what the trial reveals is something very damning, in the ethical if not legal sense: namely, what kind of people Trump surrounds himself with.
There was no secret about Manafort’s record as an influence-peddler on behalf of corrupt dictators and oligarchs when he went to work for Trump. On April 13, 2016, Bloomberg columnist Eli Lake wrote a prescient article headlined: “Trump Just Hired His Next Scandal.” Trump couldn’t have cared less. His whole career, he has surrounded himself with sleazy characters such as the Russian-born mob associate Felix Sater, who served prison time for assault and later pleaded guilty to federal fraud charges, as well as lawyer-cum-fixer Michael Cohen, who is reportedly under investigation for a variety of possible crimes, including tax fraud.
.. These are the kind of people Trump feels comfortable around, because this is the kind of person Trump is. He is, after all, the guy who paid $25 million to settle fraud charges against him from students of Trump University. The guy who arranged for payoffs to a Playboy playmate and a porn star with whom he had affairs. The guy who lies an average of 7.6 times a day.
.. And because everyone knows what kind of person Trump is, he attracts kindred souls. Manafort and Gates are only Exhibits A and B. There is also Exhibit C: Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), the first member of Congress to endorse Trump, is facing federal charges of conspiracy, wire fraud and false statements as part of an alleged insider-trading scheme. Exhibit D is Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who has been accused by Forbes magazine, hardly an anti-Trump rag, of bilking business associates out of $120 million.
.. In fairness, not all of Trump’s associates are grifters. Some are simply wealthy dilettantes like Trump himself
.. Among the affluent and unqualified appointees Trump has set loose on the world are his son-in-law Jared Kushner and his former lawyer, Jason Greenblatt, who are somehow supposed to solve an Israeli-Palestinian dispute that has frustrated seasoned diplomats for decades. No surprise: Their vaunted peace plan remains MIA.
.. ProPublica has a mind-boggling scoop about another group of dilettantes — a Palm Beach doctor, an entertainment mogul, and a lawyer — whom Trump tasked as an informal board of directors to oversee the Department of Veterans Affairs. None has any experience in the U.S. military or government; their chief qualification was that they are all members of Trump’s golf club, Mar-a-Lago.
.. Beyond the swindlers and dilettantes, there is a third group of people who have no business working for Trump or any other president: the fanatics. The most prominent of the extremists was Stephen K. Bannon, the notorious “alt-right” leader who was chief executive of Trump’s campaign and a senior White House aide. He may be gone, but others remain. They include Peter Navarro, who may well be the only economist in the world who thinks trade wars are a good thing; Stephen Miller, the nativist who was behind plans to lock immigrant children in cages and bar Muslims from entering the United States, and who is now plotting to reduce legal immigration; and Fred Fleitz, the Islamophobic chief of staff of the National Security Council. They feel at home in the White House because, aside from being a grifter and a dilettante, Trump is also an extremist with a long history of racist, sexist, nativist, protectionist and isolationist utterances
dwell for a moment on the awfulness of Tillerson.
He came to office with no discernible worldview other than the jaded transactionalism he acquired as ExxonMobil’s C.E.O. He leaves office with no discernible accomplishment except a broken department and a traumatized staff.
Six of the 10 top positions at State are vacant; even now the United States does not have an ambassador to South Korea, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, South Africa or the European Union, among other posts.
.. he did seem to figure out that Vladimir Putin is a bad guy. But that’s progress only because he was previously the Russian despot’s premier apologist.
.. he opposed the president’s two best foreign policy decisions: moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and decertifying the Iran deal.
.. Some secretaries of state — Colin Powell, for instance — alienate their bosses by siding with the bureaucracy. Others, like Henry Kissinger, do the opposite. Tillerson is the rare bird who managed to do both.
.. unlike Tillerson, he will have credibility with foreign governments. Just as importantly, he’s been willing to contradict the president, meaning he’ll be able to act as a check on him, too.
Trump isn’t going to be disciplined by someone whose views are dovish or establishmentarian. But he might listen to, and be tempered by, a responsible hawk.
.. The notion that Kim Jong-un is going to abandon his nuclear arsenal is risible. What, other than reunification of Korea on Pyongyang’s terms, would Kim exchange his arsenal for?
Equally risible is the idea that his regime will ever abide by the terms of a deal. North Korea violates every agreement it signs.
