Everything is distrust, paranoia, and setting this one against that one.
By Michael Tomasky
Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast
Of course Donald Trump roped Mike Pence into the Ukraine plot! It’s one of the oldest Mafia tricks in the book, featured in a hundred movies starting in the 1930s right up through today. You’re a mob boss, you’re about to do something big—move on another family’s turf, order a hit. What do you as you prepare for it, within your own circle?
You get everyone dirty. You make them complicit—part of the plot. That way, they can’t sing on you. If they’re part of plot, they’re guilty, too, and they have to clam up and take part in the cover-up. It’s Corleone 101.
The president of the United States is a mob boss, and this is how he operates. And the president’s lawyer, once-upon-a-long-ago-time a mafia fighter, is now a mob henchman, just like his father, who was an enforcer for his brother-in-law’s loan-sharking operation. It doesn’t take much imagination to picture the two of them, talking in the time-honored code as they plotted their Ukraine move and considered what to do about the vice president:
“Mr. President. The one who worries me a little is Pence.”
“You know. Big Christian. Has… ambitions, if you know what I mean.”
“Yeah. You know, my father had a saying: ‘If they’re in, make it so they can’t get out.’ Capisce?”
Rudy nods and smiles, as the scene fades out.
Pence’s denials, the insistence from his aides to The Washington Post that he was unaware of Trump’s real, Biden-related Ukraine agenda, don’t begin to pass the laugh test. Just consider these two dots on the timeline. Trump told Pence not to attend Volodymyr Zelensky’s inauguration as he’d planned, according to the whistleblower complaint. Zelensky was sworn into his office on May 20. The New York Times reported on Giuliani’s planned trip to Kyiv to press the Ukrainians for Biden dirt on May 9. Eleven days before.
It’s not as if Pence could have missed this. It was huge news. Giuliani was forced to cancel his trip. And then, less than two weeks later, Trump told Pence no, don’t go over there. If Pence couldn’t connect those dots, he must spend hours every morning laboring over the Junior Jumble in the newspaper.
That’s one psychic dynamic we’re dealing with here. The president and his immediate henchmen—Giuliani, Bill Barr, and now Mike Pompeo—are running the government like a Mafia family. Everything is distrust, paranoia, setting this one against that one. Barr and Pompeo, who once had identities outside this man, are now totally defined by their connection to him, and I hope they know that it’s close to inevitable that one day, when it’s necessary, Don Donald will slice their balls off. Nothing personal. Just business.
The other psychic dynamic at play here is the one regarding Trump and the larger Republican Party. If Trump and his inner circle are Mafiosi, Trump and the GOP are like a Soviet-era Politburo.
I wouldn’t invoke Stalin here, since a) that’s not fair to Trump, because as awful as Trump is, he’s not exterminating people by the millions and b) but paradoxically it’s also not fair to Stalin, who, though a monster, was a brilliant tactician who really thought things through.
No, Trump and his GOP sycophants are more like the Comrade Chairman and the Politburo of some pathetic, second-rate Eastern bloc country. Enver Hoxha comes to mind. Hoxha was the leader of the Albanian Communist Party for umpty-seven years, til it all collapsed. Once, on a whim in a used bookstore, with a friend and probably after one too many, I bought a small book of his speeches.
I read through them. They were of course pulverizingly tedious, but what stood out about them was the banality of the lies that he told and that his audiences so supinely accepted. The crop yield this year will be bigger than ever, comrades! Applause! The mighty Albanian steel industry is surpassing all projections, proving scientifically that socialism will outpace and subsume capitalism! Applause! Comrades, time zones are a plot by the running-dog imperialists to further enslave the population into capitalist modes of regimentation, but we reject such bourgeois chains, and as such ours, not theirs, are the truly free societies! Applause!
America’s Republicans are applauding like Albania’s Communists. They marinate in much the same curdled, inebriated fear that Eastern bloc Communist Party apparatchiks once did, fear so consuming that they actually convince themselves that the things the Dear Leader says, whether it’s about crop yields or Adam Schiff’s alleged treachery, are true.
No, Trump can’t send them off to labor camps, but evidently, the possibility that he can call them losers or endorse a potential primary opponent is threat enough to get them to keep saying up is down and black is white. Did you see Kevin McCarthy on 60 Minutes? It was so bad I was almost embarrassed for him for about one-one thousandth of a second. Scott Pelley read him the famous Trump line from the call readout— “I would like you to do me a favor, though”—and McCarthy responded by saying: “You just added another word” (referring, of course, to the “though,” which is the word that gives the game away).
What? Did he not even read it? Or did he censor the inculpatory word out of the version that he carried around in his brain, to make it hurt less?
My daughter is in fourth grade, and they take a fairly steady diet of these reading comprehension tests. I guarantee you: We could show that call readout to 100 fourth graders, redacting the names so they didn’t know it involved the United States—change “Trump” to “Turner,” “Zelensky” to “Zorinsky,” and “Biden” to “Borden.” And we could ask those 100 fourth graders: Is Mr. Turner trying to get Mr. Zorinsky to say something bad about Mr. Borden? And 98 of them would say “Duh! That’s the point!”
But fourth graders haven’t yet learned how to… behave. They don’t understand how good abject self-abasement can be for one’s career, poor little naïfs.
It’s getting sicker by the day. Now, Trump says China should investigate Biden. So we’ve gone from “I’ve never colluded” to “I’ll collude with whomever I want whenever I want.” And the thugs will lie, and the apparatchiks will applaud, and the clocks will strike 13, as they do in the opening line of Orwell’s 1984, and they’ll tell us it’s all perfectly normal.