The Trump family is no doubt canny about the dog-eat-dog landscapes of the Manhattan real estate lagoon. But when the Trumps arrived in Washington, as political novices they entered an entirely new swampland, with which so far they remain unfamiliar. Their transition down the coastal corridor is sort of like leaving a Florida bog of alligators and water moccasins and thereby assuming one is de facto prepared to enter the far deadlier Amazon jungle of caimans, piranhas, and Bushmasters.
Here, then, are some Beltway Swamp rules:
1) Improper Meetings. Always meet in his/hers jets, “accidentally” nose to nose on the airport tarmac. Style mitigates unethical behavior. When caught, claim the discussions centered around “grandchildren.” In contrast, never go to any meeting with a Russian anything. If one must meet a foreign official for dubious reasons, then a revolutionary Cuban, Iranian, or Palestinian is always preferable.
2) Emails. Delete at least 30,000 before the subpoenas come, claiming they are mostly about yoga and wedding planning. Political fallout from a leaked email trove is more likely to arise from politically incorrect messaging than from clear evidence of legal wrongdoing.
3) Opposition Research. The more outlandish and impossible the charge, the more it will be believed or at least aired on CNN. Rumored sex without substantial deviancy is not necessarily compelling (e.g., urination is a force multiplier of fornication). As a general rule, ex-intelligence officers-turned-private investigators and campaign hit men are both the most lurid and least credible.
4) Leaking. Assume that those who collect intelligence also are the most likely to leak it, the FBI director not exempted. The more the deep state recalls the excesses of J. Edgar Hoover, the more it exceeds them. Expect every conversation, email, and text to show up on the desk of one’s worst enemy—at least for a few seconds before being leaked to the press. The more a journalist brags on airing a supposedly smoking-gun leak, the less the public cares. In sum, leaks are more likely to be fabrications than improperly transmitted truths.
5) Reporters. Expect that the sins that journalists cite in politicians are only exceeded by their own, from plagiarism to lying. Reference to “high administration officials” or “unnamed White House sources” often is good proof that the story is unsourced and made up. Journalists fired for breaches of ethics usually turn up working somewhere else within days. The shallowness and ignorance of media icons can often be calibrated by the hours and capital invested in facial alterations and wardrobes.
6) The Deep State. Signing legislation into law or issuing executive orders does not equate to changes in government policy. Assume that almost any new law or reform can be nullified by cherry picking a liberal judge, serial leaking, or through bureaucratic slowdowns by careerist and partisan bureaucrats. The deep state works with those who rapidly grow the government; it seeks to destroy those who grow it slowly. The most powerful man in Washington is a federal attorney. With a D.C. jury and an unlimited budget and staff, he can bankrupt most anyone with dubious charges, on the assurance that when they are dropped or refuted, the successful defendant is ruined and broke while his failed government accuser is promoted. The more conservative the target, the more likely his lawyer should be liberal.
7) Obstruction of Justice. Explicit obstruction of justice—an Attorney General ordering, for example, a FBI Director to alter the nomenclature or course of an ongoing investigation—is often not pursued; implicitly suggesting to a subordinate a desirable outcome is. The subtler the obstruction, the more likely authorities are to resent the subterfuge; the more crass and heavy-handed, the more auditors are impressed at its audacity—and therefore the more likely to exempt the violation in admiration (see Thucydides’s stasis at Corcyra discussion on the advantage of the “blunter wits”).
8) Collusion. Crass payouts such as outlandishly high honoraria, or mega-donations to one’s foundation in quid pro quo efforts to subvert the law are so overt that they are usually not prosecuted. Big talk and braggadocio that do not include payoffs are felt to be the more sinister—and prosecutable. If one plans to collude, it is always wiser to do it boldly: Announcing to the world that a president’s foreign policy behavior will change after the election—if in exchange the head of a hostile power promises to behave during the campaign and make a president look good is seen as bold not collusion.
An ex-president can never be guilty of anything.
9) Sexism. Calling a state official “the best-looking attorney general in the country,” or warning a reporter to “hold on, sweetie,” or flirting and taking selfies with a hot blond Danish prime minister amid the solemnity of a state funeral is not necessarily sexist (in the fashion “that woman, Miss Lewinsky” was not either). But crassly telling the wife of a French president that she is in good shape or crudely commenting on one’s past facial surgery certainly is. In general, derogatory sexism is more often ignored if the perpetrator is a self-declared feminist with a large vocabulary.
10) Projection. Rival politicians will smear those with charges most often applicable to themselves. For example, those who invent ethnic identities out of whole-cloth for careerist purposes are prone to level charges of racism. Those who profit enormously from government offices are the most likely to accuse others of financial impropriety. Those who leak classified documents deplore leaking. Most ethics watchdogs and czars are unethical. Those with law degrees are usually the most hostile to and ignorant of the law.
N.B.: All of the above commandments are subsidiaries of an overriding tenet: when conservatives in Washington sin, it is valuable window into their dark souls; when liberals do the same, it is a minor and regrettable lapse, attributable to the toll taken on them for heroically advancing the morally superior cause.
Accordingly, most drones of the deep state, elected officials, and the judiciary make the necessary political adjustments in order to obtain indemnities. An obdurate Beltway conservative is like one who fights in Fallujah without Kevlar; a progressive wars from an Abrams tank. That is why there are few of the former, and lots of the latter.
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