Two items in the news this week are more related than they sound: Paul Manafort went on trial for allegedly failing to pay taxes on millions of dollars he made lobbying for a Russia-affiliated Ukrainian political party; and conspiracy-monger Alex Jones was partly banished from Facebook and other online platforms for violating hate-speech policies.
The common thread? President Donald Trump — the man who surrounds himself with only the “finest” people.
Jones is known for “false flag” campaigns claiming that mass shootings were “staged” to promote gun control. The 20 dead children of Sandy Hook, he’s claimed, were actors. When some grieving parents sued him over this torment, he countersued for legal expenses. You don’t have to have lost a child to understand that this is truly a cockroach of a man.
“Your reputation is amazing!” Trump told Jones while appearing on his online show in 2015 — well after Jones’ Sandy Hook outrage and many other offenses. Trump added: “I will not let you down.” True to his word for once, shortly after the inauguration, Trump’s White House approved press credentials for Jones’ InfoWars “news” site — which subsequently promoted the allegation that NASA is running a child-slave colony on Mars. (NASA, you will be relieved to learn, has denied it.)
Then there’s Manafort, who was Trump’s campaign chairman. Trump, savvy businessman that he is, apparently didn’t pause when this man with deep Russian connections offered to chair his campaign for no salary. Manafort was part of the infamous 2016 Trump Tower meeting, where (Trump himself brazenly admitted last week) participants were hoping to get dirt on his campaign opponent from a Russian government operative.
Manafort’s trial this week aired an almost comedic laundry list of bad behavior. While lavishly spending millions of his Russian-tainted dollars — some on weird and slightly evil-sounding stuff like an “ostrich leather coat” — Manafort was allegedly hiding it from the IRS with aid of assistant Rick Gates, who would later be the Trump campaign’s second-in-charge. Gates testified this week that, as he was helping Manafort evade taxes, he also was embezzling from him, in part to fund a transatlantic extramarital affair.
Yes, these were the two top people in the campaign who gave us our current president. The finest people.
Remember Steve Bannon, the former top Trump adviser? He virtually invented the Alt-Right, a movement centered on “white nationalism,” which is a stone’s throw from white supremacy. Bannon is reportedly spending his time lately meeting with foreign figures like hard-right Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and French Nazi sympathizer Marine Le Pen in hopes of organizing … something. Cue the ominous music.
Remember Corey Lewandowski? He’s the former Trump campaign manager who responded to the subject of a girl with Down syndrome who had been separated from her mother at the border with, “Womp, Womp” — as in, the you lose sound in a game show. This paragon of class and compassion is reportedly still a shadow adviser to Trump.
Remember Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime “fixer”? Turns out he was secretly recording his conversations with Trump and is now using those recordings against him. Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani has declared Cohen a “scumbag.” So what does that make the client who employed him for all those years?
Doesn’t who we hire, admire and associate with say something fundamental about our own character? Republicans used to think so. Barack Obama took no end of grief for his relatively casual associations with a minister who criticized America and a neighbor who happened to be a washed up left-wing radical.
Compare that to Trump, who hangs out with right-wing radicals just this side of Nazism, and whose entire presidential campaign was premised on the declaration that America isn’t currently great. Trump has watched three campaign or White House associates plead guilty of lying to investigators; had two cabinet members and multiple other top officials resign for ethics offenses; endorsed a credibly accused pedophile for the U.S. Senate; has used his pardon power to aid avowed bigots and bullies; and has praised murderous foreign dictators while backhanding democratically elected leaders of our allies.
Trump calls journalists “really bad people.” Knowing what he defines as the “finest” people, we’ll take it.
Kevin McDermott is a member of
the Post-Dispatch Editorial Board.