.. might strike it at South Korea’s and perhaps Japan’s expense. This president has never been particularly fond of our two closest Asian allies, much less of the cost to the United States of aiding in their defense.
.. The promise of Pompeo is that he can provide ballast against some of Trump’s other gusts, particularly when it comes to the Kremlin.
- On Syria, he dismisses the possibility of a collaborative relationship with Russia.
- On Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, he insists, “America has an obligation to push back.”
- On WikiLeaks, he calls it a “non-state hostile intelligence service.”
- On Russian interference in the U.S. election, he acknowledges it as incontrovertible fact and warns of the “Gerasimov doctrine” — the Russian conviction that it can use disinformation to win a bloodless war with the West.
.. If the thought that Putin has strings to pull with this president alarms you, Pompeo’s presence should be reassuring. However much you might otherwise disagree with him, the guy who graduated first in his class from West Point is not a Russian stooge.
.. he’d be smart to model his behavior on Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, the administration’s one undisputed star, who thrives in his job because he’s plainly not afraid of losing it, much less of speaking his mind.
At the Family Research Council’s recent Values Voter Summit, the religious right effectively declared its conversion to Trumpism.
.. A time to live and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to uproot. A time to mourn and a time to embrace angry ethnonationalism and racial demagoguery. Yes, a time to mourn... Evidently the Christian approach to social justice is miraculously identical to 1930s Republican protectionism, isolationism and nativism... Rather than confidently and persistently representing a set of distinctive beliefs, they pant and beg to be a part of someone else’s movement. In this case, it is a movement that takes advantage of racial and ethnic divisions and dehumanizes Muslims, migrants and refugees... If Christian conservatives are loyal enough, Bannon promises that they can be “the folks who saved the Judeo-Christian West.”.. All that is required is to abandon the best of the Judeo-Christian tradition: a belief in the inherent value and dignity of every life... It means that the primary mission of Christians in public life is not to secure their own interests or to defend their own identity. It is to seek a society in which every person can flourish. This is the definition of the common good — which is not truly common unless it includes the suffering and powerless... If there is a single reason that Republican health-care reform has failed, it is because party leaders could not make a credible case that the common good was being served... Who would now identify conservative Christian political engagement with the pursuit of the common good? Rather, the religious right is an interest group seeking preference and advancement from a strongman — and rewarding him with loyal acceptance of his priorities... They are associating the teachings of Jesus Christ — a globalist when it came to the Great Commission — with ethnonationalist ideology. This should be a sobering prospect for any Christian. But few seem sobered. Instead, the faithful give standing ovations to the purveyors of division and prejudice... When anyone or anything takes priority over the faith, there is a good, strong religious word for it: idolatry. And the word is unavoidable, as religious conservatives carry their golden calf into Bannon’s battles.
Bannon thinks he created Trump, and Trump thinks he created Bannon. They had a fundamental disagreement about who was using whom, and in any such conflict, the president of the United States is going to win.
.. The Trump statement on Bannon is — of course — exaggerated and overly harsh. It nonetheless nails important things about the former White House official. He was an inveterate leaker and poisonous infighter. Some of Bannon’s energy was devoted to trying to destroy Trump’s notably noncorrupt and nonkooky national security adviser, H.R. McMaster. Most of it, though, was directed at Trump’s children and son-in-law.
.. Bannon also is a flagrant self-promoter. By any reasonable standard, it’s quite a comedown to go from working a few paces from the Oval Office to running a shoddy website devoid of true journalistic interest.
.. his fundraising just got much harder. Part of Bannon’s appeal to candidates was bringing the imprimatur of Trump, and that, too, has been dented.
.. At the beginning of 2016, it seemed that Steve Bannon could be a figure like Karl Rove or David Axelrod, a political strategist with outsize influence over policy who existed at the very top of our national politics for years. Instead, he’s been kicked to the curb more brutally than any presidential aide in modern history.
.. This, obviously, has much to do with Trump himself, who is volatile, jealous of media attention, and insistent that loyalty runs only one way, up to him.
.. He had no idea how to effect his dream of a protectionist, isolationist administration spending massively on infrastructure and raising taxes on the rich. His vision lacked support within the administration and in Washington more broadly.
.. Trump’s base is Trump’s. No one ever voted for Steve Bannon, and now he is on the wrong side of the president in whose name he has presumed to speak.