Among all the great by-products of the Trump era, such as new respect for male hair dyes, loss of moral standing in the world, deliberate ignorance of climate changes that deal us increasingly devastating weather events, denigration of the free press, public cozying with dictators like Putin and Kim Jung Un (who has apparently found true love with the president), it is easy to overlook the most obvious one: lower standards for public officials.
One of my favorite examples, too soon forgotten, was the November 2017 photo of Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and his trophy wife—fresh from her TED talk on cheekbone maintenance—posing for photos with sheets of newly-printed dollar bills bearing his signature. They look so happy together, sharing with us their two great loves, money and privilege. It’s just a peccadillo, true, but is this weird public display the behavior of a mature, sober public servant? Or more the self-congratulatory lark of a college student who landed a minor role in a Michael Moore documentary? And this guy had recently weathered ethics questions about his publicly-funded trip to Fort Knox, Kentucky, to view the solar eclipse, as well as criticism about his wife’s tone-deaf social media dump, describing details of the expensive ensemble she wore for the trip and taunting less wealthy critics.
Who are these people? And do they plan on growing up anytime soon?
Then there are bigger hitters like Tom Price and Scott Pruitt, who lost their positions through their tragic but courageous allegiance to purer forms of corruption and influence-peddling, loyalties that even the Great Con Man himself could not endorse—at least publicly. He would have kept them on, you understand, but the stink was threatening to overpower the sweet perfume of his designer tanning butter.
Normalizing of these slithery creatures’ positions in public life is made possible by the president, of course. His own spectacularly unethical and immoral record is a permission slip for lesser rats to follow him like the Pied Piper of Hucksterism. Anything becomes possible when, for example, the public ignores or even embraces his $25 million “Trump University” fraud settlement. You are living in a world where Kanye West could be nominated to chair the Federal Reserve—not that I mean to be making suggestions.
What is fascinating, if unsurprising in this ultra-partisan age, is how readily the president and his cronies apply the tweezers when it comes to judging opposition figures. My current favorite example is Elizabeth Warren, senator from Massachusetts. Mr. Trump has bored us to tears with his calling her out as “Pocahontas,” a moniker intended to be a devastating expose of Warren’s claim to some Native American ancestry and the advantage this identity might have given her in academia. There are nuances to the story, but since the president doesn’t do details—or even actual facts–he’s happy to entertain his minions with the kind of simplicity they can grasp. And maybe reduce to a three-word chant.
The joke is that Trump treats Warren’s history as if it could somehow be worse than his own, which includes—just to touch on the laundry list—boasting about sexual assault, a refusal to condemn white supremacists, a fawning performance in front of Vladimir Putin, and an affair with a porn star just months after his son was born. Not to mention a DOJ investigation of his 2016 campaign’s possible contacts with Russia.
To be fair, the reason he harps on “Pocahontas” so constantly is that he doesn’t have anything else. You can just hear the panicky conversations among the opposition researchers assigned to find dirt on Warren: “Okay, but what about parking tickets? Maybe a teenage arrest for littering? Check out her grammar school attendance record—stat!”
The truth is, Elizabeth Warren is so squeaky-clean that Trump and his flying monkeys have had to fall back on shopworn favorites like, “She’s the devil! She’s crazy!”
Right. A crazy person who fought hard in 2009 to send bankers to jail after the financial meltdown, when most others, including Barack Obama, were against it. A devil who established the CFPB (Consumer Financial Protection Bureau), an agency that has returned over ten billion dollars to consumers swindled by credit card ripoffs and other scams. She has fought to reduce interest rates on student loans, and has introduced a bill to force for-profit colleges to refund tuition to students who were falsely promised employment upon graduation. Best of all, she has recently introduced a comprehensive anti-corruption bill that, among other things, would require public officials to release 8 years of tax returns, and would ban them for life from becoming lobbyists after leaving office. Talk about draining the swamp.
I say: more crazy people like this in public life, please.