The state of our world, on March 7, 2018:
The private lawyer for the president of the United States has paid a porn star $130,000 in return for silence about their extramarital affair. The payment is almost certainly a violation of campaign finance law, and it is also futile: Despite the payment, the porn star is refusing to stay silent about their sexual relationship, with her attorney now confirming it on national television.
Oh, one more thing: There might be pictures.
I know, I know: It sounds like something out of “Scandal” or some other far-fetched prime-time soap opera that doesn’t end well. But these days, the Tale of the Torrid Tattler isn’t among the Top Five threats barreling down at the Trump White House.
An administration that began its four-year term as a collection of third-raters, fringe figures, opportunists and sycophants is deteriorating as we watch, and as they flee the expected next wave of eager volunteers -- the fourth-raters and fifth-raters who might be tempted to replace them -- are instead hanging back, in no more hurry to take a job in this White House than they would be to rush into a burning building.
The president’s top economic adviser -- one of the few people of real standing in the White House -- has become the latest to flee the conflagration, resigning in protest over the president’s effort to start an international trade war. So far, the targets of that trade war -- a war that the president says we’ll win easily, so much winning we won’t be able to stand all the winning -- appear to be longtime U.S. allies and partners such as Canada and the European Union.
Trade wars also don’t end well; trade wars between allies end well only for their enemies, right Mr. Putin?
In Congress, Republicans who have stood by the president through his appeals to racism, his attacks on immigrants, his gross mismanagement of the affairs of state and his violation of the norms of basic decency now proclaim themselves troubled and appalled by the president’s actions on trade, suggesting that this might finally be the moment that they stand up in the nation’s defense to defy Donald Trump, to tell him no, stop, this is enough.
Rest assured, it will not be that moment.
While this Congress has the constitutional right to reclaim control of trade policy from the president, it lacks the guts to do so. Like Scott Peterson, the police officer who stood outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School while a killer rampaged inside, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are whining but dare take no action that might require them to risk their own political well-being.
If they acted now, this time, they might be able to stop what could be coming next, including Trump’s unilateral abandonment of NAFTA and perhaps even defiance of the World Trade Organization, the foundation on which global trade depends. But they show no signs of doing so.
That dereliction of constitutional duty extends into other areas as well, including looking into the extraordinary case of Jared Kushner. The first son-in-law and designated Bringer of Mideast Peace seems to have had access to huge amounts of highly classified material even as alarm bells and sirens were sounding, warning that he posed a major security risk and had no business with such access.
Let me rephrase that: He had plenty of business with that access. In fact, Kushner apparently spent a lot of time in undisclosed, unmonitored meetings with people who A., have a lot to gain from a friendship with the president’s top adviser and B., have access to billions of dollars in potential investment money for Kushner’s troubled family empire.
But if Congress doesn’t find that interesting, Robert Mueller does. He finds many many things interesting. In an extraordinary story from The New York Times, for example, we learn of his deep interest in George Nader, a Lebanese-American who is yet another cooperating witness in Mueller’s grand-jury probe.
Among other things, Nader is telling that grand jury everything he knows about a meeting in the Seychelles in January 2017, attended by Trump supporter Erik Prince. As the Times outlines the dramatis personae at that meeting:
“Mr. Nader represented the (Emirati) crown prince in the three-way conversation in the Seychelles, at a hotel overlooking in the Indian Ocean, in the days before Mr. Trump took office. At the meeting, Emirati officials believed Mr. Prince was speaking for the Trump transition team, and a Russian fund manager, Kirill Dmitriev, represented Mr. Putin, according to several people familiar with the meeting.”
The Washington Post has described that meeting as “part of an apparent effort to establish a back-channel line of communication between Moscow and President-elect Donald Trump, according to U.S., European and Arab officials.” The question of why a back-channel, unmonitored, undisclosed line of communication to Putin was so important would also be of interest to Mueller.
Managing any one of these multiple crises would challenge a fully staffed, highly competent administration. This administration is none of those things. In its almost 14 months in power it has shown no capacity to learn, to organize, to prioritize or even act rationally, and it lacks that capacity because the man at the top of this roiling mass of chaos, Donald Trump, lacks that capacity.
This is not sustainable. It is going to crash, and is in fact in the process of crashing, and the more drawn-out the process, the more damage it will do to all involved. The strategy of Washington Republicans to just keep playing for time, to get through today somehow and hope that Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny or Glinda the Good Witch will somehow come along tomorrow to make things all better is a strategy born out of the fact that they can’t think of anything better.
The day of reckoning comes.