The Epstein case is a reminder of the depraved milieu from which our president sprang.
On Monday, Donald Trump disinvited the then-British ambassador, Kim Darroch, from an official administration dinner with the emir of Qatar, because he was mad about leaked cables in which Darroch assessed the president as “insecure” and “incompetent.”
There was room at the dinner, however, for Trump’s friend Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, who was charged in a prostitution sting this year. Kraft was allegedly serviced at a massage parlor that had once been owned by Li Yang, known as Cindy, a regular at Trump’s club Mar-a-Lago. Yang is now the target of an F.B.I. inquiry into whether she funneled Chinese money into Trump’s political operation.
An ordinary president would not want to remind the world of the Kraft and Yang scandals at a time when Jeffrey Epstein’s arrest has hurled Trump’s other shady associations back into the limelight. Epstein, indicted on charges of abusing and trafficking underage girls, was a friend of Trump’s until the two had a falling out, reportedly over a failed business deal. The New York Times reported on a party Trump threw at Mar-a-Lago whose only guests were him, Epstein and around two dozen women “flown in to provide the entertainment.”
Epstein, of course, was also linked to the administration in another way. The president’s labor secretary, Alexander Acosta, was the United States attorney who oversaw a secret, obscenely lenient deal that let Epstein escape federal charges for sex crimes over a decade ago. On Friday, two days after a tendentious, self-serving news conference defending his handling of the Epstein case, Acosta finally resigned.
Even with Acosta gone, however, Epstein remains a living reminder of the depraved milieu from which the president sprang, and of the corruption and misogyny that continue to swirl around him. Trump has been only intermittently interested in distancing himself from that milieu. More often he has sought, whether through strategy or instinct, to normalize it.
This weekend, Trump National Doral, one of the president’s Florida clubs, planned to host a fund-raiser allowing golfers to bid on strippers to serve as their caddies. Though the event was canceled when it attracted too much attention, it’s at once astounding and not surprising at all that it was approved in the first place.
In truth, a stripper auction is tame by the standard of gross Trump stories, since at least the women were willing. Your eyes would glaze over if I tried to list every Trump associate implicated in the beating or sexual coercion of women. Still, it’s worth reviewing a few lowlights, because it’s astonishing how quickly the most lurid misdeeds fade from memory, supplanted by new degradations.
Acosta, you’ll remember, got his job because Trump’s previous pick, Andrew Puzder, withdrew following the revelation that his ex-wife, pseudonymous and in disguise, had appeared on an Oprah episode about “High Class Battered Women.” (She later retracted her accusations.)
Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist, was once charged with domestic violence, battery and dissuading a witness. (The case was dropped when his former wife failed to appear in court.) After Bill Shine, a former co-president of Fox News, was forced from his job for his involvement in Fox’s sprawling sexual harassment scandals, Trump hired him.
The White House staff secretary Rob Porter resigned last year after it was revealed that both of his ex-wives had accused him of abuse. The White House speechwriter David Sorensen resigned after his ex-wife came forward with stories of his violence toward her.
Elliott Broidy, a major Trump fund-raiser who became the Republican National Committee deputy finance chairman, resigned last year amid news that he’d paid $1.6 million as hush money to a former playboy model, Shera Bechard, who said she’d had an abortion after he got her pregnant. (In a lawsuit, Bechard said Broidy had been violent.) The casino mogul Steve Wynn, whom Trump installed as the R.N.C.’s finance chairman, resigned amid accusations that he’d pressured his employees for sex. He remains a major Republican donor.
In 2017, Trump tapped the former chief executive of AccuWeather, Barry Myers, to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Then The Washington Post discovered a report from a Department of Labor investigation into Myers’s company, which found a culture of “widespread sexual harassment” that was “severe and pervasive.” The Senate hasn’t yet voted on Myers’s nomination, but the administration hasn’t withdrawn it.
