Traitors. Cowards. Leakers. All three words meant the same thing this week to President Trump as he let fly with a scorching tweet, promising to hunt down anyone in the White House releasing unauthorized information. At the same time, he railed about reporters saying this problem he has identified is … um … a problem: “The so-called leaks coming out of the White House are a massive over exaggeration put out by the Fake News Media in order to make us look as bad as possible.”
Anyway, the thing that set him off was the leaked story that a White House staffer made an insensitive comment about Sen. John McCain’s cancer. Trump has expressed no regret that this person said such unkind things. He has certainly not apologized. And there is no indication anyone has been fired. Team Trump has simply once again mounted the ramparts to insist that the real problem here is not what they are doing, but that anyone would tell the public about it.
That this is the immediate reaction of this president is not surprising. After all, his pedigree is not in public service but in the private sector. His entire life has been spent in businesses where, without even a board of directors riding herd on him, his word was law. In that environment, secrets are not merely a fixture, they are virtually a requirement.
To be fair, secrets are sometimes necessary in government too when matters of national security or extremely delicate negotiations are involved. But most of the leaks that have enraged this president — including this latest one — have nothing to do with such issues. They are just embarrassments.
Maybe that’s the core of the trouble: What Donald Trump seems to be chafing about is the mere notion that the media, lawmakers, the courts or voters would have any right to scrutinize his actions. He seems to see leakers as traitors because they are defying the boss. But in the public sector, he’s not really the boss. Taxpayers are. And that means yes, we all have a right to know what is going on in the White House, even if leakers are at times the most reliable source of inside information.