In an Op-Ed published in the New York Times, former FBI Director James Comey posits an explanation, almost a theoretical framework, as to how seemingly reputable professional could be lured into the dank and unseeming rabbit hole that leads to shameless Trump sycophancy. While an eloquently worded prosaic with a plausible premise; I wanted to offer my own alternative explanation.
In Mr. Comey’s piece he tells of how otherwise qualified but weak-willed people are blindly led by the wrist into a state of moral compromise which begins with mere silent acquiescence to a few minor but absurd alternative facts, to public acts of verbal adulation and finally to the end-stage of craven toadyism. He calls out William Barr and Rod Rosenstein as exemplars of this phenomenon and James Mattis as someone who managed to escape this credibility death-spiral only by resigning and silently bowing out.
My theory is both simple and horrible: They were not good people to begin with. Trump is not leading virtuous people to moral decay; he is liberating immoral people to do as they have always wanted to do for whatever self-serving motivation they may have.
Take William Barr as an example. While he did enjoy some degree of deference across both sides of the aisle for some reason, lets look at his situation holistically. This is not a career public servant who thought that by joining the administration he could attempt to act as a stopgap to Trump’s incompetence and turpitude. Donald Trump said he wanted a “Roy Cohn” for an Attorney General, and Barr not only offered his services, he applied for the job with his unsolicited thesis on why he believes the president should be held to a lower standard of conduct compared to any other citizen with respect to the law.
Roy Cohn–think about that–Cohn gained notoriety for being instrumental in exploiting and weaponizing the Red Scare (and the Lavender Scare) of the early 1950s; becoming the blunt end of the capricious political truncheon wielded by Sen. Joseph McCarthy. He continued his career in the private sector as a fixer for New York mobsters such as “Fat” Tony Salerno, Carmine Galante, and John Gotti. Not to mention defending Donald Trump against charges of racially motivated Fair Housing Act violations. Cohn’s career ended in disgrace and disbarment for literally forcing the signature of a dying man onto an amendment of his last will and testament which would have named him partial beneficiary to his fortune.
That is what William Barr aspired to be, that is the job he applied for, that is the position he accepted. This is not the action of a respectable man, whether he may have been once held in high regard as a prior Attorney General or not. That is not who he was when he sought after and accepted his current position with Trump.
I would venture to say that Barr is not the exception, he is the rule. Perhaps the first class of Trump supplicants could plead ignorance, perhaps they could say they thought he would become “more presidential” once he became acclimated to his position. That ship has sailed at this point. Those who are currently employed by Trump and especially aspirators who hope to be one day, are not good people.