Nobody left besides those with no reputation to lose.
There have been many policy disasters over the course of U.S. history. It’s hard, however, to think of a calamity as gratuitous, an error as unforced, as the current federal shutdown.
Nor can I think of another disaster as thoroughly personal, as completely owned by one man. When Donald Trump told Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, “I will be the one to shut it down,” he was being completely accurate — although he went on to promise that “I’m not going to blame you for it,” which was a lie.
Still, no man is an island, although Trump comes closer than most. You can’t fully make sense of his policy pratfalls without acknowledging the extraordinary quality of the people with whom he has surrounded himself. And by “extraordinary,” of course, I mean extraordinarily low quality. Lincoln had a team of rivals; Trump has a team of morons.
If this sounds too harsh, consider recent economic pronouncements by two members of his administration. Predictably, these pronouncements involve bad economics; that’s pretty much a given. What’s striking, instead, is the inability of either man to stay on script; they can’t even get their right-wing mendacity right.
.. First up is Kevin Hassett, chairman of Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers, who was asked about the plight of federal workers who aren’t being paid. You don’t have to be a public relations expert to know that you’re supposed to express some sympathy, whether you feel it or not. After all, there are multiple news reports about transportation security workers turning to food banks, the Coast Guard suggesting its employees hold garage sales, and so on.
So the right response involves expressing concern about those workers but placing the blame on Democrats who don’t want to stop brown-skinned rapists, or something like that. But no: Hassett declared that it’s all good, that the workers are actually “better off,” because they’re getting time off without having to use any of their vacation days.
Then consider what Sean Hannity had to say about taxing the rich. What’s that? You say that Hannity isn’t a member of the Trump administration? But surely he is in every sense that matters. In fact, Fox News isn’t just state TV, its hosts clearly have better access to the president, more input into his decisions, than any of the so-called experts at places like the State Department or the Department of Defense.
Anyway, Hannity declared that raising taxes on the wealthy would damage the economy, because “rich people won’t be buying boats that they like recreationally,” and “they’re not going to be taking expensive vacations anymore.”
Um, that’s not the answer a conservative is supposed to give. You’re supposed to insist that low taxes on the rich give them an incentive to work really really hard, not make it easier for them to take lavish vacations. You’re supposed to declare that low taxes will induce them to save and spend money building businesses, not help them afford to buy new yachts.
Even if your real reason for favoring low taxes is that they let your wealthy friends engage in even more high living, you’re not supposed to say that out loud.
Again, the point isn’t that people in Trump’s circle don’t care about ordinary American families, and also talk nonsense — that’s only to be expected. What’s amazing is that they’re so out of it that they don’t know either how to pretend to care about the middle class, or what nonsense to spout in order to sustain that pretense.
So what’s wrong with Trump’s people? Why can’t they serve up even some fake populism?
There are, I think, two answers, one generic to modern conservatism, one specific to Trump.
On the generic point: To be a modern conservative is to spend your life inside what amounts to a cult, barely exposed to outside ideas or even ways of speaking. Inside that cult, contempt for ordinary working Americans is widespread — remember Eric Cantor, the then-House majority leader, celebrating Labor Day by praising business owners. So is worship of wealth. And it can be hard for cult members to remember that you don’t talk that way to outsiders.
Then there’s the Trump effect. Normally working for the president of the United States is a career booster, something that looks good on your résumé. Trump’s presidency, however, is so chaotic, corrupt and potentially compromised by his foreign entanglements that anyone associated with him gets tainted — which is why after only two years he has already left a trail of broken men and wrecked reputations in his wake.
So who is willing to serve him at this point? Only those with no reputation to lose, generally because they’re pretty bad at what they do. There are, no doubt, conservatives smart and self-controlled enough to lie plausibly, or at least preserve some deniability, and defend Trump’s policies without making fools of themselves. But those people have gone into hiding.
