Beer Salesman Post-Mortem

National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster pauses during a briefing at the White House in Washington, Tuesday, May 16, 2017. President Donald Trump claimed the authority to share "facts pertaining to terrorism" and airline safety with Russia, saying in a pair of tweets he has "an absolute right" as president to do so. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

The New Yorker has a lengthy piece on the experiences of General H.R. McMaster during his time in the White House, and it’s worth a full read. McMaster himself declined to be interviewed but ten others on the NSC staff answered questions. The title of the diary refers to Trump’s offhand comment about the three-star general: “He looks like a beer salesman!” Which is actually pretty funny. What’s not funny, though, is Trump’s inability to digest important information on national security.

Initially, Pollack said, McMaster gave Trump “the benefit of the doubt,” assuming that he could understand complicated issues. Every day, McMaster subjected Trump to detailed briefings. According to Pollack, the President just sat there. “He would look like he was interested,” Pollack said. “He was probably trying to imagine how many times H.R. has to shave his head every day, while H.R. is going on and on about the complexities of Russia policy.” Only later, Pollack said, did McMaster realize that “the guy wasn’t absorbing a fucking thing he said!”


The National Security Council has a comparatively lean budget—approximately twelve million dollars—and so its staff consists largely of career professionals on loan from the State Department, the Pentagon, and other agencies. When Trump assumed office, N.S.C. staffers initially generated memos for him that resembled those produced for his predecessors: multi-page explications of policy and strategy. But “an edict came down,” a former staffer told me: “ ‘Thin it out.’ ” The staff dutifully trimmed the memos to a single page. “But then word comes back: ‘This is still too much.’ ” A senior Trump aide explained to the staffers that the President is “a visual person,” and asked them to express points “pictorially.”

“By the time I left, we had these cards,” the former staffer said. They are long and narrow, made of heavy stock, and emblazoned with the words “the white house” at the top. Trump receives a thick briefing book every night, but nobody harbors the illusion that he reads it. Current and former officials told me that filling out a card is the best way to raise an issue with him in writing. Everything that needs to be conveyed to the President must be boiled down, the former staffer said, to “two or three points, with the syntactical complexity of ‘See Jane run.’”

Troublesome, on many levels. One of the hopes I had was that Trump would listen to his three generals, Kelly, Mattis and McMaster. Now my hope is that Trump listens to Bolton no more than he did McMaster. Assuming he didn’t sign a non-disclosure or non-disparagement agreement, the McMaster should write a book about it, make it a kind-of sequel to his 1997 book “Dereliction of Duty“.