What does Washington have in common with Hollywood?
A lot when it comes to bowing to power. Look at how studio head Harvey Weinstein, the king of indie films, was feared by all despite being a sexual predator and an ungender-specific bully for three decades. Everyone knew, but everyone was too frightened of what an executive sitting atop a movie company could do to them to say anything.
Now look at President Donald Trump. Everyone knows he is the most volatile, impulsive attack-dog to ever walk into the Oval Office. But no leader in the Republican Party wants to say so. It took Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, a reluctant critic who’s been quick to praise Trump, to sound the alarm that Trump is unfit for office, approaches the job as if he’s still “doing The Apprentice,” and that he says things everyone knows aren’t true. He’s so beset by a volcanic temper and uncontrollable urges that he has to be “contained” daily by a few strong men in the White House lest he start World War III.
The difference between the two power centers is that when faced with the facts of Weinstein's character, or lack of it, Hollywood quickly deposed the all-powerful studio exec. Once actor Ashley Judd went on the record to The New York Times about Weinstein's sexual predations, others followed until there was critical mass. Board members resigned. Meryl Streep, the empress of Tinseltown, weighed in, and Gwenyth Paltrow finally admitted she’d been harassed and too weak to say so all these years.
Feminist attorney Lisa Bloom, who argued lamely that many allegations consisted of Weinstein telling a woman she "looked cute without her glasses," quit his defense. As a pitiful letter landed in the inbox of Weinstein’s A-list friends pleading for their help, other women were coming forward with charges of conduct approaching rape. The board ended his leave of absence and fired him outright. Even Bob Weinstein said brother Harvey’s name should no longer roll on film credits and his name should be erased from the company. All this in a matter of days.
When faced with a senator of Corker’s stature saying that three men stand between us and chaos, the same power dynamic that kept Weinstein atop a major studio for years held instead of being cracked by the criticism. To a person, his colleagues hoped to avoid comment and the unlucky ones reached deep into their “esteemed colleague” file of bromides to stay firmly perched on the fence.
With no mention of Trump, they praised Corker as a “valuable member of our team,” (Majority Leader Mitch McConnell), “a terrific United States senator,” (fellow Tennessean Lamar Alexander). Charles Grassley said both Corker and Trump should “cool it.” Marco Rubio sharply distanced himself. “You'll have to ask Sen. Corker what led him to make that statement. I haven't made that statement," he huffed.
You’d have thought someone accused him of growing a spine. Corker was careful to make the point that he knows that his colleagues know what he knows but aren’t doing anything about it. “The vast majority of our caucus understands the volatility that we're dealing with here and the tremendous amount of work that it takes by people around him to keep him in the middle of the road."
The flight to safety is happening despite the fact that the country is closer to Corker’s assessment that Trump is governing as if he’s still on The Apprentice than to his apologists. Around 65% of the country does not approve of the job Trump’s doing while about 95% of Republicans on Capitol Hill are pretending they do.
The most obsequious remarks came from sometime critic Senator Lindsey Graham who wins the Fiddling While Rome Burns Prize with his praise of Trump managing to shoot a 73 on Columbus Day at his club under such "windy and wet conditions.” Graham has felt the sting of Trump’s lash after he suggested the president reject the praise of white supremacists and neo-Nazis after Charlottesville. "Please fix this, he said. "History is watching us all."
Of course, Trump took the suggestion personally, and struck back twice as hard, calling Graham a sore loser in his brief run for president. Just now back in Trump’s good graces, Graham may be equivocating because he doesn’t want to fall out of favor on the 19th hole. Also, like many senators, he may be thinking he could be secretary of state if Rex Tillerson doesn’t survive Tuesday’s lunch with Trump.
Tillerson may have enough sense to lose the IQ duel to which Trump challenged him to prove he’s not a moron but not enough endurance to take more incoming from the president who says he’s wasting his time. If Graham is alert he will notice there’s no appeasing Trump and that United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley has all but measured the drapes in Foggy Bottom.
When Trump was asked by CNN about Weinstein, he said he wasn’t surprised—revealing inadvertently that he knows a groper when he sees one—and distinguished his own admission of grabbing women in the Access Hollywood tapes as nothing more than “locker room talk.” Both Weinstein and Trump were empowered by a docile press early in their careers.
Trump was his own publicist, making his version of two divorces and three marriages the story of record in the tabloids. Weinstein’s prowess was legendary to the point where an assault on a reporter at a book party ended up on Page Six the next day as St. Harvey saving a bystander from being injured by the tape recorder dislodged from a journalist’s hand when Weinstein put him in a headlock.
Weinstein got away with so much because he could send an actor back to regional theater, banish a competitor, kill a movie in the crib. Trump doesn’t have such power with three branches of government, not to mention a now tough press corps, and waning popularity. Sure Trump can hate-tweet a politician to near death but note that Jeff Sessions is still attorney general. He can try to defeat a member of Congress, but note that he couldn’t keep Alabama Senator Luther Strange from losing his primary.
Despite this, politicians want to hedge their bets. What passes for courage is a Senator asking if maybe, pretty please, Trump might want to use a teleprompter more often and issue statements like a normal president instead of making pronouncements in bursts of 140-charcters.
We know the difference between Hollywood and Washington and it’s not that Washington is Hollywood for ugly people, as the old saw has it. It’s that senators who sit atop the world, treated like royalty in their small kingdoms of wood-paneled offices with Ivy League lawyers whispering in their ears and then driving them to cocktails where lobbyists stuff their pockets with checks, don’t have the courage of Ashley Judd. You’d think more than a few would be more concerned about the next generation than the next election. You would be wrong.