I started working on a post on this topic a week or two ago, abandoned it, deleted it, and now have decided to try, try again, inspired by the good Rabbi Fisher’s latest.
Even President Trump’s supporters do not fully realize the job he has done. As I have written in the past, during the course of a wonderful rabbinic career that has given me so much personal satisfaction and fulfillment and that hopefully has touched the lives of my flocks, I once endured the Twilight Zone interlude of being rabbi of one of the worst Nightmare Congregations in America. (Two of my dearest friends, both Christian pastors, have enlightened me that the experience was not unique, and both pointed me to an extraordinary book, Clergy Killers, that lays out the despicable phenomenon of Houses of G-d of all faiths where outlier ego-driven laity can destroy spiritual harmony as they superimpose their personal social pathologies on everyone in their church, temple, or synagogue.) During that brief thirty-month journey in the Twilight Zone, there was a coterie of only a dozen jerks out to sabotage my every effort despite the warm support and even deep love I enjoyed among the vast majority of that congregation of 250 or so people. But the jerks comprised the inner circle, the “Board of Directors,” comprised of some wonderful people out-shouted by determined ego-driven laity who knew so very little about conducting a religious community but a great deal about internal political manipulations and striving for crumbs of vainglory.
I recount this brief nightmare — and thank G-d Almig-ty it was only a passing phase, a blip in a pulpit career of more than a quarter century — because I therefore appreciate more deeply from that personal experience what President Trump has accomplished against all odds.
Let us be forthright: Here is the President’s one flaw, and Chris Christie has been spot-on, though self-serving, through his book tour. Donald Trump came to Washington. D.C. too cockamamie-sure that he knows everything about everything and therefore can navigate anything on his own. He took on a chief of staff and a press spokesman blithely because, oh, may as well. He picked cabinet members based on considerations — and I do get it — as to what would satisfy the Mediacracy wolves’ thirst for blood. So he owed Jeff Sessions eternal gratitude — he really did — for being the only United States Senator to back him during the rough-and-tumble GOP primaries, and made him his Attorney General. He put Rex Tillerson in charge of State because Tillerson had carved a phenomenal career in dealing effectively with the Russians including Putin on energy issues. He put Mad Dog in charge of defense because the name sounded good, and Gen. Mattis seemed the guy. In all these, Mr. Trump failed to appreciate that, no, you cannot be maximally effective as President without help you can count on — help that is the best of the best, and that is the most loyal of the loyal, and people who share precisely your vision, not aiming to advance their own.
His great mistake was that — quite the opposite of his public persona — he was too nice a guy, too willing to make others happy and play to others’ expectations. So he put faith in Paul Ryan to be an improvement over John Boehner, and that was a mistake. He brought in Reince Priebus, a wonderful guy, and Sean Spicer — but those jobs were above their pay grades; he should have begun with Gen. John Kelly. Omarosa should have been made his Secretary of TV Shows and stationed in Bosnia. Mike Pompeo should have been his Secretary of State from Day One. John Bolton belonged on the inside from the outset. Nikki Haley proved a shockingly great United Nations ambassador, but he blew it with the A-G. It should have been Chris Christie, or the ever-tongue-slipping Rudy Giuliani, Joe diGenova, or even the best we have had in years, Michael Mukasey. That one last botch — picking the wrong Attorney-General — will be recorded in history as his worst mistake. It doomed so much of his first term. Look how great Eric Holder was for Obama, followed equally by Loretta Lynch. Each knew how an A-G with guts and fortitude, bold and brash, fast and furious, on the tarmac and off the tarmac, can make or break so much of a President’s agenda. Indeed, that is why John Kennedy decided that “Gee, nepotism may look bad, but I want my brother in that role.”
Close but not quite, Dov; you need to think a little bigger. His REAL weakness is something that could easily end up ruining him, although there’s really no shame or disgrace in harboring it. See, Trump is old enough and patriotic enough that he still strongly, strongly believes in the American system of government. He believes not that it has been intentionally destroyed and rebuilt as a grotesque perversion of its former self, but that it has merely gone astray and can still be repaired. Worse yet, he believes that most of the elected officials in charge of the monstrosity share his ambition to put it back on the right track, needing only proper leadership to help steer things out of the ditch and back on the highway again.
None of that is true. The people he’s relying on to either be persuaded or respond positively to the will of the people they misrule are the ones who wrecked things in the first place—and, as I said, they did it on purpose. Even his own damned party is actively working to thwart his attempt to drain the Swamp; it couldn’t be more obvious by now that the Vichy GOPers don’t want the damned thing drained, despite years of promising to do exactly that. They’re all good with the dysfunctional and nonviable status quo, thanks, and are quite willing to fight vigorously to sustain it. Rabbi Fisher has a fiendishly clever idea for how Trump might move forward from here, though:
Donald Trump came in with no prior legislative experience. If he had known then what he finally has learned now, he would have shoved that border wall down Ryan’s throat, and he would have gotten it. If he had had the right A-G, he would have crafted his entry ban a bit more cleverly, and each of his subsequent Ninth Circuit debacles would have been more elegantly situated for Supreme Court review. Indeed, if he had me— and I am utterly not qualified, nor would I want it because I like being a rabbi and law professor, and I hate participatory politics — but if he had had even me, I would have advised him that, every single time he issues a new Executive Order, he should counter-intuitively have the pro-Trump Texas or Louisiana Attorney General race immediately to the Fifth Circuit to attack him and his Executive Order… so that the first court that rules with a national injunction would be the pro-Trump, pro-conservative Fifth Circuit. Race to the Fifth before the Left gets to the Ninth. That would have changed the whole dynamic on everything from the Keystone XL Pipeline to the various issues on the southern border.
He has more ideas still, all of them good but none likely, because they depend on the same false premise Trump holds:
As these next two years unfold, I hope that gutless GOP Senate committees, if only to save their own hides, start subpoenaing every Clinton thing they can think of: Clinton Foundation, Clinton speaking fees and secret speeches, back to Benghazi, back to the 33,000 yoga and wedding-dress emails. Investigate who lied to the Senate Judiciary Committee during the Kavanaugh hearings and make them roommates with Manafort and Cohen. Get Lois Lerner back; we miss her. Investigate Comey and all his crew: Macabre McCabe, Strzok, Page. Investigate that Obama CIA director, John Brennan, who voted for Gus Hall, the Communist candidate for President. (Did we actually just have a CIA director who had voted for a pro-Soviet Communist President of America? And that guy is accusing others of treason and collusion with the Russians?) And, taking a cue from Mueller, just name a Special Investigator to investigate “the Clintons” — with the proviso that he or she is authorized to follow the trail wherever it leads. It will lead everywhere.
Yeah, but the “gutless GOPe Senate commitees” have NO desire to go there, or anywhere near it. They intend not to take a single step in that direction, because THAT’S what they believe “saving their own hides” depends on. In fact, I think Trump himself may just be reluctant to do such a thing himself, believing that the damage it could do to our existing institutions and federal-government structure far outweighs the benefit of re-establishing the rule of law and demonstrating that it applies across the board. It’s a real dilemna the Prez is facing here, and he’s all alone in wrestling with it. I can’t say I envy him in even the slightest way.