A famous presidential son once said, “There's an old saying in Tennessee—I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee—that says, fool me once, shame on—shame on you. Fool me—you can't get fooled again.”
Ten years later, another president’s son in over his head would prove the adage wrong and be fooled, again and again. It’s a long way from Texas to Trump Tower.
This weekend, the New York Times reported that last June 9, Donald Trump Jr. met with Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Kremlin-affiliated Russian attorney, to discuss damaging information the Russian government had on Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort, then the Trump campaign chair, were also in attendance. The meeting occurred at the request of Emin Agalarov, son of Aras Agalarov, a real estate developer who had partnered with Trump Senior on some real estate and Miss Universe-related activities. The parties met in Don Jr.’s office, in which he does his most important retweeting.
Junior used the most believable explanation for the meeting at his disposal, which was that he had no idea what was going on. But Monday night, the New York Times reported that an email trail indicated that the eldest Trump son was promised damaging Hillary dirt in advance of the meeting—and that the dirt in question had come from the Russian government.
Junior’s explanation changed as soon as the Times dropped one bombshell after another. Prior to the Times report about the meeting’s contents, he claimed its purpose was to discuss child adoption. Once that was blown up, he claimed that his story never changed. Now he expects us to believe that he agreed to attend the meeting because his friend, a middle-aged music industry publicist who dresses like somebody who would get turned away at the door of a Des Moines nightclub, set it up. Junior says he didn’t know who he was meeting with, but, just for shits, Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort dropped by anyway.
Never in my life have I voluntarily attended a meeting without knowing who was in it or what its purpose was, but that’s just how dedicated Trump’s team of geniuses is to the very concept of meetings.
It was a bait-and-switch, the president’s son insists. Or maybe it wasn’t a switch at all. Or maybe Junior, who the Times describes as having “a reputation for taking meetings with people eager to speak with him,” is an easy mark.
The no-longer-secret meeting with a Kremlin-connected lawyer last June stands out for a number of reasons.
First, because of how treason-y it sounds, even with Junior’s new explanation.
Second, because it makes Junior sound like a real chump.
Third, because it makes a person wonder how many other people were able to fake out the Trump apparatus, get access, and then yank the football away at the last minute, Lucy-to-Charlie-Brown-style.
“I was tricked!” has become such a fallback excuse that it practically should be on the Trump family crest.
When Russian state media posted photographs of President Trump meeting with Russian officials back in May (a meeting that he had banned U.S. journalists from sitting in on), a White House official claimed they had been “tricked.” President Trump also claimed—well, shouted—that Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas “tricked” him into believing that Palestinians want peace with Israel. Trump may have been “tricked” into pulling out of the Paris climate agreement.
Trump has further been tricked into retweeting a photo of British liberal leader Jeremy Corbyn when one Twitter user claimed the lefty firebrand was a first-time Trump voter. Gawker “tricked” Donald Trump into retweeting a Mussolini quote that they attributed to him. In September 2014, somebody tricked then-future President Trump into retweeting a photo of Fred and Rose West, a pair of British serial killers. Trump threatened to sue over that trickery. But perhaps he, too, was tricking.
Like father, like offspring. In summer 2016, Ivanka Trump, the smart one, was tricked into donating to the Hillary Clinton campaign by a Brooklyn jewelry designer. Eric Trump was tricked into taking a photo with a woman wearing an anti-Trump shirt, a fact he’d have picked up on had he spoken even elementary-level Spanish. He’s been duped by a fake news site with an easy-to-suss bogus URL. Donald Trump Junior would retweet any conspiracy theory that reinforces his world view, would meet with any lawyer that promised to help him further his cause, no matter how illegal. The Trump family is intellectually kneecapped by its own insistent self-regard.
The Trumps have made their fortune on the expectation that they are, in turn, capable of tricking the masses—a pyramid scheme of foolhardiness. It’s why Ivanka was able to cultivate a reputation as a savvy businesswoman by hawking cheaply made basic bitchwear at Nordstrom. It’s why people threw millions into the black hole of Trump University. It’s why Eric Trump was able to use his charity to funnel millions into the Trump organization’s pockets.
But in a position of real power, their gullibility endangers the entire world. Who knows how many other meetings, how many other compromises these easy marks have made at the expense of American interests?
If the Trumps are anything, they’re a family brand. Their name isn’t as much a thing as it is shorthand for what Donald Trump wants the name to represent—wealth, success, abundance. Don Jr.’s unfortunate recent stint in the news, including his decision to hire a lawyer that has represented four of the five New York crime families, is evocative of another great moment in branding in American history.
In 1782, Congress approved a proposed national seal that featured the bald eagle in its center, paving the way for the scavenging bird of prey to be declared the national symbol of the United States. But not everybody thought it deserved it.
Benjamin Franklin did not lobby for the turkey to occupy the bald eagle’s position of honor, contrary to popular myth. He merely surmised, in a letter to his daughter in 1784, that something “like a turkey” would be a more appropriate national symbol than the eagle, which Franklin thought was a real shithead. Turkeys are native to America and can be brave when pressed. Eagles are of “bad moral character.”
In a way, Ben Franklin was right. From where I’m standing, a turkey—a porcine slowpoke with ample neck folds, an aimless dummy that spends its days gobbling nonsensically, a stumbling oaf that is easy to corral—encapsulates the 2017 American milieu like nothing else.