It’s Been an Open Secret All Along

The scandal of Michael Wolff’s new book isn’t its salacious details—it’s that everyone in Washington has known its key themes, and refused to act

But “it was an open secret” now properly seems a broadened indictment, of all those who quietly let him get away with it, rather than an excuse.

The details in Michael Wolff’s new book Fire and Fury make it unforgettable, and potentially historic. We’ll see how many of them fully stand up, and in what particulars, but even at a heavy discount, it’s a remarkable tale.

.. His functional vocabulary is markedly smaller than it was 20 years ago; the oldest person ever to begin service in the White House, he is increasingly prone to repeat anecdotes and phrases. He is aswirl in foreign and financial complications. He has ignored countless norms of modern governance, from the expectation of financial disclosure to the importance of remaining separate from law-enforcement activities. He relies on immediate family members to an unusual degree; he has an exceptionally thin roster of experienced advisers and assistants

.. He views all events through the prism of whether they make him look strong and famous, and thus he is laughably susceptible to flattering treatment from the likes of Putin and Xi Jinping abroad or courtiers at home.

.. nearly 11 million more Americans voted against Trump last year than for him, including the three million more who voted for Hillary Clinton. (The rest were for Gary Johnson, who got nearly 4.5 million; Jill Stein, with nearly 1.5 million; Evan McMullin, with about 700,000; and a million-plus write-ins.)

.. They understand—or most of them do—the damage he can do to a system of governance that relies to a surprising degree on norms rather than rules

.. The failure of responsibility starts with Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, but it doesn’t end with them. Every member of a bloc-voting majority shares responsibility for not acting on their version of the open secret. “Independent” Republicans like Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski share it. “Thoughtful” ones, like Ben Sasse and Jeff Flake.

.. When they vote as a majority against strong investigations, against subpoenas, against requirements for financial disclosure, and most of all against protecting Robert Mueller and his investigation, they share complicity in the open secret.

.. We are watching the political equivalent of the Weinstein board paying off the objects of his abuse. We are watching Fox pay out its tens of millions to O’Reilly’s victims. But we’re watching it in real time, with the secret shared worldwide, and the stakes immeasurably higher.

Donald Trump Goes Full Fredo

But unlike the Godfather character, the president of the United States is backed by powerful people enabling him.

.. The Corleone family had the awareness and vigilance to exclude Fredo from power. The American political system did not do so well.

.. Until now, Trump’s worst moments have occurred behind closed doors, and have become known to the public only second-hand, leaked by worried officials, aides, and advisers. Yesterday and today, we have seen a Trump temper-tantrum in real time on Twitter

.. the most important moment in Wolff’s book are words attributed at second or third-hand to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell at the time of Donald Trump’s election. “He will sign anything we put in front of him.”

.. Who and what Donald Trump is has been known to everyone and anyone who cared to know for years and decades.

  • Before he was president, he was the country’s leading racist conspiracy theorist.
  • Before he was the country’s leading racist conspiracy theorist, he was a celebrity gameshow host.
  • Before he was a celebrity gameshow host, he was the multi-bankrupt least trusted name in real estate.
  • Before he was the multi-bankrupt least trusted name in real estate, he was the protege of Roy Cohn’s repeatedly accused of ties to organized crime.

.. Instead, since he announced his candidacy in mid-2015, Donald Trump has been enabled and protected.

The enabling and protecting not only continues. It accelerates.

.. The Senate Judiciary committee—the Senate Judiciary Committee! The committee that oversees the proper enforcement of the law!—formally filed a criminal referral with the Department of Justice against Christopher Steele, the author of the infamous dossier about Trump’s Russia connections. The referral was signed by the committee’s chairman, Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, without even notice to Democrats on the committee, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein said; a startling abuse of majority status and a sharp departure from the norms of the Senate, especially a 51-49 Senate.

.. It’s ominous, however, that on the very same day, the FBI obeyed Trump’s repeated demands and reopened a long-closed criminal investigation into the Clinton Foundation.

.. the important thing about Trump is not the man; it’s the system of power surrounding the man.

.. What sustains Trump now is the support of people who know what he is, but back him anyway.

