It hurts so bad, and you wish you could quit it. But you’re driving down the highway and it comes on the radio, or you’re at the newsstand to get gum and you see the headlines ― you can’t get the disgracefulness of Donald Trump and his crew out of your face, or out of your mind. So you plunge back in, with another edition of Trump Team Disgracefulness Power Rankings. Damnit.
Republic Report, which focuses on how money corrupts democracy, has met its abusive dream mate with the kleptocratic administration of President Donald J. Trump. Trump and his lieutenants personify how money and greed, mixed with serious bigotry, disrespect for constitutional freedoms, know-nothing ignorance, and an endless capacity for lying, can really, really corrupt democracy.
Hence, Trump Team Disgracefulness Power Rankings, counting down the week’s ten most disgraceful figures in the Trump administration. Grab a 48-pack of Zima and join us.
This week T-Rex erupts, Huckabee Sanders fakes the news, and bloody Donald raises money for his campaign and his hotel in one big party.
Permanent spoiler alert: We simply can’t imagine anyone other than Donald J. Trump ever occupying the top spot in the rankings. But we won’t get tired of him winning. Believe me.
This Week’s Rankings
10. Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State. Last week’s ranking: ―
Marginalized by Trump and his team, Tillerson, according to Politico, finally blew his stack at presidential personnel director Johnny DeStefano for repeatedly blocking Tillerson’s picks for key State Department jobs. The outburst reportedly stunned those in the room, who included chief of staff Reince Priebus (two weeks ago ranking: 10), Prince Jared Kushner, and Tillerson omnipresent chief of staff Margaret Peterlin. According to Politico’s sources, “Kushner approached Peterlin afterward and told her that Tillerson’s outburst was completely unprofessional...” (A dressing down in that Jacob the Bar Mitzvah Boy voice must be scary.) This report, indicating that Tillerson may have some spine and reaffirming that White House aides are mostly to blame for the ridiculous understaffing at State so far, almost moved Tillerson out of our countdown ― almost.
It remains the case that Tillerson could be working with the career State Department staff to make a positive difference in all kinds of ways; Trump likely wouldn’t even notice. Instead, Tillerson calls values like human rights “obstacles” to U.S. interests, held a press briefing on a Saudi Arabia trip without inviting the U.S. media, and appears to have ignored his commitment to recuse from matters related to the company he used to run, ExxonMobil. But fundamentally, Tillerson is just a large gaping hole where a Secretary of State is supposed to be: “To many State Department employees, Mr. Tillerson is something of a phantom who says little in staff meetings, rarely leaves his seventh-floor office — where he is surrounded by ... a small group of protective aides — and does not solicit their views.”
That’s OK, though, because when it comes to foreign relations, President Trump, Stephen Bannon, Ivanka, and especially Jared got this.
9. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Principal Deputy White House Press Secretary. Last week’s ranking: 10
Asked at the Tuesday press briefing about morning tweets by Trump that called CNN, NBC, CBS, ABC, the Washington Post, and the New York Times “all Fake News!” Sanders played to Trump and his base, attacking the media for covering the “Trump-Russia hoax” and claiming that the president is subjected to a “constant barrage of fake news.” Like Trump, Sanders raised the incident where three CNN staffers resigned following the retraction of a story about Trump official Anthony Scaramucci.
Sanders has every right to call out media operations when they get facts wrong. But Sanders is supposed to be a professional, doing a professional job, and to ratify Trump’s inflammatory and absurd use of the term “fake news” to refer to legitimate news organizations is simply, yes, disgraceful. It’s also the case that when CNN and other legitimate news organizations make mistakes, they tend to correct them promptly. Meanwhile, Trump has lied hundreds of times, and never admits or corrects a mistake ever. Where his whopper cannot be sustained ― such as the suggestion that President Obama wasn’t born in the U.S. or that there are Comey “tapes” ― he just makes like Sherlock Holmes and announces he has solved the case.
8. Kellyanne Conway, Counselor to the President. Last week’s ranking: ―
At least some of Kellyanne Conway’s absurd rationalizations of Trump disgracefulness have been original (such as the amazing “alternative facts”). This week, Conway relied on an old GOP trick (believe me), saying on ABC’s “This Week” that the Senate healthcare bill doesn’t cut Medicaid. While Medicaid spending would rise year to year under the bill, the effect of the bill would be to cut Medicaid spending from what would occur in the absence of the bill. That’s a cut. (Boss Trump followed up with a tweet along the same lines.)