A year ago I pointed out that the Trump administration was turning into government by the worst and the dumbest. Since then, however, things have gotten even worse and even dumber. And we haven’t hit bottom yet.
One wonders why a successful business or enterprise would have a reason to hire a “fixer.” You could poll the executives of the largest US corporations and companies and not find one fixer that needed to be retained do administer company business. The smart business people would subcontract the messy stuff (Facebook paying to have false dirt spread about George Soros comes to mind). For small endeavors, only those who intend to do bad things or cover them up, employ a Fixer. Criminal organizations for instance have them on the payroll. Even Mr McCarthy analogizes using figures in the Godfather. These are not good people. Where there is smoke, there may not always be fire. But where there is a criminal organization, there are always criminals.
.. We have just scratched the surface when it comes to all the “fixes” that Cohen provided for the president. We know about payoffs to porn stars.We know about trips to Russia during the campaign to makes deals for a Trump Tower near the Kremlin (with a $50 million penthouse for Putin to seal the deal). Soon, when the Trump tax returns (“So complicated”) are requested by the House Tax Committee, the story will get even more sorted... mtorillion:.. The Clintons had, and perhaps still have, the bulk of the FBI and Justice Department running and blocking for them. That and the media support gave it an air of “officialdom” the Trump team does not have. The Trump team was all private people, not government fixers and perhaps. In other words, the core of the Deep State... Trump was elected despite having no friends among the established major figures of either party; he was nominated and elected despite the disdain of many of the elite information organs of the Right. He has far fewer natural vocal allies in conservative circles than any Republican president. It ought make serious conservatives take a second look at their virtuous opposition to him now that it is clear that many of the powers of the State were set in motion against his campaign even before his election and these officials—and the Left—have been tireless, since before his inauguration, in assaulting the legitimacy of his presidency.Because he campaigned without Republican elites in his inner circle—most of whom would have nothing to do with him—and because he to this day has few strong allies among the Republican establishment, those who have been working most assiduously to destroy this presidency have understood from the outset that without having a firm foundation of support in DC itself, Trump is at special risk... Certain writers at NRO and certain Commenters here are among the far too many conservatives willing to sacrifice this presidency because they despise the man whom people had the temerity to elect. They are determined to separate the rectitude of their judgment about political matters from that of the hoi polloi: the Mueller investigation is, for them, a necessary cleansing agent. Thus they latch onto a vague unsettling that arises from the sordid iniquities of the president, permitting them to set aside elementary constitutional concerns about placing a presidential administration from its inception under an investigative cloud without just cause.
But after Mr. Trump entered the Oval Office, the network’s opinion hosts — from the cast of the president’s favorite morning show, “Fox & Friends,” to the anchor of “Hannity” — began to cheerlead his agenda more and more. Ratings and revenue increased, thanks to the overlap between the network’s audience and the Make America Great Again crowd.
On Monday night, though, with its biggest star joining Mr. Trump at a raucous campaign event, Fox News entered new territory — a thicket in which it’s hard to tell where the network ends and the president begins. The morning after, Fox News employees were complaining about what had happened in Cape Girardeau.
Mr. Trump introduced Mr. Hannity — an informal adviser and close confidant since the 2016 campaign — as someone who had been “with us since the beginning.” After a firm handshake and a warm bro-hug, Mr. Hannity pointed toward the reporters in the back and said, “By the way, all those people in the back are fake news.”
The host and the president smiled as the crowd jeered the press pen — which included the Fox News White House correspondent Kristin Fisher. Then Mr. Hannity delivered, in a thunderous voice, one of the Trump campaign’s slogans: “Promises made, promises kept!”
His Fox News colleague Jeanine Pirro also appeared on the rally stage that night. “Do you like the fact that this man is the tip of the spear that goes out there every day and fights for us?” she said, to cheers.