Republican political elites who know him for what he is, but who back him because they believe they can control and use him;

conservative media elites who sense what he is, but who delight in the cultural wars he provokes;

rank-and-file conservatives who care more about their grievances and hatreds than the governance of the country.

.. he is indeed the “very stable genius” he claims to be: Trump understands how to mobilize hatred and resentment to his own advantage and profit. He has risen higher than Joe McCarthy or Charles Lindbergh or Theodore Bilbo—and he has lasted already nearly a full year in office, holding the approval of one-third of the country

.. without the complicity of other power-holders, Trump would drop from his central position like a tooth from a rotten gum. What we need to do now is widen the camera angle beyond Fredo Trump to the hard-faced men and women over his shoulders. Those are the people who put Trump where he is, and keep him there, corrupting the institutions of American democracy and troubling the peace and security of the world.

 

Everyone in Trumpworld Knows He’s an Idiot

It’s not Trump’s motives that are scary; Wolff reports that Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner were “increasingly panicked” and “frenzied” about what Comey would find if he looked into the family finances, which is incriminating but unsurprising. The terrifying part is how, in Wolff’s telling, Trump sneaked around his aides, some of whom thought they’d contained him.

.. “In presidential annals, the firing of F.B.I. director James Comey may be the most consequential move ever made by a modern president acting entirely on his own.” Now imagine Trump taking the same approach toward ordering the bombing of North Korea.

.. We learn that the administration holds special animus for what it calls “D.O.J. women,”

.. most of all, the book confirms what is already widely understood — not just that Trump is entirely unfit for the presidency, but that everyone around him knows it.

.. One thread running through “Fire and Fury” is the way relatives, opportunists and officials try to manipulate and manage the president, and how they often fail.

.. the people around Trump, “all — 100 percent — came to believe he was incapable of functioning in his job.”

.. According to Wolff, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Reince Priebus, the former chief of staff, called Trump an “idiot.” (So did the media mogul Rupert Murdoch, owner of Fox News, though he used an obscenity first.)

.. Trump’s chief economic adviser, Gary Cohn, compares his boss’s intelligence to excrement. The national security adviser, H. R. McMaster, thinks he’s a “dope.” It has already been reported that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called Trump a “moron,” which he has pointedly refused to deny.

.. Wolff takes a few stabs at the motives of Trump insiders. Ivanka Trump apparently nurtured the ghastly dream of following her father into the presidency. Others, Wolff writes, told themselves that they could help protect America from the president they serve

.. Some of the military men trying to steady American foreign policy amid Trump’s whims and tantrums might be doing something quietly decent, sacrificing their reputations for the greater good.

.. But most members of Trump’s campaign and administration are simply traitors. They are willing, out of some complex mix of ambition, resentment, cynicism and rationalization, to endanger all of our lives — all of our children’s lives — by refusing to tell the country what they know about the senescent fool who boasts of the size of his “nuclear button” on Twitter.

.. Maybe, at the moment, people in the Trump orbit feel complacent because a year has passed without any epic disaster, unless you count an estimated 1,000 or so deaths in Puerto Rico

.. A guy falls from a 50-story building. As he flies by the 25th floor, someone asks how it’s going. “So far, so good!” he says.

Eventually, we’ll hit the ground, and assuming America survives, there should be a reckoning to dwarf the defenestration of Harvey Weinstein and his fellow ogres.

.. His enablers have no such excuse.

Wes Goodman & Religious Conservatism, Inc.

The frightened teenager fled the room and told his mother and stepfather, who demanded action from the head of the organization hosting the conference.

“If we endorse these types of individuals, then it would seem our whole weekend together was nothing more than a charade,” the stepfather wrote to Tony Perkins, president of the Council for National Policy.

“Trust me . . . this will not be ignored nor swept aside,” replied Perkins

.. The Post has a photocopy of a 2015 letter that Perkins sent to Goodman, congratulating him on his therapy, but advising him that he ought not to seek political office until he has dealt with his homosexual behavior. Perkins said that he was “disappointed” by Goodman’s decision to run for state office, and kicked him off of the Council for National Policy.

