By now, three years into the Trump administration, there is a well-worn path of officials exiting the government and presenting themselves as voices of morality who, despite their best efforts, could not rein this president in. Won’t work, motherfuckers.
Just a couple of weeks ago we went through this entire news cycle with Anthony Scaramucci, who is desperate to remake himself as a figure of sanity in the Republican party after his brief turn as slicked-back spokesman-in-chief. This week we are going through it again with Jim Mattis, who, because he has a book coming out, is on a media tour heavy on pictures of him in dark, sober lighting, recounting gravely his valiant attempts to save the Western world order from Trump’s meddling, unsuccessfully. This is all perfectly standard, particularly for unpopular administrations. An unceremonious departure, a book in which the person features as a beleaguered hero trying to hold things together from the inside, and, if all goes well, a lucrative new job in lobbying or consulting or banking or media. The rats flock to the ship when it looks new and shiny, and the rats all jump off as soon as it springs a leak.
Donald Trump’s administration is like the Iraq War: everyone who enabled it should be forever tainted by it. Going to work in the Trump cabinet was, the moment they decided to do it, a great moral failure. It was not something that might have turned out fine. It was not a patriotic gesture by great men who knew that they needed to be the Adults In The Room. It was clear, long before Trump was elected, that he was an unstable, racist, narcissistic moron willing to persecute anyone in exchange for his own advantage. That has been the story of Donald Trump’s life. By the time Anthony Scaramucci and Jim Mattis and Gary Cohn and Hope Hicks and Sarah Sanders and Nikki Haley and everyone else who has come and gone from the White House took the job in the first place, Trump had already suggested banning Muslims from entering America; he had already called Mexican rapists; he had already called for building a wall on the border; he had already made it clear he would roll back environmental laws, and slash taxes on the rich at a time of grotesque inequality, and usher into power a cadre of the most dead-end bottom-feeders to run amok in the U.S. government. Everyone knew that on day one. They knew it as they were auditioning and begging for their jobs. They didn’t care about that. All of those things were acceptable to them. They watched Donald Trump stand up and say that he would ban Muslims from America, because he is a racist moron who saw racism as a political advantage, and they thought to themselves: “I can work for that man.” The thing that sent most of them out of the White House was the fact that they found themselves bureaucratically ineffective. It wasn’t any great ethical awakening. These are not people of any moral stature. They are failed bureaucrats who happily worked for a racist who denies climate change and ignores the most basic standards of good conduct.
“Grab em by the pussy.” All of these people went to work for Trump after that. They wanted that sweet, sweet White House business card.
There is such a thing as redemption. I believe that people can do terrible things, go through a process of deep moral reckoning, and find redemption and forgiveness. But that process of deep moral reckoning involves coming to terms honestly with the terrible things you have done. I don’t see any former Trump officials doing that. I don’t see them being tormented and wrestling with the awful things they have enabled. I see a bunch of people who want to be invited to the good parties again without it getting awkward. I see a bunch of people who want to make a lot of money by trading on their resumes and are trying to figure out how to make those resumes less radioactive. I don’t see a whole lot of people who are leaving the Republican party.
These people like the bad things that the Republican party does. They just don’t care for the crude way in which Donald Trump does those things. And, mostly, they don’t want to lose any of their own privileges just because they worked for the guy who banned Muslims and put kids in cages and pulled out of the Paris Climate agreement and said all that racist stuff. Hey, you can’t blame them! They were the adults in the room.
Never respect these people.