Note well that this meeting was confirmed to the Times by three White House advisers briefed on it. Something big is happening.
Are you surprised? I am not. I’ve figured all along that Team Trump was guilty of something in this regard. You don’t get so cozy with a Russian made man like Paul Manafort, not if you have the ethics of Donald Trump, and not get your hands dirty in some way. The problem so far is that much of the Trump-Russia speculation in the media has gotten out ahead of the known facts. That problem is rapidly going away, and may have just done so.
Here’s the thing that dogs me, and that’s a measure of my own cynicism about Trump: I’m struggling to care about this story at this point. Me, I’ve priced this corruption into my estimation of the man. He is morally unfit to be president. By the time his presidency is over, he will have made Richard Nixon and Warren G. Harding, previously thought to be considered the two most corrupt American presidents, look like Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Green Jeans (sorry, Millennials; you have to be of a certain age to get the reference).
I guess it’s Trump fatigue. He has so lowered the bar on presidential behavior that this latest revelation comes across as just one more damn thing. I suppose this is how we all become corrupted. This morning I recall the death of outrage among Democrats and liberals regarding Bill Clinton’s defiling the Oval Office with his disgusting behavior. “How can they not take this seriously?!” I remember asking. And here we are today, with me — and I know I’m not alone — thinking that Trump is a complete sleaze, but unable to muster outrage over the fact that the son of the President of the United States met with a representative of a foreign government with the hope of receiving compromising information on his political opponent.
It’s surreal. But here we are.
Here is something that is not so much a defense of this dirty business with Trump — I cannot and will not defend it — as it is an explanation for why I find myself Gallic-shrugging over all of it these days. Trump is corrupt, no doubt about it. But there are various kinds of corruption.
Over a decade ago, in the early years of the Iraq War, a military friend of mine who is one of the most morally upright men I know told me a detailed story about moral and intellectual corruption at the highest level of the civilian leadership of this country. The corruption involved deliberate efforts to deceive the public about what was really going on with the war. Knowledge that such consequential lies were being told to the American people ate away at my friend like cancer. And within me, that story had a lot to do with why I eventually walked away from the Republican Party. More broadly, the fact that the GOP in Congress continued for years to defend the Iraq War caused me to lose faith entirely in the party of which I had long been a member.
That’s corruption. It isn’t as gross and as blatant as what we’re talking about with Trump Jr., nor is it new (:::cough, cough, Gulf of Tonkin) but it is more significant.
We could talk at length about how both Republicans and Democrats in Washington have over the last 20 years or so supported policies that have benefited Wall Street interests at the expense of the common good. I’m not sure if you can still watch it on the PBS website, but in 2009, Frontline aired an episode called “The Warning,” about how a relatively minor government regulator, back during the late 1990s, warned Fed chairman Alan Greenspan, Clinton economic adviser Larry Summers, and Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, that the derivatives market threatened to crash the entire economy. They all shut her down. Didn’t want to hear it. Wall Street was making too much money (and note well, the GOP Congressional leadership was fully on board with Team Clinton in this respect). We all remember what eventually happened in 2007-08. How many bankers went to jail over it, or paid any kind of professional price? How many Washington politicians?
I don’t think many, if any, laws were broken. But that doesn’t mean the corruption did not go deep.
Again, there are various kinds of corruption. I think President Obama was personally a virtuous, admirable man. As husband and father, I’d wager that Donald Trump is not fit to touch the hem of Obama’s Dockers. Yet Obama and his administration attempted to force policies on public schools that would have permitted males in female locker rooms, and overall would have mandated observation of the gender ideology lie as if it were fact. To a lot of people, this is not corruption, it’s justice. But to many others — like me — it is profoundly corrupt, morally and intellectually, because of what it teaches about basic biological and moral reality — and in turn, how it destroys awareness of critical fundamental truths.
I’m not asking you to agree with me that this is a serious form of corruption. I am asking you to understand that for many of us, that kind of thing is a more serious and damaging form of corruption than what Trump is said to have done with the Russians.
Look, I don’t say that to defend what looks like might become a serious scandal. I am saying, though, that within the Establishment’s way of doing things, real moral and ethical corruption that has had real effects on real people has been simply the way business gets done. And nobody within that world much cares, or even sees it.
To put it more cinematically, let’s ask Michael Corleone what he thinks:
We are in a bad place in this country, and Donald Trump, Putin’s useful idiot, is more a symptom than a cause. Truly, I wish I cared more about this Russian thing. More to the point, I wish I had reason to expect more out of the Establishment that sleazy Donald Trump upended. I can’t muster much faith in American political leadership on either side. That’s a dangerous place that is to dwell in, but I can’t bring myself to believe something that I don’t think is true.