Editorial: The chairwoman embraces disruption. Now a new chief of staff promises to impose discipline. But the real problem is his boss and those enabling him

Donald Trumps new chief of staff has vowed to impose military discipline and straighten things out, as one might expect of a retired marine general facing a gigantic mess. John Kellys appointment has been greeted as an almost perfect lab exam of whether a Trump White House can be functional: he is highly respected, is not part of a clique, and has been promised that all staff, even family members, will report to him( good luck with that, General Kelly ). He may, indeed, quash the crudest outbursts of an internecine war struggle on multiple fronts, as he sought to in dismissing director of communications Anthony Scaramucci. Yet it seems highly unlikely that he will be able to end the incompetence and infighting of the authorities concerned. It is far from clear that the president truly wants him to. There are several reasons for the farcical scuffle for control in the West Wing, but the primary one is the man in the Oval Office. Changing the bosss behaviour? That would warrant a fifth star, joked David Axelrod, senior adviser to President Obama.

Quick Guide

Five key departures in six months of Trump's presidency


Anthony Scaramucci( 10 days )

Named director of communications after having been denied a White House role earlier, the New York financier and Republican fundraiser promptly threatened to fire everyone in his team over leaks. He also staged a combative and contradictory briefing room debut and talkshow tour; sought to bat away the issue of suspiciously liberal pronouncements in his past and is supportive of Trumps Republican enemies; deleted tweets; warred openly with the former chief of staff, Reince Priebus, and apparently forced him out; compared the struggle to take healthcare away from millions of Americans to Lincolns battle against slavery; poured obscene invective about leakers, Priebus and Steve Bannon down the phone to a New Yorker reporter; missed the birth of his son; saw his wife file for divorce; and was asked to resign.

Michael Flynn( 23 days )

Trumps first national security consultant one of four generals the president has utilized resigned after it was uncovered he misled Vice-President Mike Pence over his contacts with Russians during the election campaign. It was later reported that Yates had warned the White House Flynn was vulnerable to Russian blackmail.

James Comey( 110 days )

The most shocking firing of them all. Trump sacked his FBI director, by messenger rather than in person, as congressional and justice department investigations conducted by links between Trump aides and Russia met pace. Lest anyone retain any doubt about why Trump pressed the big red button, he told NBC in a primetime interview the firing was tied to this Russia thing. The reverberations will be felt for some time yet.

Sean Spicer( 183 days )

The long-suffering but loyal surrogate for the president handed in his resignationin response to Scaramuccis appointment. A Republican insider and Priebus ally, he never settled into the press secretary role after an infamous debut in which he angrily insisted Trumps fantastic version of crowd sizings at the inauguration is the truth. Attaining by way of Melissa McCarthys lethal Saturday Night Live impression a somewhat dubious celebrity, his days at the White House were long rumoured to be numbered. His departure on a matter of principle having apparently been justified only 10 days later, he may now claim a kind of hollow vindication.

Reince Priebus( 189 days )

The former Republican National Committee chair bided loyal at least in public to Trump through Friday, when he was told his time was up. He remained loyal after handing in his resignation too, rhapsodising about the president and his mission in interviews with CNN and, of course, Fox News. But it seemed Priebuss card had alway been marked, less over his initial blocking of Scaramucci, which enraged the Mooch, or by his closeness to the House speaker, Paul Ryan, than by his private advice to Trump to quit the presidential race after 8 October, when the infamous Access Hollywood Gropegate tape was published. The Washington Post reported that Priebus was thus never considered a member of the Oct 8th coalition, a name for the inner cabal of Trumpites who have never hesitated, however low their bosss reputation has sunk.

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With each day it becomes more obvious that Donald Trump is both incapable of and unwilling to change. After all, his boorish, bigoted, ignorant and dishonest campaign won him the presidency when most thought it impossible. He operated as the disrupter-in-chief, reaching out immediately to the public and vowing to use their support to destroy entrenched but failing structures. This might explain his blithe, reality-defying declaration of a great day at the White House ! as he sacked the communications director he had hired 10 days before. But the limits of embracing chaos are evident in the failure of attempts to roll back Barack Obamas healthcare reforms. Campaigning and governing are very different kinds of business. Mr Trump assures no need to change course. However much some supporters hoped to use him as chairman, his interest was never actually in running America; only in being its boss.

Meanwhile the grenades he lobs via Twitter or interview cloud the questions that still lies at the heart of his presidency: Russian meddling in the US election, and the possible collusion of his own campaign. All other iniquities pale beside this. His fear of the resulting investigation and especially the examination of his financial affairs is confirmed by his attacks on Robert Mueller, the special counsel resulting the probe; and on his own appointee Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from the investigation. One of the reporters following him most closely notes his love of, and ability at, manipulating the press. He has maintained much of the supporting that won him the election. Was it coincidence that Mr Scaramucci launched his foul-mouthed, incendiary attack on Reince Priebus as tycoon Bill Browder witnessed before the Senate judiciary committee about Russias tactics and how it might have dealt with the Trump team? Quite perhaps. Vladimir Putin is in the business of trying to create chaos everywhere, Mr Browder said.

But Mr Putin is supremely strategic. Mr Trumps own aides boast of controlling his screen time lest he lash out in response to a talk display; his intelligence briefings include his name as often as possible to keep him reading. His own friends say he is swayed by the last person he spoke to. All these things are as much a part of his erratic course as his calculation and improvised responses. To call him a master of chaos misconceives his relationship to the situation, as though a toddler mid-tantrum is still in control. Tiny children cannot curb their instincts; but they are not malicious and merely weak or exhausted mothers let them operate the household. Mr Trump is in charge of the most powerful country in the world, and his whims are clear in abrupt policy U-turns. While some draw consolation from the idea that foreign antagonists may be happy to let the US weaken itself, instead of triggering a crisis, health risks of mistakes and miscalculations by both the US and, say, North Korea are real.

Conservatives have deluded themselves that the chairman can be reined in, or at the least harnessed to their cause. But as Republican senator Jeff Flake has pointed out this week: To carry on in the spring of 2017 as if what was happening was anything approaching normality involved a determined suspension of critical faculties. If the Faustian bargain was to endure the very bumpy ride to achieve long-held policy goals, it was not worth it, he concludes. Mr Flake might have backed Mr Trump 95% of the time, but the message, if not the messenger, should be heeded.

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