Posted Saturday night, March 31, 2018.
Cartoon by Clifford Berryman. 1924. Courtesy of the Granger Collection via Britannica Kids.
Sometimes I think one of political media’s big problems in trying to cover Trump is that they can’t believe that such a miserable specimen of human being got himself elected President of the United States. It can’t be that the job once held by George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Roosevelt is now held by Donald Trump! It can’t be that the American people would elect this piece of trash to the highest office of the land! They wouldn’t have! They couldn’t have! So it must be that they didn’t. They must have seen something we didn’t see! They must see something we still don’t. So they keep looking for signs they’re wrong and the people are right.
Keep in mind the political media share the Republicans’ view that the only real Americans are white Midwestern and Southern Republicans.
They think of Watergate as a one-off, and it’s all about Richard Nixon’s uniquely twisted soul. But three of the five Republican Presidencies the preceded Trump’s were in part criminal enterprises. This is the first one that is almost wholly criminal. But while the depth and breadth of its criminality is staggering, it’s not original and really shouldn’t be a surprise. Still, political journalists dutifully report each new depredation, I don’t think it sinks in. We’re not going to suddenly find out Trump is better than we thought. We’re going to find out he’s worse.
Try telling that to some members of the political press corps, and they’ll just stare at you blankly.
The media and most of us are focused on Russia, naturally. It’s a spectacular story. The President of the United States is the willing stooge of the dictator of America’s main enemy. But even if this wasn’t happening, there’d still be a spectacular story: the President of the United States is a rapacious and brazen thief using his office to make himself and his family millions and giving his administration free rein to do the same. (The Russian story is about Trump making himself rich at the nation’s expense too.) It’s almost impossible to believe. Or it would be if we didn’t know that the political class has been riddled with crooks and liars from the beginning. “It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress.,” said Mark Twain. Teapot Dome just has the best name of the many scandals that enliven the history books. The Harding Administration was especially corrupt, though. And it wasn’t just Albert Fall and his cronies selling off drilling rights in Teapot Dome.
During the Harding Administration, in the early 1920s, the Justice Department had been packed with political cronies and unscrupulous officials, among them the head of the [Bureau of Investigation, the precursor to the FBI]: William Burns, the infamous private eye. After being appointed director, in 1921, Burns had bent laws and hired crooked agents, including a confidence man who peddled protection and pardons to members of the underworld. The Department of Justice had become known as the Department of Easy Virtue.
In 1924, after a Congressional committee revealed that the oil baron Harry Sinclair had bribed the the secretary of interior Albert Fall to drill in the Teapot Dome federal petroleum reserve---the name that would forever be associated with the scandal---the ensuing investigation lay bare how rotten the system of justice was in the United States. When Congress began looking into the Justice Department, Burns and the attorney general used all their power, all the tools of law enforcement, to thwart the inquiry and obstruct justice. Members of Congress were shadowed. Their offices were broken into and their phones were tapped. One senator denounced the various “illegal plots, counterplots, espionage, decoys, dictographs” that were being used not to “detect and prosecute crime but...to shield profiteers, bribe takers and favorites.”
Scott Pruitt’s ambition is to make Albert Fall look like a piker.
The Trump administration is expected to launch an effort in coming days to weaken greenhouse gas emissions and fuel economy standards for automobiles, handing a victory to car manufacturers and giving them ammunition to potentially roll back industry standards worldwide….
“This is certainly a big deal,” said Robert Stavins, director of the Harvard environmental economics program. “The result will be more gas-guzzling vehicles on the road, greater total gasoline consumption, and a significant increase in carbon dioxide emissions.”
They’re all in it together. Trump, his cabinet---Pruitt, Zinke, DeVos, Carson, Mnuchin, Purdue. Who am I leaving out?---Ryan, McConnell, the rest of the House and Senate Republican leadership, the rich greedy bastards who own and run the GOP, the bankers, the hedge funders, corporate executives and wannabe strivers who work for them, they all share the same goal: to pocket every stray dime they can get their grubby mitts on before the responsible grownups get back in charge. Or as Addy Stan has put it more succinctly: the object is plunder.
First quote above is from “Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI” by David Grann which is available in paperback and for kindle at Amazon and as an audiobook from Audible.
The second quote is from Coral Davenport and Hiroko Tabuchi’s story in the New York Times, E.P.A. Prepares to Roll Back Rules Requiring Cars to Be Cleaner and More Efficient.