Donald Trump’s entire political life has been dominated by what the media love to refer to as his “breaking with tradition.” It’s a rather delicate way to describe his flouting of protocol and common decency through either Gaston-level hubris or sheer incompetence. He’s “broken tradition” by golfing instead of doing presidential community service on Martin Luther King Jr. Day; not hosting a state dinner; not having a press conference at the G20; not holding an Iftar dinner for Ramadan, tweeting, and eating his steak well done with ketchup, among other things.
Well now there’s another item to add to the list. A Washington Post article titled—you guessed it—“Breaking with tradition, Trump skips president’s written intelligence report and relies on oral briefings,” describes, well, just that. For much of his tenure as president, instead of reading through the fabled Presidential Daily Brief (PBD), which compiles information from U.S. intelligence agencies, Trump gets an “oral briefing of select intelligence issues.” To be fair, it’s very well known that Trump has a frighteningly small attention span and prefers a Baby Einstein approach to briefings, with “lots of graphics and maps.”
A better headline might have been “Breaking with tradition, the president is illiterate,” or, “THE PRESIDENT WON’T FUCKING READ,” but the Post was committed to one of the media’s favorite useless euphemisms.
The National Security Council scrambled to paint Trump as something other than a big dumdum, deeming him “an avid consumer of intelligence,” and the director of national intelligence said in a statement to the Post that “any notion that President Trump is not fully engaged in the PDB or does not read the briefing materials is pure fiction and is clearly not based on firsthand knowledge of the process.” He even went so far as to claim that Trump “engages for significantly longer periods” than previous presidents!
Mark Lowenthal, assistant director of the CIA from 2002-2005, pointed out the impact such abridged briefings would have on Trump’s ability to develop a well-informed response to potential threats or issues:
You need to get immersed in a story over its entire course. You can’t just jump into an issue and come up to speed on the actors and the implications. The odds are pretty good that something will arise later on for which he has no intelligence basis for helping him work through it.
Translation: If you don’t read what you’re supposed to you will be stupider! Maybe Trump will break even more tradition and decide to consume his intelligence briefings in puppet show form.