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Trump Illegally Tearing Up Important Documents Is Perfectly Stupid

His pointless and impulsive habit explains so much about his presidency.
June 11, 2018, 10:14pm
Image by author via Jeff Swensen/Getty Images

On Sunday, Politico published a story that is the most obvious and perfect metaphor for Donald Trump's time in office. According to former officials, the president has a "tendency to rip up documents he is legally required to preserve," and government employees are forced to tape them back together.

“I had a letter from Schumer—he tore it up,” Solomon Lartey, a former career government official who was fired abruptly in March for reasons that remain murky, explained to Politico. “It was the craziest thing ever. He ripped papers into tiny pieces.” Lartey and his team would spend their days using scotch tape to reconstruct the destroyed documents. (Records staffers were apparently still doing this labor this spring.)


The Presidential Records Act requires the White House to save any papers that the president touches and send them to the National Archives. But Trump has a longtime habit of tearing up paper once he's done with it and "White House aides realized early on that they were unable to stop Trump from ripping up paper after he was done with it and throwing it in the trash or on the floor," according to Politico. Because our 71-year-old president refuses to change his behavior, which is literally illegal, the White House employs a team of record management analysts to simply tape up the documents he destroys.

This is just another banal piece of news from the White House reminding us that Trump is a reality TV buffoon behind the scenes as well as in front of the cameras. Though this one is more on-the-nose than most of these stories, the message is always the same: The rest of the country is going to be left to clean up the mess he's making.

Trump is completely driven by his impulses and doesn't care if they make things needlessly difficult for other people—like the staffers who have to tape those papers together. There's no strategy involved in tearing up a document, and his public behavior rarely seems to be any more thoughtful. His anti-Muslim comments hurt his administration in court during arguments over his travel ban. His interference with the FBI was so crude and amateurish his GOP allies defended him by saying he didn't know what he was doing. More recently, he started a feud with Canada on his way to meet with North Korea. He likes to light a fire and then watch other people scramble to put it out. If anyone asks, the fire was Obama's fault, or something.


Trump's policies amount to little more than shredding paper. The real estate mogul hasn't been able to build anything, but is doing his best to demolish regulations and other policies designed to protect the most vulnerable Americans. He's doing all he can to sabotage the Affordable Care Act, he repealed the Clean Power Plan, and he pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord. His administration tore up the federal guidelines for how colleges must deal with sexual assault under Title IX. He killed the Iran deal, and is shredding protections for undocumented immigrants.

This is most obvious when it comes to foreign policy, an area traditionally controlled by the executive branch and where Trump's every move can have world-altering consequences. So it's vaguely concerning that a senior White House official told The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg that, "We're America, bitch," is the official doctrine they're working off of. What does that look like in practice? "Donald Trump is pursuing policies that undermine the Western alliance, empower Russia and China, and demoralize freedom-seeking people around the world," is how Goldberg explains it. "The United States could be made weaker—perhaps permanently—by the implementation of the Trump Doctrine."

The damage Trump has unleashed, diplomatically and domestically, in less than two years will take much longer to remedy. It's easy to tear things apart than it is to stitch together. The metaphor of dedicated public servants tasked with taping together the president's shredded paper is too perfect; its triteness is cringeworthy. A frustrating side effect of the Trump era is how obviously stupid everything is. His behavior is so predictably selfish and impulsive that analyzing it feels futile. We know Trump acts only out of self-interest and impulse. We know Trump is a fool. We've known that since 2015 at the latest, and he's president anyway. We know his administration is a web of incompetence and corruption. And we know they're all getting away with it despite everything.

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