The grinding, mind-numbing chaos of recent years has distorted our memory of what Washington was like in the Before Trump era. As we try to survive the maelstrom, we forget that government dysfunction and tribal bureaucratic warfare existed long before Donald Trump became president.
Take Trump’s obsession that the rank and file of the Central Intelligence Agency are an invisible army bent on destroying his presidency. He is hardly the first president to believe that. In 1973, Richard Nixon installed a tweedy budget hawk named James Schlesinger to run the spy agency after firing Richard Helms over his refusal to go along with the Watergate cover-up. The president and his advisers were convinced that the C.I.A. was filled with anti-war activists and Nixon-haters. Schlesinger saw the place as a bloated bureaucracy and a secret cult, and it bothered him that there was no sign on the George Washington Parkway announcing which exit to take to get to the spy agency.