Folks, the most recent horrors have got me thinking. I’m referring to the elimination of female autonomy in Alabama, and the Trump Administration’s lust for war with Iran. These are the newest developments in a long, loathsome Presidency.
It’s an odd time to be a political journalist. By contrast, sportswriters live in a world of repetition. Not just in the subject of their writing, but in the writing itself. For instance, every sportswriter I know of has written at least one “Farewell to a Dynasty” column.
“Dynasty” columns follow a familiar format. You know what I mean: “Will we ever see a team as good at the Pats again?” “Will the Chicago Bulls ever be surpassed?” “Will the Yankees ever know the fear of death?”
I find myself in the same position. In terms of pure evil, will the Trump Administration ever be surpassed?
Don’t get me wrong—the Bush Administration was responsible for more pillage and murder than the Trump Presidency. But the Bush White House was the mostly work of one leading monster, Cheney. The Trump Regime is definitely a team endeavor.
Some of these officials are long-haul, lunch-pail villains. Others were shining stars of the predator world. Some are outstanding nihilists with long records and distinguished pedigrees. Still others are semi-coherent cutthroats and aging bullies. Every last one of them would be the shining scum of any white-collar prison gang. Some were born evil, some attained evil—and some had evil thrust upon them, shrugged, and said “yeah, this works for me.”
I mean, this team of grifters hit the ground running. Look at the opening at-bat list from 2017: Jeff Sessions, former Attorney General, the last Confederate. Ryan Zinke, former United States Secretary of the Interior. The man was an active enemy of the biosphere he lives on. Tell me, where can you find suicidal commitment like that? Betsy DeVos is still in office, and still goes to bed with lucid dreams about how to defund public education. Hell, Rick Perry had no idea what the Department of Energy did when he started in office, and probably still doesn’t.
When I was a kid, the truly wicked men and women of the world never came together like this, except in Davos. The supervillains of the world worked alone, in corporate boardrooms or on manicured estates. They made and ended wars; they profited from the poor and passed their hoarded wealth on to their kids. In all things, they sinned beyond the wildest dreams of vice.
But they did so separately. Sure, they crossed paths here and there. But that’s all it was.
The 2017 Trump Cabinet formation was a bit like the 1992 U.S. Olympic Dream Team, except for Halloween creatures instead of NBA players. Before Trump, who would have thought to make the King of Bankruptcy, Wilbur Ross, the Secretary of Commerce? The guy was in the Paradise Papers. Forbes accused him of grifting an estimated $120 million. In any other administration, that would mean getting handed your walking papers. Here, it’s the fee for entry.
In ‘93, Clinton’s nominee for Attorney General, Zoë Baird, got withdrawn. Why? Because she employed two illegal immigrants from Peru as domestic help. They called it “Nannygate.” Made all the papers. That’s what people treated like a scandal, twenty years ago.
In 2019, Steve Mnuchin, our confirmed Treasury Secretary, is risking contempt of Congress because he won’t comply with subpoenas requesting Trump’s tax returns. That’s where we are now. The standard is so low it’s practically subterranean.
Take Kirstjen Nielsen, the former Secretary for Homeland Security. Most Americans have no idea who she is. They should. Nielsen headed up Trump’s family separation policy—just a striking incident in our history of national cruelty. True, she had other moments of malpractice—she didn’t denounce the Charlottesville white supremacists, for instance—but that’s small potatoes compared to her practice of putting children in cages. In June 2018, Nielsen lied about her department’s policy of throwing kids in the slammer. Then she said:
“We cannot detain children with their parents so we must either release both the parents and the children – this is the historic ‘get out of jail free’ practice of the previous administration – or the adult and the minor will be separated as the result of prosecuting the adult. Those are the only two options.”
Imagine being a human being and mouthing those words. And she’s not even in the top five of Cabinet evil!
Trump—or, more likely, Trump’s employees who know how to read—selected the hell of his cabinet. I mean that quite literally: selected the hell. For each Cabinet job, they asked themselves a simple question: What is the public good achieved by this position? Followed by, Who in America has spent their life trying to push back against this public good?
They found whoever that person was. And then they appointed them solely so they could destroy the Department. It’s breathtaking. It took Trump to put it together. This Administration has a lot of whatever the opposite of heart is. I can see Steve Bannon giving a TED Talk about this team: “Why can’t someone find a way for cholera, rickets, and measles to team up? Well, someone did.”
However, I can’t give all of the credit to the president. It took the spineless Dem leadership in Congress to get us here. Their failure to hold this Administration to the barest standards of law made the Dream Team—well, Nightmare Team—of Evil Possible.
When I look at the intangibles of malice, this team’s got it. Senior advisor for policy Stephen “We have plenty of janitors” Miller. HUD Secretary Ben “Pyramid Power” Carson. Sebastian Gorka, former Deputy Assistant to the President, has an ART WAR license plate. Guy’s a literal Bond villain. Look at his godforsaken Twitter:
This man was once part of the most powerful government in the history of the world.
Even the boring grinders have put in the work: you have Rex “Raise the tides” Tillerson. According to U.S. News, under Tillerson’s watch, Exxon Mobil “defrauded investors for years by misleading them about the financial risks posed by more stringent regulations aimed at addressing climate change.” He was supposed to be the sane one, remember?
The hits keep on coming. Each member of the lineup would have been a criminal standout in any previous Republican Administration. But they’re all Scottie Pippen next to Trump.
Let me articulate your unspoken question: Will we ever see this evil lineup surpassed?
When it comes to insane, depraved, f-you evil? No. Sorry. There’s no comparison.
To be honest, I wonder if today’s new crop of younger oil CEOs, Harvard MBAs, and balding race-theorists have the same seething hatred for humanity that this coven of vampires have.
Look, I understand this may not be popular to say, but we need to talk about generational differences. The upcoming group of millennials are decent, community-oriented people who dream of a world free from injustice, inequality, and bigotry. They’ll probably save the word.
But when it comes to evil, they just can’t cut it. They don’t have the sticktuitiveness to pursue a decades-long career at Goldman Sachs, the way the Boomers and Gen X did. This new, flashy generation of malefactors—your Charlie Kirks, your Ben Shapiros—are more about YouTube clicks and getting banned from Twitter.
By contrast, before he was fifty, National Security Advisor John Bolton had worked for Jesse Helms, opposed reparations to Japanese-American internees, and been involved in Iran-Contra. Apparently he cursed and threatened to fire USAID’s Lynne Finney when she refused to advocate for the deregulation of baby formula in poor countries. And this was before he advocated for the Iraq War. He’s easily one of the most vile Americans walking the planet. Can today’s wannabes even dream of such pure, uncut horror?
I know past Presidential teams had their low-lights: Frank Carlucci, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Elliot Abrams, Paul Bremer, Larry Summers. But not all at once.
Maybe evil has changed. Maybe the classic American pastime, crafting war criminals, won’t happen after Trump. I look at the scouting reports for the new villains, and my gut tells me that there’s a change in the culture. We’ll never see their like again.
Why don’t we have a reunion tour for them during the next Administration? Let’s hold it in The Hague.