The most astonishing aspect of the response to Michael Wolff’s book is that anyone is surprised. President Trump’s unfitness for office was obvious long before he was elected. Once he moved into the White House, the destructive chaos of his administration was there for all to see. Future historians will scratch their heads to figure out why it took this particular book to break the dam of denial.
That’s the opening paragraph of The dam of denial has broken, this morning’s Washington Post column by E. J. Dionne. He reminds us of Trump’s reaction, noting
Trump’s tweets on Saturday pronouncing himself “a very stable genius” only underscored the damage Wolff has done and Trump’s dumbfounding insecurity.
But Dionne has a warning for us as well:
But Wolff alone cannot bring this presidency crashing down, given how many Republicans still seem determined to protect Trump.
This is a thoughtful column, one which recapitulates as well the efforts by Senators Grassley and Graham which he thinks will NOT derail the Mueller investigation.
After the event at Camp David this weekend, he makes a key point:
To chart a path forward from here, it’s important to see why Trump has maintained enough support, or at least acquiescence, to keep himself in office.
which he notes that
The first key is his phony populism, with an emphasis on both words.
This, according to Dionne, is why Trump constantly returns to attacking Hillary Clinton, to riling his base” with the rhetoric that so many of us found appalling during the campaign, because
He needs targets to make his enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend approach work.
The falseness of his populism is clearly shown in the tax cut, which Dionne does acknowledge is heavily rejected by most Americans, and is an indication of where Trump’s true commitments lie.
The other policy actions Trump has taken, including as Dionne notes a slew during the period when most of the press attention was on aspects of the Russia investigation and the information in Fire and Fury, are weakening the nation and rolling back necessary protections.
Dionne notes that Trump is following much of a traditional right-wing agenda, and thereby has succeeded in alienating those who were expecting something more populist, eroding some support among elements of his base. Ironically, this is counterbalanced by something important:
On the other hand, the more Trump proves his populism to be phony and behaves like a traditional Republican, the more the congressional GOP will want to prop him up.
These leads to Dionne’s conclusion. Here is his penultimate paragraph:
What might be called the Wolff Effect will thus be paradoxical. It could strengthen the bonds between Republican politicians and Trump at the very moment when everyone else is coming to terms with how dangerous it is to have a president who is so uninformed and unstable. In the meantime, more traditional journalists will carry on their painstaking work, piling up evidence that Trump did all he could to block a legal accounting for the methods that helped get him to the White House in the first place.
There are several key points in that paragraph. Dionne is clearly implying problems with the methods Trump used to get to the White House, indicating his belief that there was some level of “collusion” between the campaign and outside forces, most notably from Russia. He is also focusing on the role of journalism, which we have seen dig ever deeper into aspects both of collusion and of how the Trumpistas and their allies have done all they can to obscure those facts which might undercut the perceived legitimacy of this administration and of the election that put it into power.
Two other ideas from the paragraph jumped out at me. First is the idea of a president who is so uninformed and unstable and the dangers that represent. Clearly one result of the Wolff book has been to confirm in the minds of many that impression about Trump, one that has been demonstrated most regularly in his twitter stream. The other is the real danger Trump face, flowing from the notion that Trump did all he could to block a legal accounting. That is obstruction of justice. That is the active effort covering up. That is what ultimately brought down Nixon, who as far as we know had no prior knowledge of the Watergate break-in, although he did of many of the other “horrors” that got exposed along the way. Here I note that it seems that when one covers up one thing, it is quite likely that one is worried about it leading to exposure on other things. For Trump this may be the long-time dependence upon corrupt money, which whether or not prosecutable would undermine his image — largely self-declared — as some kind of business genius.
I will quibble with Dionne’s final paragraph, and will separate it into its two constituent sentences.
We should have gotten here sooner.
Absolutely. And one can argue that the key impact of Wolff’s book is that it now has political journalists and talking head discussing openly what many had known for quite some time, which has amplified the impact of some of the content Wolff offers, including the real attitudes of many in the White House and elsewhere on two key point: that Trump is effectively a petulant child with no attention span and little concern for real information, and that the White House is faction-ridden and dySfunctional. On the first of these it is worth remembering that a man vetted for both the VP slot and Secretary of State, Sen. Bob Corker, tried to warn us with his description of the White House as “an adult day care center.” Those words got a lot of attention at the time, but we did NOT see the followup with the multiple anecdotes that clearly demonstrate that, and for providing those Wolff has done the nation a great service.
It is the final sentence about which I would offer some caution. It reads
But far better late than never.
On its surface, that truism seems self-evident. Except there is this — we have not YET gotten the full picture and we are seeing multiple actions pursuing different ways of keeping us from seeing the full picture. By us I mean the American people as a whole, so that we could have some kind of national consensus like that after Watergate. After all, the Articles of Impeachment against Richard Nixon were largely drafted by three Republican Congressmen: Bill Cohen of Maine, Larry Hogan of Maryland, and Caldwell Butler of Virginia, and it was his immediate predecessor as Republican nominee for President Barry Goldwater who told Nixon to his face how few Senators would support him and thus he would lose an impeachment trial, but that he Goldwater would vote to remove him from office.
We are seeing a deliberate poisoning of the well, various kinds of obfuscation, whether from the White House, Devin Nune, or Grassley and Graham. So while I agree with the truism serving as the final sentence in principle, I worry we still face the very real possibility of never having a full accounting and true accountability.
Read the column.
See what you think.