Conway also offered a “let them eat cake” defense of the bill, saying that people who lose coverage,“if they are able-bodied and they want to work,” can go get jobs that provide coverage. Only thing is, as Jonathan Cohn writes, “The majority of able-bodied adults on Medicaid already have jobs. The problem is that they work as parking lot attendants and child care workers, manicurists and dishwashers ― in other words, low-paying jobs that typically don’t offer insurance. Take away their Medicaid and they won’t be covered.”
7. Jeff Sessions, Attorney General. Last week’s ranking: 7
In addition to reviving the counterproductive “war on drugs,” and his cancellation of an Obama order to phase out federal use of the often-horrible private prison industry (which donated big to Trump), Sessions has banned government lawyers from reaching agreements that take some of the funds disgorged from corporate defendants in civil and criminal settlements and give it to non-profit groups. This practice takes cash ponied up by manufacturers, polluters, or banks caught engaging in fraud or other misconduct and provides it to groups that work to protect the public by fighting against such misconduct, helping victims, or crafting policy solutions. Big corporate donors don’t like this constructive approach, so Sessions just got rid of it.
6. Mike Pence, Vice President of the United States. Last week’s ranking: 6
For his rapturous gazes at Trump in every meaningless White House meeting and ceremony. Also for the same reasons as the GOP Congress, see 2 below.
5. Stephen Bannon, White House Chief Strategist. Last week’s ranking: 5
4. Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Education. Last week’s ranking: 3
Lord knows just how big a mess Betsy DeVos plans to make of her supposed area of expertise, K-12 education. For now, many of her Department’s public actions have focused on hurting college students, especially the victims of predatory for-profit colleges. Proceeding with her plans to dump Obama rules aimed at holding bad colleges accountable, DeVos’s team apparently has also now set its sights on campus sexual assault, that is, on weakening protections against campus sexual assault. Since 2014, the Department has every week released a list of colleges and universities being investigated for alleged mishandling of sexual violence claims. This week, Candice Jackson, the acting head of the Department’s Office for Civil Rights, gave a speech in which she denounced the effort as a “list of shame” and said the Department might soon stop publishing it ― which would make nervous college administrators happy but would weaken accountability and protection of students.
We also neglected, amid a sea of Trump team disgracefulness, to mention that two weeks ago DeVos’s Department invited representatives of the right-wing evangelical groups Family Research Council and Focus on the Family to appear on a panel at a Department conference on “Engaging Fathers and Families.” Among other atrocities, both groups oppose LGBTQ rights and support the odious practice of gay “conversion therapy.” DeVos didn’t attend the event and has said she opposes conversion therapy, but members of the DeVos family are major donors to both of these “family” organizations. And earlier this year, DeVos, Trump, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions teamed up to cancel Obama protections for transgender schoolchildren.
Department of Education officials say DeVos is the lightest of lightweights, and that a handful of her appointees are running the policy efforts at ED, cutting most career staff out of the loop of information, let alone decision-making. In particular, insiders say, Robert Eitel, a former executive at the predatory schools Bridgepoint Education and Career Education Corp., is playing a key role in policy affecting for-profit colleges, casting doubt on his commitment to recuse from some matters. A good number of the conscientious career staff are out looking for new jobs.
3. Scott Pruitt, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator. Last week’s ranking: 4
Why is Scott Pruitt so determined to lead the effort to destroy America’s environment and the world’s climate? I suppose because it’s a niche that has provided him with big donations from the fossil industries, fueling his rise from Tulsa lawyer and minor league baseball owner to state senator to Oklahoma attorney general to EPA head, and perhaps next to the U.S. Senate seat up in 2020 and currently occupied by 82-year-old James Inhofe (R-OK). From there, maybe oil, gas, and coal money could propel Pruitt into the White House.
I mean, if we still have a damn country at that point. Seriously, is this a good tradeoff?
Pruitt seems to spend his days meeting with fossil fuel industry executives and lobbyists, the kind of folks who have funded his political activities in the past. Meanwhile, his staff works to conceal agency documents, just as Pruitt has hid the truth regarding his emails.
Last week, we hit Pruitt over the revelation that his EPA had kicked dozens of respected scientists off the agency’s Board of Scientific Counselors. This week it was revealed that Pruitt’s chief of staff, Ryan Jackson, pressured the leader of that board, Deborah Swackhamer, before her scheduled congressional testimony, to play down the dismissals. “I was stunned that he was pushing me to ‘correct’ something in my testimony,” Swackhamer said. “I was factual, and he was not. I felt bullied.” Lamar Smith, the House Science Committee chair who loves fossil fuel companies as much as Pruitt, insisted that Jackson did nothing wrong.
2. Mitch McConnell, Senate Majority Leader (last week’s ranking: 2), Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House, and all other Republicans in Congress.
