An old proverb: “When thieves fall out, honest men come by their own.” Thanks to Michael Wolff, the thieves are at one another’s throats, and it’s a joy to watch. But will honest men and women benefit? I think so, yes—but only if more people in this town are willing to admit what’s obvious.
No one, unless they have willed themselves into a state of iron denial—because, say, they’re profiting from Donald Trump’s presidency—can deny that Wolff’s book rings true. Even if it isn’t quite all true, every assertion sounds as right as rain.
Of course he didn’t want to win. Oh, he’s a competitive man, so down the stretch in the heat of battle, he didn’t want to lose, least of all to a girl. But he didn’t want to become the president. That was never the idea. Of course he’s never read anything relating to his duties. Of course he’s essentially semi-literate. Of course he gets sullen like a child. None of this is shocking. If anything it’s all pulverizingly non-shocking.
Even less shocking than the revelations about Trump himself are the anecdotes about what an Animal House the West Wing has been, a dangerous combination of total cluelessness on the one hand and unstoppable vanity on the other. Ivanka, the first woman president? Is she out of what passes for her mind? Of course, given the way things have been going in this country, it’s not impossible. Except that she’ll be third, after Nikki Haley and, I don’t know, Tomi Lahren.
And now Steve Bannon thinks he’s going to be president? That one is so preposterous that it actually led to something I’d have thought impossible until this week: Alex Jones actually said something that was true (that Bannon “looks like he has organ failure”).
Everyone knows what’s been happening in this White House. And yet to see it all laid out there in one cannon blast, much of it coming from the mouths of Trump’s own aides and sometimes from Trump himself, serves to remind us in a sobering way: There are dozens, hundreds, thousands of people letting this happen.
Rupert Murdoch thinks Trump is an idiot, but he’s letting it happen, because, well, look at those ratings. Conservative political professionals—the lobbyists, the issue people, the fixers—are letting it happen because hey, their clients are getting their favors now out of this EPA, this Labor Department, and who wants to stop that? Corporate America is letting it happen, because look at those tax cuts, and look ma, we can drill anywhere we want to now.
And most of all, elected Republicans are letting it happen, for all of the above reasons, and for the courts, and for power. Mind you those are decent reasons, looked at one way. But these people did something that Murdoch and the lobbyists and corporate America did not. They swore oaths to the Constitution. They work for us. They have agreed to uphold laws. And they’re standing there watching this clown posse micturate on the Constitution, and they know that every morning they wake up and the world is still in one piece and their president hasn’t demanded “his” officials take down Huma Abedin or someone else on his target list constitutes one more bullet they’ve dodged.
It’s an awful paradox for honest men and women, too much psychic weight to bear some days: We want desperately to see these cowards get their comeuppance. But we know that their comeuppance may well arrive in the form of a mushroom cloud or a declaration of emergency powers. I want badly to be able to say to these midgets “I told you so.” But not quite that badly.
Thursday evening came the news that Rebekah Mercer, Bannon’s fairy godmother, is formally cutting ties with him. You must read this for the important development it is. Mercer was closer to Bannon than to Trump. She forced him (and Kellyanne Conway) onto the campaign. At one point, Wolff writes that “as the drumbeat for Bannon’s removal grew [from the White House], the Mercers stepped in to protect their investment in radical government overthrow and the future of Steve Bannon.”
That Mercer has now chosen Trump over Bannon suggests a sad outcome here. It suggests that in the end, all that’s going to come of the hubbub over this book and its revelations is that the right is going to cut Bannon’s nuts off, circle the wagons, and go on as before. Sean Hannity and company will keep telling the same lies. Sarah Huckabee Sanders will keep standing up and unanswering every question in a language that we recognize as English except that we’re accustomed to hearing these kinds of day-is-night axioms in the tongues of history’s various banana Republicans. Republicans will continue to limn the president’s “exquisite leadership.”
What the republic still has going for it are two things. First, Robert Mueller and his team. They’re still at it, and they will remain at it, as long as Mueller isn’t fired. And second, the honest men and women of this country. There are millions. They are Democrats and independents and Republicans—with every passing week, more and more Republicans. They—we—are the majority. We didn’t need Michael Wolff to tell us all this, though we’re glad he did. After the thieves fall out, it’s only a matter of time. But how much time is the terrible question.