.. Here’s the thing, though: Perkins and others who knew what Goodman had done in the hotel room let him continue his rise in conservative politics, knowing that he was a potential time bomb. How many social and religious conservative donors, activists, and voters would have supported an Evangelical rising star had they known that he was at least once willing to commit adultery, with a young man, and by sexually assaulting him?

.. So, Tony Perkins, the most powerful religious right figure in Washington, helped hide from other conservatives, as well as the public, that junior Republican politician Wesley Goodman, despite his façade as a Bible-believing family man, was an adulterous gay groper. Why?

.. Goodman was seen as a rising conservative star and a good networker who could help young people get jobs in conservative organizations

.. When asked whether Rosenberger had heard the rumors of Goodman’s past, Miller said they can’t chase down every rumor.

Until someone comes forward with a substantial allegation — and when that occurs there is immediate action to make sure the proper protocols are followed,” Miller said.

.. Was it the case that young men propositioned lewdly by Goodman, who was well-connected in Republican politics, were afraid not so much of Goodman but his protectors?

.. Was Tony Perkins’s decision to stay silent as Wes Goodman’s political star rose in any way related to a desire to have a reliably conservative vote in the Ohio statehouse, even though he knew the man was a groper? I find it hard to believe that someone of Perkins’s national stature would worry so much about the Ohio statehouse, but given that Evangelicals (like Perkins) have established a reputation of overlooking credible accusations of sexual predation for the sake of supporting politicians who vote as they wish, the question remains.

Weinstein and Our Culture of Enablers

The enablers were of all sorts.

Corporate board members who declined to investigate allegations of his sexual behavior and now claim the news comes as “an utter surprise.”

Assistants who acted as “honeypots,” joining meetings between Mr. Weinstein and his intended victims to give them a sense of security — and then leaving the predator to his prey.

Reporters who paid him tribute with awards, did his bidding with fawning coverage, or went after his enemies with hit pieces.

A lavishly paid Italian studio executive whose real job, according to former Times reporter Sharon Waxman, was “to take care of Weinstein’s women needs.” (A lawyer for the executive reportedly denies the allegation.)

.. Mr. Weinstein’s depredations were an open film industry secret, the subject of an onstage joke by Seth MacFarlane at the 2013 Oscar nomination announcement. Everyone laughed because everyone got it.

Some of his victims, such as Gwyneth Paltrow, became Hollywood powers in their own right but never publicly rang an alarm until this week.

The actor Ben Affleck, who owes his start to Mr. Weinstein, is an overnight laughingstock because he acts surprised by the producer’s behavior. He won’t be the only celebrity doing his best Claude Rains “shocked, shocked” impression.

.. Irwin Reiter, a top Weinstein Company executive, sought to console one of the office assistants harassed by Mr. Weinstein by saying the “mistreatment of women” was a longstanding company issue and that “if you were my daughter he would not have made out so well.” But Reiter never went public.

.. In recent years, notes New York magazine’s Rebecca Traister, Weinstein has “lost power in the movie industry” and is no longer “the indie mogul who could make or break an actor’s Oscar chances.” Lame horses get shot.

.. he was just another libidinous cad in a libertine culture that long ago dispensed with most notions of personal restraint and gentlemanly behavior. “I came of age in the ’60s and ’70s, when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different,” Weinstein wrote in his mea culpa to The Times last week. “That was the culture then.”

.. That line was roundly mocked, but it contains its truth. Like those other libidinous cads — Bill Clinton and Donald Trump — Weinstein benefited from a culture that often celebrated, constantly depicted, sometimes enabled, seldom confronted, and all-too frequently forgave the behavior they so often indulged in.

.. The old saw that all that is needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing was never truer than it was in Weinstein’s case.

Harvey Weinstein’s Media Enablers

.. we’re hearing a lot about how the story of his misconduct was “the worst-kept secret” in Hollywood and New York.

.. The real story didn’t surface until now because too many people in the intertwined news and entertainment industries had too much to gain from Mr. Weinstein for too long. Across a run of more than 30 years, he had the power to mint stars, to launch careers, to feed the ever-famished content beast. And he did so with quality films that won statuettes and made a whole lot of money for a whole lot of people.