At this point, given the stark awfulness of Donald J. Trump (see 1, below), the entire Republican caucus in each house of Congress is a disgrace for not: (1) making an express, concerted public break with Trump; (2) approaching the Democrats to jointly launch an impeachment investigation for abuse of office; and, even, heaven forbid (3) working with the Democrats to get things done that will actually help the American people, including by strengthening, not weakening, health care; creating jobs; and making genuine investments in infrastructure, clean energy, and education. Unfortunately, so long as Trump gives the congressional GOP what its donors want — tax cuts for the rich and deregulation of corporations — McConnell, Ryan, et al. seem okay with allowing Trump to act disgracefully. Sad!
1. Donald J. Trump, President of the United States. Last week’s ranking: duh
Thursday morning Trump attained a historical low level of petty disgustingness for a U.S. president, with his tweets stating that he refused to meet at Mar-A-Lago over New Year’s Eve with cable TV hosts and increasingly vocal Trump critics Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski and that the latter was “bleeding badly from a face-lift.”
Trump might as well replace the Andrew Jackson painting in the Oval Office with one of Andrew Dice Clay.
But that was just one marker in another week full of Trump disgracefulness.
Trump attended a $35,000-a-person fundraiser Wednesday for his 2020 re-election campaign ― at the Trump International Hotel down the street from the White House, once again using his political power to benefit his business interests, flaunting his kleptocratic awfulness and disregard for ethics standards right in front of the American people. I was outside with a feisty group of protestors, but reporters, after being told by the White House late in the day that they could attend, were afterwards uninvited because of supposed “logistical concerns.” Us protestors could see the event, or maybe some lower-donor auxiliary room of it, through the hotel windows, and we saw one guy making a point of chewing plates of food while staring at us, while a Jonah Ryanish dork pressed his ear against the glass and mouthed “I can’t hear you.”
It was also clearer than ever this week that Trump has absolutely no idea what he’s talking about on health care ― other than the droning in his head that Obamacare is “a total and complete disaster.” He obviously doesn’t know or care what is in the House or Senate bills, including that the bills are fundamentally a tax cut for the rich that leaves pretty much every health care consumer worse off. He just wants to sign something, anything, because his entire presidency is driven by revenge for getting ribbed by Obama six years ago at the White House Correspondents Dinner.
President Flintstone also made his latest Russiagate confession, telling Fox News Sycophant Ainsley Earhardt (this week’s ranking: 11) that his tweet threatening that there might be “tapes” of his meetings with James Comey was aimed at influencing Comey’s upcoming congressional testimony: “when [Comey] found out that there maybe are tapes out there, whether it’s governmental tapes or anything else or who knows, I think his story may have changed and you’ll have to look into that because then he’ll have to tell what actually took place at the events.... you’ll have to determine for yourself whether or not his story changed.” Earhardt sycophantically summed up Trump’s ramblings: “It was a smart way to make sure he stayed honest in those hearings.” To which Trump Flinstonishly replied: “Well, it wasn’t very stupid, I can tell you that.” He added: “He did admit that what I said was right and, if you look further back before he heard about that, maybe he wasn’t admitting that.”
In fact, Comey’s account to the Senate Intelligence Committee ― including that Trump got him alone and said “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go” ― was entirely consistent with the account that Comey had leaked to the media prior to his testimony; Comey did not “admit” that Trump was right. But you already knew that. Comey’s account, backed by Trump’s own admissions regarding his motivations, solidifies a powerful case of obstruction of justice against Trump, a matter currently being probed by special counsel Robert Mueller.
It’s unclear what Trump’s Bad Dream Team of lawyers thought of Trump’s latest confession; loose cannons themselves Marc Kasowitz (two weeks ago ranking: 8) and Jay Sekulow (last week’s ranking: 8) may not have been phased, but presumably mercenary Jared lobbyist Jamie Gorelick (two weeks ago ranking: 9), and actually appropriate criminal lawyer John Dowd were shaking their heads.
But even worse than the spectacle of our head of state compulsively confessing to obstruction of justice is Trump’s refusal to take seriously or act on the continuing threat of Russian interference in our democracy. Likely because Trump sees evidence of Russian manipulation of the 2016 election as a threat to his presidential manhood, CNN reports that “Trump’s own advisers are struggling to convince him that Russia still poses a threat.” Trump has done nothing publicly to punish or deter Russia regarding election interference, and, according to CNN, “Multiple senior administration officials said there are few signs the President is devoting his time or attention to the ongoing election-related cyber threat from Russia.”
JFC. Trump is again this week’s number one in Republic Report’s Trump Team Disgracefulness Power Rankings. Trump is not merely a disgrace; he’s a total and complete disgrace.
Throwback Thursday - vintage disgracefulness:
This article also appears on Republic Report.