Across the years of a presidential administration, the churn of politics and policy brings certain men and women to the top of American politics.
The last few days have demonstrated the paths to preferment and influence in the Trump years.
First is the case of Stephen Miller, a senior adviser to President Trump and the administration’s unofficial liaison to the alt-right world.
Miller is best known as the prime mover behind the Muslim travel ban and the main opponent of any political compromise involving compassion for the DACA dreamers. Now, with the release of a trove of emails sent to Breitbart writers and editors in 2015 and 2016 (soon before Miller became a Trump administration official), we get a glimpse of Miller’s inspirations and motivations. In response to the murder of nine black churchgoers by a white nationalist in 2015, Miller was offended that Amazon removed merchandise featuring the Confederate flag and was concerned about the vandalization of Confederate monuments.
Miller encouraged attention at Breitbart to a “white genocide” themed novel, featuring sexualized violence by refugees. He focused on crime and terrorism by nonwhites as the basis for draconian immigration restrictions. He complained about the “ridiculous statue of liberty myth” and mocked the “national religion” of “diversity.” He recommended and forwarded stories from the range of alt-right sources.
All this is evidence of a man marinated in prejudice. In most presidential administrations, a person with such opinions would be shown the White House exit.
But most of Miller’s views—tenderness for the Confederacy, the exaggerated fear of interracial crime, the targeting of refugees for calumny and contempt—have been embraced publicly by the president. Trump could not fire his alt-right alter ego without indicting himself. Miller is safe in the shelter of his boss’s bigotry.
Second, there is Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, the tireless, tendentious, often bellowing chief defender of Trump during the impeachment hearings.
Jordan is not, of course, alone in his heroic sycophancy. GOP Reps. Devin Nunes, Mark Meadows and others try to equal him. Together they update Alexander Pope: Fools rush in where Mick Mulvaney and Rudy Giuliani fear to tread.
But Jordan has mastered the art of talking utter rubbish in tones of utter conviction. His version of the events at the heart of the impeachment inquiry? Rather than committing corruption, Trump was fighting corruption. Military assistance was suspended, in Jordan’s telling, while the president was deciding if Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was “legit” in his determination to oppose corruption. When Trump found that Zelensky was the “real deal,” the aid was released.
This is a bold but flimsy lie, of the type Trump has made common. Why, in this scenario, would Trump try to secure specific commitments from Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, and to examine Trump’s conspiracy theory about Ukrainian influence in the 2016 election?
Are we supposed to believe that Trump employed these as random, theoretical examples of corruption that a worthy, crime-fighting leader would root out? And was the release of American aid just two days after Congress was notified about the whistleblower report a coincidence as well?
Jordan asks us not to accept additional facts but to live in a substitute reality. Almost everyone who participated in these events—both professional staff and political appointees—has affirmed that Trump was employing leverage to secure his political objectives. It is the plain meaning of the reconstructed transcript of Trump’s call to Zelensky.
But none of this matters to Jordan and his colleagues. Consistency and coherence are beside the point. Their objective is not to persuade the country; it is to maintain and motivate the base, and thus avoid Trump’s conviction in the Senate.
The purpose is not to offer and answer arguments but to give partisans an alternative narrative. And the measure of Jordan’s success is not even the political health of his party (which is suffering from its association with Trump); it is the demonstrated fidelity to a single man.
The elevation of Trump to the presidency has given prominence to a certain kind of follower and permission for a certain set of social values. Bolsheviks once talked of creating the New Socialist Man.
Miller and Jordan are giving us a taste of the Truly Trumpian Man—guided by bigotry, seized by conspiracy theories, dismissive of facts and truth, indifferent to ethics, contemptuous of institutional norms and ruthlessly dedicated to the success of a demagogue.
Every day of Trump’s term continues the moral deconstruction of the Republican Party and brings the further debasement of American politics.