Trump-Washed

I caught a little piece of an Oliver Stone interview last night. He was saying that after thirteen years of watching Trump be decisive and commanding on The Apprentice, very few except the politically sophisticated would be able to perceive the empty vacuum at the heart of his persona. Of course, about the time of the Access Hollywood recording, producers at The Apprentice let it be known that they had to work really hard to maintain that image. Trump was abusive during scenes, and arbitrary in his decisions. One of the challenges was building a back-story that justified his actions.

Coupled with this is the dominance of Fox News in Republican circles. Joy Reid was on with Chris Hayes last night, observing that the reason the Republican base still remains loyal to Trump is because Fox continues to tell them that the Russian interference scandal is nothing worth paying attention to.

Contrast this with Joseph McCarthy, leader of the Red Scare scandals of the 1950s. McCarthy would roll into town, make a bunch of baseless accusations against local politicians, and then leave. The press would publish front-page denouncements of McCarthy’s targets, followed by back-page retractions when the accusations were debunked. Lives were ruined by the asymmetrical publicity.

What undid McCarthy were the televised Congressional hearings. Before the cameras, he was revealed as a manipulative little weasel.

Of course, some among us see Trump in the same way, but his electorate has been conditioned to associate those traits with carefully-scripted moments of glory.

But what about his sons?

It was cathartic to see Donald, Jr. on Fox News last night. He came across as a whiny brat.

Trump, Sr. characterizes the meeting with Russian representatives as “opposition research” that “almost anyone” would pursue. If so, that’s an indictment of our political culture. Trump has long been cozy with organized crime figures, and draws his legal talent from a community of ugly intimidators – men that will not even bother to apply for security clearances that would never be granted. Is this where we have come as a nation? A political culture in which winning by any means possible includes crawling through the gutter with people whose livelihood requires corrupting virtue?

In the early hours this morning, I found myself musing that maybe Comey took the line he did against Clinton in part to create conditions under which that culture would be exposed. I know that it had invaded the FBI itself, where anti-Clinton zealots used Breitbart publications to motivate a criminal investigation of her family. This is a visible case of misuse of agency resources by political operatives, but what if elected officials all across the country are interceding in investigations to protect criminals that have contributed to the destruction of other candidates?

I personally don’t find that inconceivable.

J. Edgar Hoover ran the FBI as long as he did because he had files full of the dirty secrets that elected officials wished to keep hidden. Could it be that organized crime has its own database at this point, and is securing its influence by blackmailing the political class? The Russian government – now the most powerful organized crime ring in the world – may not be motivated only by its foreign policy goals to attack our political system. It may also be extending its power through organized crime, and collaborating with U.S. criminals to corrupt not just our political class, but our entire culture.

Compromising Positions

Last night, I finally shook out of the Congressional leadership the reason for their passivity regarding Trump’s malfeasance. They are confident that he is going to destroy his presidency. They want Pence as president, because Pence is a committed partisan of Ryan’s domestic policies. And they want to secure control of Trump’s blue-collar base by blaming the Democrats for the failure of his Administration.

Trump’s attack on Comey undermines the second goal: Comey was the alt-right’s hero for his take-down of Clinton. By attacking Comey, Trump begins the alienation of his base – a base that hates with a purple passion the Washington establishment led by Ryan and McConnell.

And Pence may no longer be a viable president. Currently, the national security community is focused on the possibility of compromat, the use by Russian intelligence services of financial and social relationships to entrap their targets into the commission of treason. The US has its own culture of compromise, though: organized crime. Trump was tutored in business by a lawyer who moved in organized crime circles. Trump’s cabinet selections are almost universally people with ethical clouds in their pasts. Trump has surrounded himself with such people because they are malleable – he can use their history to command their loyalty.

In The Godfather, Michael Corleone aspired to federal office before chaos in the family’s empire force him to assume criminal control. Trump may not have been born into the Mob, but he is a student of its methods. Worse, he may beat back opposition by drawing upon the Mob’s knowledge of transgressions by federal office-holders, in much the same way that Edgar Hoover secured his control of the FBI by threatening politicians with exposure to secrets uncovered by the FBI.

Even if Ryan and McConnell weather the storm of Trump’s self-destruction, when the full story is gathered together by historians, they will emerge as the most craven of the cowards of this ear.