I wonder, will the time ever come when standing next to Donald Trump — literally or figuratively — is toxic political theater for a Wyoming politician?
If so, no one in our congressional delegation appears to believe that time has yet arrived. And if the shame parade of President Trump’s first year hasn’t compelled a glimmer of conscience, it’s hard to imagine what would.
So we’ll have to continue enduring campaign brochures showing the president handing Rep. Liz Cheney a pen at a bill-signing ceremony, or walking the Capitol halls with Sen. John Barrasso, or speaking in the Rose Garden with Sen. Mike Enzi in the front row. I guess a 46-point margin, such as Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton in the state, earned not only our electoral college votes but also transformed our senators and congresswoman into the three wise monkeys of Japanese myth — they will see-no-evil, hear-no-evil and speak-no-evil, no matter how egregious the evil.
After being in a constant state of asking “how is this happening?” during the first bewildering year of Trump in the Oval Office, I’d hoped to find some answers in “Fire and Fury,” Michael Wolff’s best-selling account of life in the Trump White House so far. And I did. Unfortunately what I’ve learned does not inspire confidence, or reduce my fear that America may long suffer the wounds of electing an inept and narcissistic con man.
It’s not easy to get a physical copy of “Fire and Fury” in Wyoming. As of last week bookstores in Cheyenne and Casper had either sold out or not yet received the copies they’d ordered. Wyomingites, it seems, are just as anxious as Americans elsewhere to read the book Trump tried to keep from publication.
So I bought it on Kindle and raced through the first third of the author’s account of the Trump campaign and presidency. According to Wolff, the operation is even more chaotic and incompetent than it appears in news accounts.
The average reader will be familiar with the primary cast of characters, including former Breitbart madman Steve Bannon, doomed chief-of-staff Reince Priebus and out-of-his-league son-in-law Jared Kushner. All three credited themselves with Trump’s huge upset in 2016 and each believed themself to be his rightful (extreme) right-hand man. Infighting, backstabbing and butt-kissing ensued.
From the vantage point of a White House couch, where he took up residence and recorded the shameful shenanigans unfolding around him for six months, Wolff’s anecdotes are alternately comic and horrifying.
Here’s a passage that illustrates why none of the three would-be consiglieres ever had a chance of steering the president’s course:
“So if Bannon, Priebus and Kushner were now fighting a daily war with one another, it was mightily exacerbated by something of a running disinformation campaign that was being prosecuted by the president himself. A chronic naysayer, he viewed each member of his inner circle as a problem child whose fate he held in his hand. ‘We are sinners and he is God’ was one view; ‘We serve at the president’s displeasure,’ another.”
Meanwhile, the portrait of Trump painted by his staff — as interpreted by Wolff after more than 200 interviews — is downright scary. Katie Walsh, assistant chief of staff before she bailed in frustration, described translating her bosses’ set of desires and urges into policies and an actual program as “like trying to figure out what a child wants.”
“Trump didn’t read,” Wolff writes. “He didn’t really even skim. If it was in print it might as well not exist. Some believed that for all practical purposes he was no more than semi-literate.”
As a critic of everything Trump has done so far, it’s masochistically gratifying to see just about every horrible thought we opponents have had about the president and his administration reflected in Wolff’s book. The disclosure, for example, that Trump likes to say that “one of the things that made life worth living was getting your friends’ wives into bed,” is at once salacious and new, but also disturbingly familiar. The book details the unbelievably scummy methods he employs in pursuit of this goal.
Readers learn that, at one time or another, almost everyone who deals with Trump describes him as a moron or an idiot — not surprising, but alarming nonetheless. The “moron” in question holds absolute authority over America’s nuclear arsenal.
Halfway through “Fire and Fury,” I ran out of steam. First, its confirmation of what a terrible fix the world is in is depressing. Second, the events of the week overshadowed my desire to read anymore about his past, for the moment.
During a discussion of immigration reform Trump is reported to have referred to Haiti and certain African nations as “shithole countries.” It was a stark reminder that his campaign to “make America great again” is in fact an effort to make America “white again.”
Certainly not all of this president’s supporters are racist. His candidacy secured votes and inspired fierce loyalty for myriad reasons. But his repeated racist remarks have degraded our nation, cannot be overlooked and should be denounced by anyone who believes in color-blind equality. This can’t be allowed to continue, even by those who agree with his conservative agenda.
Yet Wyoming’s three-member Republican congressional delegation continues its silent complicity.
I have to image, at this stage, that the findings of independent and congressional investigations into the Trump administration’s dealings with Russia will likewise not affect their conduct. Barrasso, Enzi and Cheney will have the president’s back come hell, high-water or a persistent threat to the fundamentals of American democracy. Standing up to a 46-point champion takes courage and integrity. If they’ve not found cause to do it yet, should we expect them to do so in the future?
I hope I’m wrong, but evidence of collusion and obstruction of justice is mounting. In response, our delegation has called for investigations of the FBI, Hillary Clinton, the Uranium One deal and dutifully followed the administration’s playbook of distraction.
Where on earth is the Republican Party that boasted of winning the cold war? Are their successors really willing to sacrifice the integrity of our elections — and fold before a Russian strongman — for political expediency? Where is the party that believes in equal treatment under the law and basic human dignity?
Trump has branded Mexicans as rapists; tried to ban Muslims; said there are “many fine people” among the white-supremacist, neo-nazi and armed domestic terrorism movements; championed the “birther” movement; questioned the fitness of a federal judge based on his Mexican heritage; insulted a Muslim Gold Star family; been sued for housing discrimination against African Americans and encouraged his supporters to beat up minority protesters. And that list only scratches the surface of Trump’s racist remarks and actions throughout his life.
Thomas Jefferson once said, “In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.”
We are at a critical juncture and history will judge our response as a nation and a state. Will we stand on principle, take to the streets, make clear our displeasure and demand accountability? Or will we continue to drift with the current so long as our president wears that stylish R?
I know my answer. I’m afraid I know my delegation’s too.