.. “The unfortunate reality of Hollywood is that if someone has money, then they can generally find some kind of audience of people who are interested in working with them,” said Kim Masters, the editor at large at The Hollywood Reporter. This was particularly true of Mr. Weinstein, who, she said, was known for having “the golden touch” that produced “Pulp Fiction” and “Good Will Hunting,” “The King’s Speech” and “Shakespeare in Love.”

.. She said she wanted to believe that times were changing, given the number of women who have put their names to the words that derailed the careers of Bill Cosby, who faced criminal charges that resulted in a mistrial this year, and Bill O’Reilly. But she also wondered aloud whether trouble had finally found Mr. Weinstein because he was no longer the rainmaker and hitmaker he had once been.

..Ms. Bloom has attributed his missteps to his status as a “dinosaur” who is now “learning new ways.”

.. there is a long tradition of disgusting harassment of women who try to make it in the movie business. (Jack L. Warner, a founder of Warner Bros. studios, was no saint.)

.. Mr. Weinstein paid off his latest accuser in a confidential settlement.
.. he was allegedly harassing women in five-star hotel rooms across the globe even as his company was distributing films like “The Hunting Ground,” a 2015 documentary about sexual assault on college campuses. He also helped endow a “Gloria Steinem” faculty chair at Rutgers; joined a national women’s march in Park City, Utah, in January; and was a big fund-raiser for and supporter of Hillary Clinton.
.. State Street, the bank behind the famous “fearless girl” statue staring down the Wall Street bull, paid $5 million to some 300 female executives after a federal audit determined it had paid them less than their white male counterparts
.. Mr. Weinstein had his own enablers. He built his empire on a pile of positive press clippings that, before the internet era, could have reached the moon.
.. Every now and then, glimpses of his nasty side spilled out, like when he placed the reporter Andrew Goldman in a headlock and dragged him out of a party in 2000. Someone who was involved in that altercation, Rebecca Traister, wrote in New York’s The Cut on Thursday that it didn’t get the media attention it deserved because “there were so many journalists on his payroll
.. Let’s hope that those in the know did not include members of the Los Angeles Press Club, which this year gave Mr. Weinstein its “Truthteller Award,” calling him an example of “integrity and social responsibility,”
.. Mr. Weinstein has hired the emerging leader of anti-press jurisprudence, Charles Harder, who brought the case that put Gawker out of business last year.
.. what the cost would be and for the editors and reporters who conveniently didn’t bother to look into the tales making the rounds.
.. “I guarantee there are many more rocks to overturn.”

Trump’s Pious and Dangerous Enablers

Did I miss something when Trump said he was salivating at the chance to take health care away from 22 million Americans and the 87-year-old Robertson merely responded with his trademark chucklehead chuckle?

.. Robertson is not the most despicable of Trump’s enablers. For that, you’re probably thinking of Sean Hannity. No, it goes beyond the safe spaces in broadcasting. The most odious of those who are letting Trump drag America into the gutter include Vice President Mike Pence, the leaders in Congress and the pious shepherds of a white evangelical community that continues to give an awful man a pass for every awful thing he does.

.. Pence is the choirboy who leaves the room when the nasty boys take over, and then helps clean up later.

.. Pence has said he would never dine alone with a woman who is not his wife, which raises questions about how he would handle a diplomatic dinner with Angela Merkel.

.. Through every degrading statement, every Oval Office insult, every one of the more than 500 demonstrable lies told (so far) by this president, Pence has remained silent or defended the offender.

And if the White House is blackmailed because the Kremlin has something even more damning on, say, Jared Kushner .. Pence will be further exposed as a gutless cipher.
.. Another boy scout in hiding is House Speaker Paul Ryan. Golly gee, he just wants to cut taxes on the rich, destroy the health care system, and work on his abs and guns.
.. Asked this week if he would ever have a meeting with a foreign power offering dirt on a political opponent, he said, “I’m not going to go into hypotheticals.”
.. And the above question is anything but a hypothetical; the dim-bulbed Donald Trump Jr. presented it in writing.
.. A true miracle would be for one of the enablers among the 81 percent of white evangelicals who gave their vote to Trump to follow their conscience, or at least the Scriptures they profess guide them.