Under Trump, toad­y­ism has been nor­mal­ized

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - Richard Co­hen Colum­nist Richard Co­hen’s email ad­dress is co­[email protected]­post.com.

What­ever hap­pened to pride? I ask be­cause re­ports reg­u­larly sur­face about Don­ald Trump be­rat­ing or in­sult­ing some­one, of­ten an aide, who just takes it. A re­cent ex­am­ple comes from Michael Wolff’s new book “Siege,” in which Paul Manafort, once Trump’s cam­paign chair­man but now domi­ciled in stir, was vul­garly up­braided by the pres­i­dent: “You’re ter­ri­ble, you can’t de­fend me.” Trump al­legedly called him a “lazy f—-” and asked “Am I a f—-ing baby?” in a train wreck of a ver­bal as­sault.

Trump also be­rated Mitch McCon­nell, the Repub­li­can Se­nate ma­jor­ity leader, but he, as it hap­pens, shouted back. Not so Jeff Ses­sions, the former at­tor­ney gen­eral, who was soaked by a driz­zle of de­mean­ing tweets in ad­di­tion to an Oval Of­fice tirade he later char­ac­ter­ized as the most hu­mil­i­at­ing ex­pe­ri­ence of his pub­lic life. He of­fered to re­sign, but he stayed on any­way and never asked the pres­i­dent to step out­side and put up his dukes.

Bob Wood­ward re­counts sim­i­lar episodes in his own book, ap­pro­pri­ately and omi­nously ti­tled “Fear: Trump in the White House.” The list of ad­min­is­tra­tion aides that Trump be­lit­tles is long and, with some omis­sions, dis­tin­guished. It in­cludes Gary Cohn, once of Gold­man Sachs; Gen. H.R. McMaster, once of the U.S. Army; Rex Tiller­son, once of Exxon Mo­bil; Gen. John F. Kelly, once of the Marine Corps; and, of course, the in­ces­santly in­sulted Reince Priebus, who, in the man­ner of abused men of old, has sort of run away to sea. (He re­cently en­listed in the Navy.)

What’s largely miss­ing from these ac­counts are re­ports of push­back — of peo­ple telling Trump to his face that he’s a bully and he can, in the hal­lowed words of David Al­lan Coe’s classic song, “take this job and shove it.”

With the pos­si­ble ex­cep­tion of “e pluribus unum,” it is the most American of phrases, evok­ing an ex­em­plary “don’t tread on me” ethos — yet an­other won­der­ful bit of Amer­i­cana. This is who we are. At any rate, this is who we used to be.

Now, though, an icky toad­y­ism has been nor­mal­ized. The White House staff mem­bers have the spine of nightcrawl­ers, ooz­ing their way from meet­ing to meet­ing, try­ing to cir­cum­vent some id­i­otic pres­i­den­tial or­der or sim­ply con­ceal­ing mat­ters from him. This is what’s hap­pen­ing now with at­tempts to plant mal­ware in Rus­sia’s en­ergy grid, in re­sponse to Rus­sia’s in­tru­sion into Amer­ica’s en­ergy grid.

The New York Times re­cently re­ported that some as­pects of this clan­des­tine pro­gram were with­held from Trump lest he ob­ject. But the se­cret prob­a­bly re­mains safe from Trump since the story ran on Sun­day, golf day.

The nor­mal­iza­tion of the ab­nor­mal is now, yes, nor­mal. This should not be sur­pris­ing. Fran­coise Gilot, one of Pi­casso’s long­time lovers, re­counted in her mem­oir how she and Pi­casso first struck up a ro­mance at a Parisian res­tau­rant in 1943. The war was on, the Gestapo and the com­pli­ant French police were mak­ing ar­rests, Jews were be­ing rounded up for trans­port to Auschwitz — and yet life went on as be­fore.

Such is hu­man na­ture, and I hes­i­tate in cushy 21st-cen­tury Amer­ica to make judg­ments about how Pi­casso man­aged to paint through the slaugh­ter. But that was then and now is now, and I can’t help but have max­i­mum scorn for those peo­ple who have in­haled the dope of Wash­ing­ton power and con­fuse it with some sort of noble call­ing.

They are pa­tri­ots in their own cause, ly­ing to them­selves and oth­ers in the ser­vice of the great­est liar of them all.

Out­go­ing press sec­re­tary Sarah San­ders leaves the White House hav­ing served Trump but not the truth — just re­call her state­ment that she had heard from “count­less ... in­di­vid­u­als who work at the FBI who said they were very happy” with Trump’s de­ci­sion to fire FBI Di­rec­tor James Comey.

She suc­ceeded the prece­dent-set­ting Sean Spicer who, at the birth of the new ad­min­is­tra­tion and in the dead­pan man­ner of a North Korean tour guide, in­sisted Trump’s in­au­gu­ral crowd was the “largest” ever.

In Wolff’s new book, an anony­mous White House source says of the pres­i­dent, “I have never met any­one cra­zier than Don­ald Trump.” So, it is un­der­stand­able that a White House aide would sim­ply avoid a con­fronta­tion with the pres­i­dent. But the mys­tery to me is not Trump — he is a brat in a be­spoke suit — but the peo­ple who put up with him. Their pride has been taken from them.

The morn­ing’s mir­ror is their first lie of the day. It can­not show how hol­low they are.

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