The folly of trusting Trump claims two more victims. Why do they do it?

The ex-president has perhaps explained the appeal himself: ‘When you’re a star they let you do it’

Noah Berlatsky
Thursday 08 June 2023 20:33 BST
Chris Christie lays into Trump at 2024 campaign launch

This week, CNN’s CEO Chris Licht was ousted after 16 months on the job and a brutal expose in The Atlantic. On Wednesday evening, it was reported that former Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows has been testifying before the grand jury investigating Trump. Some sources suggested he might be taking a plea deal, though his lawyer denied it.

Licht and Meadows both put their faith and trust in Donald Trump. They both attached themselves to him in the hope that his fame and power would boost their own fortunes. And they both, in quick order, ended up miserable and humiliated.

That’s generally what happens to people who attach themselves to Trump, or associate with him in any way. Yet, people continue to think that Trump is a good, savvy bet. The allure of powerful, famous, rich white men is apparently endless. Which is an ominous thought.

Licht and Meadows are hardly the first dunderheads to throw themselves at Trump’s feet like confused priests genuflecting at some ugly orange altar. An exhaustive list of Trump’s betrayals would require a (lengthy) book rather than an article. But any recent chronicle would have to start with Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, who worked as Trump’s fixer for a decade. When Cohen faced charges of felony tax evasion and bank fraud related to payoffs to adult actress Stormy Daniels on behalf of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, Trump betrayed him with “startling” ease, distancing himself and insisting the case “doesn’t have to do with me.”

Trump also lied to his own supporters about election fraud in the 2020 election, encouraging them to storm the capital on January 6, which led many of them to be arrested and convicted. And of course Trump expressed support when the violent rioters threatened to hang Trump’s own vice president, Mike Pence — a man who lent Trump crucial establishment support in the 2016 election.

Mark Meadows is yet another Trump administration official who thought he could leverage an alliance with Trump into career advancement and power. A North Carolina representative, he joined the White House as Trump’s Chief of Staff in 2020, and was in place until the end of Trump’s term. He was reportedly involved in efforts to figure out ways to negate Biden’s election win on behalf of Trump, and it’s uncertain whether he tried to limit the violence on January 6.

In short, Meadows’ association with Trump and loyalty to Trump involved him in potentially illegal collaboration in insurrection. He reportedly testified about that, and about his involvement in Trump’s removal of and mishandling of classified White House documents, to the grand jury assembled by special prosecutor Jack Smith.

We don’t know if Meadows will be charged for anything. But linking himself to Trump has embroiled him in an embarrassing legal investigation. Trump handed him a bucket of mud, and Meadows dumped said bucket over his head—a pretty foolish decision, no matter how much of it sticks.

Chris Licht wasn’t a Trump appointee. But he built his tenure at CNN on Trump aggrandizement. Licht wanted to reset CNN’s relationship with Trump; Trump repeatedly attacked the network to try to delegitimize its reporting on his blatant corruption and fascism. Licht hoped to draw back Republican viewers with a more “centrist” approach.

The centerpiece of the centrism was a May CNN Town Hall stuffed with Trump supporters. Licht personally encouraged the former president to “have fun“ with the format. Trump responded by spending an hour and a half spewing a blizzard of lies about the 2020 election, abortion, and E Jean Carroll, a columnist who won a civil suit against him for sexual assault.

The Town Hall caused already poor morale among CNN journalists to crater. It was also a ratings disappointment. The Atlantic article extensively chronicling Licht’s failures was the nail in the coffin. Like many before him, Licht rode the orange wave of Trump right into a brick wall of personal and professional failure.

Which brings up the question, why?

Why do the Lichts and Meadowses of the world insist on pulling out their swords on Trump’s behalf when there is ample evidence that at some point they will end up with those swords stuck up their noses? What is the mysterious power Trump holds over all of these careerists, thugs, grifters, and buffoons?

Trump has perhaps explained the appeal himself. “When you’re a star they let you do it,” he said on the infamous Access Hollywood tape.

Trump was boasting there that his power and money and fame had enabled him to sexually assault numerous women with few consequences. Most decent people hear that and are horrified. But some people — your Cohens, your Pences, your Meadowses, your Lichts — watch Trump wield sadistic power without accountability, and they see an opportunity. Maybe, they think, if I stand near Trump, some of that orange impunity will rub off on me.

Of course, Trump only cares about Trump. His appeal to his followers and hangers-on is that he tramples people in his pursuit of power with no apparent check. But there are some obvious downsides if you happen, at some point to end up on his bad side — which you will, since he has nothing but bad sides. If you pick up a scorpion in hopes it will sting your enemies, it’s hard to feel sorry for you when the inevitable happens and you’re writhing on the side of the road.

And of course no one does feel sorry for Meadows or Licht. But their fate still makes one trepidatious. Licht and Meadows aren’t the only ones who find Trump’s particular brand of unpleasantness appealing. Many voters do as well, which is why he still leads the GOP primary field.

No matter how many times Trump betrays his supporters and allies, supporters and allies still flock to him. If he wins in 2024, we’ll all be Meadowses and Lichts. That’s a truly repulsive thought.

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