And just this week, a senior military officer came forward to accuse Gen. John Hyten, Trump’s nominee to be the next vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, of derailing her career when she turned down his sexual advances. “My life was ruined by this,” she told The Associated Press. (The Air Force reportedly cleared him of misconduct.)
Trump will sometimes jettison men accused of abuse when they become a public relations liability. But his first instinct is empathy, a sentiment he seems otherwise unfamiliar with. In May, he urged Roy Moore, the theocratic Alabama Senate candidate accused of preying on teenage girls, not to run again because he would lose, but added, “I have NOTHING against Roy Moore, and unlike many other Republican leaders, wanted him to win.” The president has expressed no sympathy for victims in the Epstein case, but has said he felt bad for Acosta.
Trump seems to understand, at least on a limbic level, that the effect of this cavalcade of scandal isn’t cumulative. Instead, each one eclipses the last, creating a sense of weary cynicism that makes shock impossible to sustain.
It was just three weeks ago that E. Jean Carroll, a well-known writer, accused Trump of what amounted to a violent rape in the mid-1990s, and two friends of hers confirmed that she’d told them about it at the time. In response, Trump essentially said she was too unattractive to rape — “No. 1, she’s not my type” — and claimed that he’d never met her. That was a provable lie; there’s a photograph of them together. It didn’t matter. The story drifted from the headlines within a few days.
Since Epstein’s arrest, many people have wondered how he was able to get away with his alleged crimes for so long, given all that’s publicly known about him. But we also know that the president boasts about sexually assaulting women, that over a dozen have accused him of various sorts of sexual misconduct, and one of them has accused him of rape. We know it, and we know we can’t do anything about it, so we live with it and grow numb. Maybe someday justice will come and a new generation will wonder how we tolerated behavior that was always right out in the open.
Only one person can save us from the dangerous belligerent in the White House.
And that person is Donald Trump.
How screwed up is that?
Will the president let himself be pushed into a parlous war by John Bolton, who once buoyed the phony case on W.M.D.s in Iraq? Or will Trump drag back his national security adviser and the other uber hawks from the precipice of their fondest, bloodiest desire — to attack Iran?
Can Cadet Bone Spurs, as Illinois senator and Iraq war vet Tammy Duckworth called Trump, set Tom Cotton straight that winning a war with Iran would not merely entail “two strikes, the first strike and the last strike”? Holy cakewalk.
Once, we counted on Trump’s advisers to pump the brakes on an out-of-control president. Now, we count on the president to pump the brakes on out-of-control advisers.
.. “On one side, you have a president who doesn’t want war, who simply wants to do with Iran what he has done with North Korea, to twist the arm of the Iranians to bring them to a negotiation on his terms,” said Gérard Araud, the recently departed French ambassador. “He thinks they will suffer and at the end, they will grovel in front of his power.”
But in a way, Araud said, the face-off with the Iranians is more “primitive and dangerous” because, besides Bolton, other factions in the Middle East are also “dreaming of going to war.”
“Even if Trump doesn’t personally want war, we are now at the mercy of any incident, because we are at maximum tension on both sides,” said Araud, recalling Candidate Trump’s bellicose Twitter ultimatumsin 2016 when Iran’s Revolutionary Guards held American sailors blindfolded at gunpoint for 15 hours.
Given their sour feelings about W. shattering the Middle East and their anger at Trump shredding the Iran nuclear deal, Europeans are inclined to see the U.S. as trying to provoke Iran into war. This time, the Europeans will not be coming along — and who can blame them?
I’m having an acid flashback to 2002, when an immature, insecure, ill-informed president was bamboozled by his war tutors.
In an echo of the hawks conspiring with Iraqi exiles to concoct a casus belli for Iraq, Bolton told members of an Iranian exile group in Paris in 2017 that the Trump administration should go for regime change in Tehran.
“And that’s why, before 2019, we here will celebrate in Tehran!” Bolton cheerily told the exiles.
