Donald Trump may have said a lot of flagrantly untrue things during the 2016 campaign. He may have made promises he had no hope or intention of keeping—there is no wall being built between the US and Mexico, he is not giving people health insurance. (In fact, he's tried repeatedly to take it away.) But in a broad sense, the man's candidacy did show us what to expect from his presidency: A never-ending series of petty grievances and beefs, all centered around his cartoonish self-regard, all as phony as any reality TV plot arc, and all just as insubstantial.
The federal government is being kneecapped in the ways you might expect with any Republican in charge—the EPA is run by a former energy lobbyist, civil rights is no longer a top priority at the Justice Department. But it's Trump's White House where the president's unique energy is most keenly felt, and where the scope of the disaster is most obvious. Not coincidentally, the White House is where Omarosa Manigault Newman, the former Apprentice star, worked before being fired for being incredibly bad at her job.
Now Omarosa is again dominating headlines in the most predictable fashion possible, with a tell-all book about the Trump administration that isn't even out yet but has already launched a thousand cable news segments. It's the kind of banal scandal that might rock a normal White House, or at least raise fresh questions about the character of the person leading it. In Trump's White House, it's pretty much a regular week.
Among other things, Newman has claimed the president routinely used the N-word and that there is audio of him doing so, she released a recording of White House Chief of Staff John Kelly firing her in the Situation Room, and her book includes a bit about how Melania Trump can't wait to divorce her husband, among other salacious claims. To no one's surprise, Trump fed the feud on Monday morning, saying on Twitter, "She begged me for a job, tears in her eyes, I said Ok. People in the White House hated her... Nasty to people & would constantly miss meetings & work. When Gen. Kelly came on board he told me she was a loser & nothing but problems. I told him to try working it out, if possible, because she only said GREAT things about me - until she got fired!"
He went on:
As usual, Trump's rant doesn't really make all that much sense, but it's useful to unpack its particular tics because it reveals so much about how he operates. First, there's the projection in the last tweet. Say what you will about the Fake News Media, but it has hardly made Omarosa look credible: During her White House tenure, the press covered Omarosa's many micro-scandals, like her bizarre habit of leaving shoes all over the place and the time she brought members of her bridal party to the White House to take photos. If Omarosa ever had any credibility, it's because Trump hired her and paid her nearly $180,000 a year.
The uglier part of the tweets is the way Trump insults his former employee. Thanks to a recording Omarosa made, we know that even after she was fired by Kelly, the president was still sucking up to her, saying he didn't know about her departure and adding, "Goddamnit. I don’t love you leaving at all.”
So after Trump heard all about how everyone hated working with her, after Kelly told Trump that she was a "loser," he's still telling her in private that he has no idea why she's being pushed out. Either Trump was being cowardly and hiding behind Kelly to avoid a difficult conversation (which wouldn't be surprising, given how he reportedly hates to fire people), or the president really didn't mind or accept her incompetence—as he suggested, he wanted to keep her on "because she only said GREAT things about me."
There's no version of this story where Trump looks good. In one telling, he hired someone as a senior aide who turned out to be unreliable—but of course, he had been familiar with Omarosa for years and should have known she wouldn't be an asset in government. Another explanation is that he knew Omarosa had all these negative qualities but didn't care because she was so good at flattering him. Or maybe he just wasn't paying attention and left his subordinates with a mess to clean up.
We don't need to hold Omarosa in high esteem or even believe her wild allegations to understand what her hiring, firing, and subsequent anti-Trump media tour says about this White House. You can apparently get a job there if you know Trump and have been on television saying nice things about him. You have to be a catastrophic embarrassment, not just the regular kind, to lose your job. And you never know if your coworkers are recording everything you say, or will leak it to the press, or are making notes for their own inevitable tell-all.
Omarosa was clearly looking out for number one when she was navigating her improbable way through some of the most powerful hallways in America, and it seems likely a lot of White House officials are doing the same. You could argue that you don't really want such selfish attitudes in the people running the country, but what else would you expect with Trump as president?
Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.
Follow Harry Cheadle on Twitter.