.. For all his many faults, Mr. Ailes understood the value of maintaining at least the semblance of separation between the network and the political party he was effectively commandeering from his desk in Manhattan. And he believed he had to protect his stable of news correspondents and producers to give Fox News some credibility beyond the core viewers who tuned in for its opinion hosts.
So, for instance, when Mr. Hannity went to Cincinnati to headline a planned Tea Party event in 2010, the boss forced him to cancel, angry that he had even said yes to such a thing.
.. These days, it seems, Fox News doesn’t have anyone drawing the line. It has been that way since the departure of Mr. Ailes, who was booted from the network in 2016 after multiple women accused him of sexual harassment and who died the next year.
- .. Mr. Hannity has called the investigation by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, part of a “deep state” conspiracy run by a “crime family.”
- Laura Ingraham has likened the federal detention facilities holding migrant children to “summer camps.” And
- Tucker Carlson has described the caravan of asylum seekers as “highly dangerous.”
.. Ainsley Earhardt, a “Fox & Friends” host, did not score one for journalism when she offered an on-air defense of Mr. Trump’s use of the phrase “enemy of the people” to describe the news media. “He’s saying: ‘If you don’t want to be called the enemy, then get the story right. Be accurate and report the story the way I want it reported,’” Ms. Earhardt said.
.. I have yet to see Rachel Maddow showing up at a campaign event for Nancy Pelosi or Chuck Schumer.
.. The morning after the rally in Missouri — after in-house complaints from anchors and reporters and a broader social media backlash — the network issued a statement that mentioned neither Mr. Hannity nor Ms. Pirro by name. “Fox News does not condone talent participating in campaign events,” it said, before referring vaguely to “an unfortunate distraction” that had “been addressed.”
.. Two weeks ago, a guest on Lou Dobbs’s show on the Fox Business Network, the conservative activist Chris Farrell, made the false allegation that the liberal political donor George Soros, who is Jewish, had paid migrants to come to the United States; he also asserted without evidence that Mr. Soros had undue influence in the State Department. Those false charges hark back to common anti-Semitic tropes. After deafening blowback, Fox News said Mr. Farrell would no longer appear on its channels.
.. And earlier this month, Ms. Pirro headlined a fund-raiser for Scott Wagner, the Republican candidate for governor in Pennsylvania. As The Philadelphia Inquirer reported, she earned $24,500 for serving as an “event speaker.” (Fox News had no official statement on that one.)
.. The only guardians of the old rules separating Fox News journalists from the people they are supposed to cover are the working journalists at the network. Apparently fed up with the caravan hysteria promoted by the prime-time pundits, the Fox News anchor Shepard Smith said on-air, “There is no invasion. No one is coming to get you. There is nothing at all to worry about.” Others, like the Fox News anchor Bret Baier and the Sunday host Chris Wallace, have at times made public complaints. As Mr. Wallace once said about the network’s pundits parroting Mr. Trump’s anti-press attacks, “It bothers me.”
.. When companies pulled their commercials from “The Ingraham Angle” after its host poked fun at David Hogg, a student survivor of the mass shooting in Parkland, Fla., the show’s ratings went up.
.. Administration officials with former on-air roles at the network include Ben Carson, the housing secretary; John Bolton, the national security director; Heather Nauert, the State Department spokeswoman; and Mercedes Schlapp, the White House strategic communications director. Oh, and Mr. Trump’s former communications director, Hope Hicks, has been hired as the communications director at Fox News’s corporate parent.
Ben Sasse, U.S. Senator (R NE), former president of Midland University in Fremont, NE and the author of Them: Why We Hate Each Other–and How to Heal (St. Martin’s Press, 2018) argues that loneliness is the underlying cause of America’s extreme polarization and the solution lies in finding deepening rootedness.
.@BenSasse: Whether people like Sean Hannity or not, they need to realize that he's really good at "nut-picking", finding "some jerk somewhere on the political spectrum doing something crazy" and portraying them as representative of the opposing party.
— Brian Lehrer Show (@BrianLehrer) October 17, 2018