There are few traits Donald Trump claims to value the way he values loyalty. In a remarkable passage in The Art of the Deal, Trump praises his mentor Roy Cohn for placing loyalty above all else — even integrity.
He was a truly loyal guy — it was a matter of honor with him — and because he was also very smart, he was a great guy to have on your side. You could count on him to go to bat for you, even if he privately disagreed with your view, and even if defending you wasn't necessarily the best thing for him. He was never two-faced.
Just compare that with all the hundreds of "respectable" guys who make careers out of boasting about their uncompromising integrity but have absolutely no loyalty. They only care about what's best for them and don't think twice about stabbing a friend in the back if the friend becomes a problem. What I liked most about Roy Cohn was that he would do just the opposite. Roy was the kind of guy who'd be there at your hospital bed long after everyone else had bailed out, literally standing by you to the death.
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For Trump, though, loyalty is a one-way street. He turns out to be precisely one of those guys who will stab a friend in the back as soon as the friend becomes a problem. And the problem for Trump, and for the rest of us, is that the whole country is watching him do it.
Trump's treatment of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and ex-Chief of Staff Reince Priebus has sent shockwaves through his Cabinet. Many are rumored to be thinking of quitting in the aftermath — better to leave before Trump has turned you into a national joke than after. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is rumored to be particularly disgusted and close to resigning. And anyone currently serving Trump is likely taking a page from ex-FBI Director James Comey's book and keeping copious notes on their experiences — the better to fight back in a memoir or with leaks if they need to get their side of the story out, or salvage their reputation after being attacked by Trump.
But for the country, the penalty will be felt not in those serving Trump now, but in those who will — or, more to the point, won't — serve Trump next. Trump promised to hire "the best people" but he has created a culture that will only attract the worst.