Thursday, July 11, 2019


Jeffrey Epstein is said to have raped dozens of teenage girls, but the president of the United States made the case all about himself, as usual. At The New York Times, James Poniewozik writes:
In many workplaces, there are procedures for employees in danger of getting the ax. There are meetings; there are hearings; you step into an office and plead your case....

But in a workplace run by a video junkie, you defend yourself not in front of a disciplinary committee, but on TV.

For an hour on Wednesday afternoon, cable news became the White House human resources office. [Labor Secretary Alex] Acosta parried and deflected questions from journalists, in the process making the meta-argument that the Viewer-in-Chief should not cancel him.
Acosta tried to soothe hurt feelings, but they weren't those of the victims:
The case involved numerous victims of sexual abuse, but Mr. Acosta had little to say to them. Asked repeatedly by journalists whether he had an apology or any other message for them, he instead repeated that Mr. Epstein should be punished, that victims should continue to come forward and that the late aughts were “a different time.”

... the real communication was directed offscreen, to the fabled audience of one, Donald J. Trump. Mr. Acosta was in the cable crucible in part because, reportedly, the binge-watching president had been keeping a close eye on coverage of Mr. Acosta and the Epstein case and did not like how things were looking. According to journalists covering the White House, Mr. Trump directed him to go on the air.
I wrote on Sunday that drawing attention to Acosta's betrayal of the victims in the Epstein case could put him in Trump's doghouse, but I should have realized that Trump would require Acosta to pass a test of manliness -- one that, according to Axios's Jonathan Swan, Acosta hasn't passed:
Trump insiders tell Axios that Labor Secretary Alex Acosta did little to help himself at his high-stakes news conference defending his handling of the Jeffrey Epstein case when he was a federal prosecutor in Florida.

... Trump hates being goaded into action by media outcries, and a source close to the president said there was "zero" chance he fires Acosta right away. "Zero," the source repeated — but allowing for Trump's impetuousness, another close source said: "I wouldn't say zero."

... The bottom line: Acosta remains in a tough, shaky position.

* The secretary has no ideological support with conservatives close to Trump.

* And his TV performance wasn't particularly strong.
We've forgotten how a normal president acts in times like this. A normal president acts, at least in part, out of a sense of right and wrong. Even if another president would demand Acosta's resignation because he's becoming "a distraction," that would presumably be because the president believes in pursuing certain policy goals and concludes that ongoing attention to a Cabinet member's past threatens the achievement of those goals. Even firing a Cabinet member so scandal won't plague a reelection bid usually has something to do with right and wrong -- a normal president wants four more years to shape policy.

Sure, there's a lot of ego involved when other presidents make such decisions, but for Trump it's all ego. He wants to be president in order to be president, and in order to continue kicking the asses of people who don't like the fact that he's president. He's been radicalized by Fox News and now regards liberals, moderates, Democrats, non-whites, anyone not born in America (except Saudis and Israelis), and the non-conservative media to be his enemies. But while he's ideologically rigid now, he doesn't care about the ideology except as a weapon of mass destruction to be deployed against those foes. It's purely an ego trip.

And a normal president would act in this situation at least in part out of an assessment of whether Acosta's handling of the Epstein case was morally indefensible, or seemed indefensible to the public. All Trump cares about is whether Acosta can hit back. We don't even find this unusual or troubling anymore.

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