The King and I

Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/AFP/Getty Images
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and New Jersey governor Chris Christie at a fund-­raising event, Lawrenceville, New Jersey, May 2016

Perhaps the defining moment of the Trump presidency occurred before it had even begun, two days after his election. Since May 2016, Chris Christie, then governor of New Jersey, had been head of the transition team planning for the takeover of power if Trump won in November. Given the candidate’s complete lack of experience in public office, this process was even more important than usual. Trump himself, however, did not think so. In his self-pitying memoir Let Me Finish, a title that soon becomes the reader’s prayer, Christie records that “as far back as Labor Day,” the prospective president told him, “Chris, you and I are so smart, and we’ve known each other for so long, we could do the whole transition together if we just leave the victory party two hours early!” But Christie plowed on, and two days after that party, he arrived at Trump Tower to present a “carefully crafted, thirty-volume transition plan.” His team of 140 people had spent nearly six months designing for Trump “an entire federal government in his image and likeness.” It included shortlists of pre-vetted candidates for all the top jobs in the administration, as well as timetables for action on Trump’s signature policies and the drafts of executive orders.

What followed seems, on Trump’s part, gleefully sadistic. Christie was a big figure in the Trump campaign: the first serving senior officeholder to endorse and legitimize his candidacy. His star had fallen since his stunning landslide reelection in New Jersey in 2013, but he was still, as the Republican governor of a deep blue state, a figure of real political substance. He also imagined that Trump had been a close personal friend since 2002. Yet when he arrived at Trump Tower to present his thirty binders of plans for the new administration, he was met by Steve Bannon. Bannon told Christie that he was being fired with immediate effect, “and we do not want you to be in the building anymore.” His painstaking work was literally trashed: “All thirty binders were tossed in a Trump Tower dumpster, never to be seen again.” Are they, one wonders, now rotting away gently somewhere in the wastelands of New Jersey, like the bodies of disposable characters in The Sopranos?

How are we to understand this extraordinary episode? Is it an act of unalloyed personal malice, the emasculation of a Trump-lite wannabe by the real silverback? Or is it a primarily political act, the trashing of the transition plans as a prelude to the trashing of government itself under Trump?1 To ask such questions is to forget that the one thing Trump shares with the feminist movement is the belief that the personal is political—and in his…

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