Sunday, February 13, 2022

Sunday Reading

Down The Crapper — Jack Holmes in Esquire.

Back when he was the world’s most powerful man, Donald Trump would sometimes lament the state of our nation’s toilets. “People are flushing toilets 10 times, 15 times,” he reported. “We have a situation where we’re looking very strongly at sinks and showers and other elements of bathrooms.” It was widely assumed that either someone had gotten Trump’s ear on this or it was a genuine personal hangup, not unlike his pathological disdain for wind turbines, a hatred so effervescent that, to drive the point home regarding this towering evil, he occasionally would pretend to care about birds. But if a new detail from New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman’s book, sampled in Axios, is anything to go on, the strength of our nation’s thrones might have been a different kind of issue for the big guy.

While President Trump was in office, staff in the White House residence periodically discovered wads of printed paper clogging a toilet — and believed the president had flushed pieces of paper…

Trump, of course, denies the flush accusations: “Another fake story, that I flushed papers and documents down a White House toilet, is categorically untrue and simply made up by a reporter in order to get publicity for a mostly fictitious book,” he said in a statement.

The allegations dovetail neatly with a report last week in the Washington Post expanding on our previous body of knowledge with regard to the former president’s document-retention habits.

President Donald Trump tore up briefings and schedules, articles and letters, memos both sensitive and mundane.

He ripped paper into quarters with two big, clean strokes — or occasionally more vigorously, into smaller scraps.

He left the detritus on his desk in the Oval Office, in the trash can of his private West Wing study and on the floor aboard Air Force One, among many other places.

And he did it all in violation of the Presidential Records Act, despite being urged by at least two chiefs of staff and the White House counsel to follow the law on preserving documents…some of the White House records the National Archives and Records Administration turned over to the [January 6] committee appeared to have been torn apart and then taped back together.

At this point, it is abundantly clear that Trump carried the same totally above-board practices he favored in his business career into his time in public office. While this kind of thing is sketchy at a privately held company like the one bearing his name, it’s definitely bad when you are in a position of the public trust, elected to do the people’s business, and there are a raft of laws concerning your obligations in that position—in this case, leaving a paper trail of your activities so other institutions of the democratic republic in which you serve can monitor what you’ve been up to. That’s the deal you make when you run for public office! The same thing is playing out with the debate over whether members of Congress should be able to trade stocks while making policy—and being party to nonpublic information—that could impact the future price of those stocks. If you don’t want these extra burdens on your behavior, pick a different line of work!

But the rules have never applied to the big guy, of course, which is why he also took a bunch of records he shouldn’t have out of the White House and down to Mar-a-Lago with him. The National Archives had to go down there to retrieve 15 boxes of stuff, and the New York Times now reports the Archives determined some of the materials therein were classified. Remember when storing classified information in a non-secure private setting was the worst thing in the world? Like, say, when Trump’s opponent in the 2016 election used a private email server and some of the emails that came across her digital desk contained classified information? It was the story that blanketed the front page of the paper of record a little over a week before Election Day, a blockbuster account focusing on the fact that emails had been re-found after the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s pernicious activities had been closed, in spectacular ass-covering style, by then-FBI Director James Comey. Never mind that it turned out there wasn’t anything new in this batch of emails.

Your mileage may vary on how big a role Anthony Weiner played in ushering in the fun few years that followed, but within the first of those years you certainly started to get the sense that perhaps people were overselling their concerns about Hillary Clinton’s email protocol. For one thing, using private email for government business became a calling card of officials in the Trump White House, led by Ivanka Trump. The first daughter-slash-presidential adviser had the inspirationally shameless excuse that she was unaware of all the rules around email protocol mere months after it was at the center of her father’s campaign, in which he led crowds in chants calling for his opponent to be thrown in prison for this grievous crime.

In fact, email was perhaps just the tip of the iceberg. Her husband, the son-in-law-in-chief Jared Kushner, allegedly had a private Whatsapp going with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. Who knows what they discussed! Which was, maybe, the point. Rudy Giuliani was probably communicating with his Ukraine henchmen via carrier pigeon. But even if we just focus on email, then-chief White House strategist Steve Bannon was, according to a congressional inquiry led by Democrat Elijah Cummings, using a private account to communicate about a plan to hand over nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia. How does that compare to the contents of Hillary Clinton’s emails? Or should we all just admit nobody ever actually cared?

Like, really. The thrilling crescendo of Trump’s record on this, the alleged mismanagement of classified information, ought to put this thing to bed. They didn’t care about the private email or the server. They didn’t care whether there was classified information on it. They didn’t care that Clinton’s team destroyed records. Because they did all the same shit—and, considering Trump’s ethics record in office, what kind of shit was he hoping to obscure? (Why, also, did White House staff place some of his calls on a top-secret server unnecessarily, including the infamous call with the president of Ukraine?) It was just red meat to throw to the rally crowds. And the news media, eager to avoid accusations it was Only Tough On One Side, ate up Emailghazi as a superscandal, a counterweight to the awe-inspiring subsurface shitberg of Donald Trump’s public and private lives. At some point, maybe, we might grapple with all this. Or, more likely, Trump will get away with everything he slammed Clinton for doing, because it was all just a show and the show goes on.

Doonesbury — Part II