OPINION — For over two years I have blasted Donald Trump as unfit to be president of the United States. I have been relentless and unforgiving in my opposition. He remains a man of ill repute in my opinion, and for many reasons, I stand by my prediction that he will resign before the end of the year.
But all along I have been haunted by a nagging question: Why have so many smart and experienced people, some of them my friends, gone to work for him? They are not blind. They see what we see. Yet they defend him still or, at the very least, do not resign their positions. Why?
I understand why ideologues such as Newt Gingrich and Mike Huckabee defend Trump. They are the Grim Reapers of the Right. They, not too differently than Steve Bannon, seek division and contention. Their affections for Trump do not run deep. It’s not the man but the opportunity that drives their consistent defenses.
Bannon’s loyalty to Trump dissolved as soon as he was one goosestep outside of the White House. I get why these guys like what Trump represents in American politics. My question is, why do otherwise reasonable people support and work for Trump?
How many reasons do sane people need to abandon the Good Ship Narcissist?
As far as I can tell, only the generals can have confidence in Trump to let them do their jobs. Everyone else who works for him is undercut, contradicted and often personally humiliated by him. Why stay? Why wait to be fired by this guy? Talk about humiliating.
How awful must it be to be fired by Trump? You get asked, “Were you fired because you stood your ground with him?” “No, I got fired because, well, I guess I wasn’t awful enough for him, even though I defended him until it was laughable.” To work for Trump you have to think like Trump, or so it seems.
But how do we explain Mike Pence, for example? Why would a conservative in principle but moderate in tone and style agree to work for Trump? Pence is no ideologue. He is a moderately conservative politician and religious man.
He was asked to serve as vice president because evangelical voters love him – which thought raises a separate but related question: Why do evangelicals love crotch-grabbing, unfailingly secular Trump? I suppose it is because Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch is not a crotch-grabber. Even so, evangelical support for Trump boggles the rational mind.
Uncharacteristically, permit me to offer even faint praise for many good people who work for Donald Trump: At least they are not Trump.
For what it is worth, I received a phone call shortly after the election from a friend who seemed to be in the hiring loop for the new Trump administration. She asked me if I would be open to some consideration. I replied I am open to just about anything, but the right position for me in a Trump administration necessarily would be a position in which I could serve the nation but not Trump.
Of course, I never received a follow-up call. But many good people did.
There can come a time in the career of a political operative or policymaker when you take one for the team. In this case, hiring on with Trump is taking one for the team. Outside of the White House, Trump has little direct influence, believe it or not. The Washington bureaucracy is deeply entrenched, often immovable and distant from the chief executive.
For instance, Ben Carson, at Housing and Urban Development, hires his own team. They are political appointees that oversee career bureaucrats. If Ben Carson thought he could do some good at HUD, I can see why he would take the job, even if Trump were slinging dung like a howler monkey.
So there exists a rear guard of sorts in the Trump administration. These are people doing one of two things, or both. First, they still believe in American exceptionalism and democratic processes. Or second, they stay there to pick up the pieces when Trump resigns.
Call it the “Pence Rule.” Mike Pence came on board because he knew he could play an important role in trying to temper and moderate an inexperienced and disorderly Trump. He also came on board at the prospect of becoming president of the United States. I think this is a similar scenario for General Kelly as well and perhaps many other insiders such as Kellyanne Conway.
Only time will tell. There may be wisdom in what I can only describe as irrationality. I could not work for Trump. But many good people can and do.
I’m Paul Mero. Thanks for listening.
Paul Mero is an opinion columnist for St. George News. The opinions stated in this article are his own and may not be representative of St. George News.
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