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. 


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