When Bolton was the fifth column in the Bush 2 State Department — there to lurk around and report back on flower child Colin Powell — he complained that W.’s Axis of Evil (Iran, Iraq, North Korea) was too limited, adding three more of his own (Cuba, Libya, Syria). Then, last year, Bolton talked about “the Troika of Tyranny” (Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela). His flirtations with military intervention in Venezuela this month irritated Trump.
The 70-year-old with the Yeti mustache is an insatiable interventionist with an abiding faith in unilateralism and pre-emptive war. (The cost of our attenuated post-9/11 wars is now calculated at $5.9 trillion.)
W. and Trump are similar in some ways but also very different. As Trump biographer Michael D’Antonio notes: W. was interested in clarity. Trump wants chaos. W. wanted to trust his domineering advisers. Trump is always imagining betrayal. W. wanted to be a war hero, like his dad. Trump does not want to be trapped in an interminable war that will consume his presidency.
Certainly, the biographer says, Trump enjoys playing up the scary aspects of brown people with foreign names and ominous titles, like “mullah” and “ayatollah,” to stoke his base.
But Trump, unlike W., is driven by the drama of it. “It’s a game of revving up the excitement and making people afraid and then backing off on the fear in order to declare that he’s resolved the situation,” D’Antonio said. “Trump prefers threats and ultimatums to action because that allows him to look big and tough and get attention without doing something for which he will be held responsible. This is who he is at his core: an attention-seeking, action-averse propagandist who is terrified of accountability in the form of coffins arriving at Dover Air Force Base.”
David Axelrod, who had the military briefing about what a war with Iran would look like when he was in the Obama White House, said: “I’m telling you. It’s not a pretty picture.”
He says he is not sure which movie Bolton is starring in: “Dr. Strangelove” or “Wag the Dog.”
“If part of your brand is that you’re not going to get the U.S. into unnecessary wars,” he said, “why in the world would you hire John Bolton?”
On the White Supremacists, Neo-nazis, and their allies: First, I was impressed by their organization. They showed up in organized caravans of rented white vans, pick-up trucks, and other vehicles, and then quickly lined up with flags and started marching. I don’t know what app they were using, but it worked. (After the state of emergency was declared, the organization seemed less effective, with more confusion and milling around.) Second, they were young. The majority, it seemed to me, were in their twenties and thirties, mostly men, but a few women. I was told by one protestor that many of the older leaders were retired military.
.. They looked like they came expecting to fight, threaten, and intimidate. Some came in paramilitary garb, heavily armed. They carried an assortment of flags – mostly confederate, many representing their respective organizations, with a surprising number of Nazi flags. I’m 61, and before this weekend, I’ve never seen a single Nazi flag carried proudly in the United States. This weekend I saw many.
.. Their use of torches Friday night and slogans like “blood and soil” were clearly intended to evoke the KKK and Naziism. There was a good bit of “hail Trump” chanting with Nazi gestures.
.. he unabashed racism, the seething hatred, the chest-thumping hubris, the anti-Semitism, the misogyny, the shameless desire to harm their opponents, the gushing love for Trump, Putin, and Stalin, of all people … they speak for themselves. I was struck by how often the term “balls” comes up in their posts: these seem like insecure young men who are especially eager to prove their manhood, recalling election season bragging about “hand size.”
.. I would guess around a thousand white supremacists, and I would guess that the total number of anti-racism/anti-facism protesters was equal or greater.
.. I have participated in many protests and demonstrations over the years, but I have not seen the faith community come together in such a powerful and beautiful way as they did in Charlottesville. Brittany Caine-Conley and Seth Wispelwey deserve a lot of credit, as do the Congregate C-ville team they coordinated.
.. I met UCC, Episcopal, Methodist, Unitarian, Lutheran, Baptist (Alliance), Anglican, Presbyterian, and Jewish faith leaders, and the Quakers were out in large numbers, wearing bright yellow t-shirts. I met Catholic lay people, but I didn’t meet or see any Catholic priests. Two Episcopal bishops were present, and they had encouraged priests of their diocese to be involved. Along with those of us who participated in an organized way, it was clear that many ad-hoc groups of Christians and others came to protest, some with signs, some giving out water and snacks to anti-racist protestors.
