Tuesday, March 6, 2018 | 2 a.m.
The ceaseless barrage of news — both real and fake — from the Trump administration can be numbing, so it’s important to step back every once in a while and look at the big picture: Never have we seen such utter chaos and blatant corruption.
None of what’s happening is normal and none of it should be acceptable. Life is imitating art: What we have is less a presidency than a cheesy reality show, set in a great stately house, with made-for-television histrionics, constant backstabbing and major characters periodically getting booted out.
Hope Hicks, the White House communications director, decided Wednesday to self-eject. Was it because she spent the previous day testifying on Capitol Hill, and was forced to admit having told “white lies” for President Donald Trump? Was it because the man she had been dating, Rob Porter, lost his important White House position when The Daily Mail revealed he faced multiple allegations of wife-beating? Or was Hicks simply exhausted?
Porter’s job involved controlling the flow of paperwork, some of it classified and extremely sensitive, to the president. Because of those abuse allegations, however, he couldn’t get a permanent top-secret security clearance. That was bad enough, but later we learned that dozens of White House officials, perhaps 100 or more, were working with only interim clearances, not permanent ones. Their access to secret information was cut off by Chief of Staff John Kelly — but only after all of this had become public.
Among those now with limited access is Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, whose heavily indebted real estate empire and grudging disclosure of his many foreign contacts worried FBI investigators. Kushner is a senior adviser to the president whose many assignments include forging peace in the Middle East — but who now is not cleared for documents or meetings that discuss what’s really happening in the Middle East or anywhere else. So why is he still there?
Why was he there in the first place? Because of Trump’s appalling nepotism.
Trump also brought his daughter Ivanka into the White House as an adviser. What does she do? What qualifies her to do it? In a real administration, conservative or liberal, Jared’s office and Ivanka’s office would be occupied by experienced professionals who actually know something about diplomacy or administration or some government function.
According to The New York Times, Kushner set up White House meetings for two business executives whose private equity firm and bank later made loans to the Kushner Cos. real estate firm totaling more than $500 million. Trump’s promise to “drain the swamp” was a cruel joke. He has expanded it into a vast protected wetland, to be enjoyed by friends and family.
Never before have we had a president openly at war with his own attorney general. The Washington Post reported Wednesday that special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating whether Trump’s attempts to force Attorney General Jeff Sessions out of his job last summer were part of a pattern of attempted obstruction of justice.
Trump began his day Wednesday by tweeting that a decision Sessions recently made was “DISGRACEFUL!” Sessions responded by issuing a statement strongly rebutting Trump’s criticism. And that evening, Sessions was photographed at a posh Washington restaurant dining with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein — who oversees the Mueller investigation — and Solicitor General Noel Francisco. If it wasn’t a deliberate display of unity at the Justice Department, it sure looked like one.
Also Wednesday, Trump convened a televised negotiating session with members of Congress on the subject of gun violence. To the escalating horror of Republicans present, he heartily endorsed several Democratic gun control proposals — and then went much further, saying that in the case of individuals who are mentally unstable, authorities should “take the guns first, go through due process second.”
If Barack Obama had ever said such a thing, we’d be in the middle of Civil War II.
Any other president who displayed such cavalier disregard for previous policy positions and total ignorance of basic facts would have provoked an uproar. Trump barely gets a shrug. Nobody expects him to be consistent. Nobody expects him to know anything about anything. He is defining the presidency down in a way that we must not tolerate.
I spent years as a foreign correspondent in Latin America. To say we are being governed like a banana republic is an insult to banana republics. It’s that bad, and no one should pretend otherwise.
Eugene Robinson is a columnist for The Washington Post.