The Corner

Politics & Policy

Trump’s Loyalty Tests Are Uniquely Corrupting

Here’s how the Washington Post began a report last night about Trump’s wife-beating aide, Rob Porter:

White House Counsel Donald McGahn knew one year ago that staff secretary Rob Porter’s ex-wives were prepared to make damaging accusations about him that could threaten his security clearance but allowed him to serve as an influential gatekeeper and aide to President Trump without investigating the accusations, according to people familiar with the matter.

Chief of Staff John F. Kelly learned this fall about the allegations of spousal abuse and that they were delaying Porter’s security clearance amid an ongoing FBI investigation. But Kelly handed Porter more responsibilities to control the flow of information to the president.

As Tim Miller pointed out on Twitter, the same administration that let Porter linger for months is the administration that was adept at perusing Twitter for any evidence that potential employees had criticized POTUS during the primary or general election. Remember when Shermichael Singleton was fired from HUD for a single critical pre-election op-ed? But when you’re loyal, even the worst person can rise to the top.

Look, I know that it’s hardly unusual for politicians demand loyalty, but when loyalty trumps character or competence — or when demands for loyalty require that you excuse the inexcusable — then there’s a problem. In the Trump administration, it’s particularly toxic. There’s a three-step process to moral corruption. 

First, there are lots of folks in Washington who are struggling to make the best of the Trump presidency. He might be a personal disaster, they reason, but we can still get some decent policies passed.

Second, everyone knows that Trump demands loyalty. Everyone knows he’s remarkably thin-skinned (even as he fires more than his share of verbal broadsides). So they know that any public critique carries with it a risk of being shut out — of losing the president’s ear and losing the ability to influence his policy-making. 

Third, so even while he does things they’d publicly condemn in any other president, politician, or public figure, they’ll often stay largely quiet. Sometimes they’ll even grant “sex mulligans” or praise his crass and crude public manner as “authentic.” Thus, they retain their access. They retain their influence.

Not only is this process cowardly on its own terms, it’s remarkably short-sighted. In some instances, people are sacrificing reputations built for decades to defend a presidency that may last no longer than Jimmy Carter’s. It’s as if this moment is the only moment that matters. But we know that battles over ideas can continue for generations.

Reputations sacrificed today will be sorely needed tomorrow. It’s time for the president’s defenders to think twice before leaping to his defense. It’s even time for them to think twice before remaining silent. It’s time to stop enabling dysfunction for the chance at influence. 

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Most Popular

Culture

White Cats and Black Swans

Making a film of Cats is a bold endeavor — it is a musical with no real plot, based on T. S. Eliot’s idea of child-appropriate poems, and old Tom was a strange cat indeed. Casting Idris Elba as the criminal cat Macavity seems almost inevitable — he has always made a great gangster — but I think there was ... Read More
Politics & Policy

The White Ghetto

Editor's Note: In celebration of Kevin D. Williamson’s newest book, The Smallest Minority: Independent Thinking in the Age of Mob Politics, National Review is republishing some of our favorites of his from the past ten years. This article originally appeared in the December 16, 2013, issue of National ... Read More
Politics & Policy

The Other Case against Reparations

Reparations are an ethical disaster. Proceeding from a doctrine of collective guilt, they are the penalty for slavery and Jim Crow, sins of which few living Americans stand accused. An offense against common sense as well as morality, reparations would take from Bubba and give to Barack, never mind if the former ... Read More
Politics & Policy

May I See Your ID?

Identity is big these days, and probably all days: racial identity, ethnic identity, political identity, etc. Tribalism. It seems to be baked into the human cake. Only the consciously, persistently religious, or spiritual, transcend it, I suppose. (“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor ... Read More
Health Care

The Puzzling Problem of Vaping

San Francisco -- A 29-story office building at 123 Mission Street illustrates the policy puzzles that fester because of these facts: For centuries, tobacco has been a widely used, legal consumer good that does serious and often lethal harm when used as it is intended to be used. And its harmfulness has been a ... Read More