Black, white, Latino, and Asian clergy worked and stood side by side; Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, and others marched, prayed, and sang as allies.
.. The courage of the clergy present inspired me. In public gatherings and in private conversations before Saturday, participating clergy were warned that there was a high possibility of suffering bodily harm
.. A group of clergy (pictured below) walked arm-in-arm into the very center of the storm, so to speak, delaying entry to the park as they stood, sang, and kneeled. (Lisa Sharon Harper shares her reflections here.) This symbolic act took a great deal of courage, and many who did so were spat on, subjected to slurs and insults, and exposed to tear gas
.. I was deeply impressed with the Black Lives Matter participants. They went into the middle of the fray and stood strong and resilient against vicious attacks, insults, spitting, pepper spray, tear gas, and hurled objects. It’s deeply disgusting to see BLM be vilified on Fox News and other conservative outlets after watching them comport themselves with courage in the face of vile hatred this weekend.
.. Not all of the groups shared a commitment to nonviolent resistance in the tradition of Dr. King. I saw a few groups of protestors who, like the Nazis and white supremacists, came with hand-made shields and helmets, and I heard reports that some of these groups used pepper spray on the white supremacists, who were also using pepper spray, sticks, and fists on them.
.. In my fields of observation, they did not seem present to intervene quickly when skirmishes broke out. They seemed to stay back in the background. Perhaps this was intentional and strategic for reasons I don’t understand. Be that as it may, I couldn’t help but think about the contrast between the hands-off way heavily armed white supremacists were treated by police in Charlotte and how unarmed African Americans in other demonstrations have been beaten and arrested around the country over the years … or how unarmed Native Americans were treated at Black Rock a few months ago. That contrast is haunting, itself an expression of white privilege.
.. The young age of many of the white supremacists and Nazis suggests two things to me: first, that young white people are being radicalized in America today, radicalized to the point of using the ISIS tactic of killing people with a car; and second, that this problem isn’t going away fast
.. Just as male mammals seek to “mark territory,” these human groups seem determined to maintain their markers of white supremacy – namely, statues and flags associated with the era and culture of slavery.
.. White supremacist and Nazi dreams of apartheid must be replaced with a better dream
.. Our Christian leaders need to face the deep roots of white Christian supremacy that go back to 1452 and the Doctrine of Discovery, and before that, to the tragic deals made by 4th Century Bishops with Emperor Constantine, and before that, to the rise of Christian antisemitism mere decades after Jesus
But is Twitter really the problem?
.. Twitter is just a tool. With or without it, Trump’s conduct would be disordered and self-sabotaging. The Comey firing is but one of hundreds of examples.
.. The crude way Trump fired Comey — without the courtesy of a meeting or even a phone call — guaranteed a new and skilled enemy.
.. Twitter played no role in Trump’s blurting of classified information to the Russian ambassador and foreign minister, or in his choice to slander Comey as a “nut job” to them. Twitter wasn’t implicated in many other blunders, such as undermining the NATO alliance by refusing to confirm our commitment to Article 5; praising the Philippine president for his extrajudicial murders of drug addicts and dealers
.. It is Trump’s inexplicable and insatiable appetite for conflict that keeps roiling the waters.
.. When the city of London has just endured another horrific terror attack, the decent thing is to express American sympathy and solidarity. Trump instead picked a fight with London’s mayor.
.. Trump is feuding with his own staff and even with his family.
.. This is a reprise of a campaign theme, perhaps the chief campaign theme. America, Trump argued, was being led by boobs and incompetents. “I alone can fix.”
.. But the truth is that he is the incompetent, and too vain and insecure to recognize his own faults. When he screws up, he blames those around him.
.. even the best people are diminished and tarnished by what Trump requires of them and does to them.
.. He makes liars of previously honorable men and women.