During the 1980s—the heyday of the flamboyant, headline-grabbing New York mafioso, including Carmine “The Snake” Persico, Tony “Ducks” Corallo, and Vinny “The Chin” Gigante—an ambitious federal prosecutor named Rudy Giuliani made his bones sending wise guys to lock-up on Rikers Island, and sometimes (when the witnesses survived and didn’t lose their memories) federal prison.
Today, as the personal attorney to Donald “The Hair” Trump, Giuliani confronts a different kind of syndicate—a loosely organized force operating outside or at the margins of the law, at once larger and more entrenched than the mob, although certainly less stylish.
The “deep state” operating both within and against the government includes many branches. But more alarming is information coming to light about the FBI. Once romanticized as incorruptible, the agency may have been involved in a deeply disturbing attempt to “to prevent and then subvert the presidency of Donald J. Trump.”
Because we live in astonishing times, when every political difference seems to escalate into furious accusations and counter-accusations, the Left has become convinced that Trump is a lifelong criminal—thanks to his business dealings in the sometimes shady world of New York real estate, and especially because of his alleged collusion with Russian gangsters (in and out of government).
The Greater Danger
Last weekend, the increasingly predictable and, therefore, boring cold open of “Saturday Night Live” spoofed the final scene of “The Sopranos,” with the grimly unfunny Alec Baldwin playing Trump as a mob boss. But if the president is indeed a practiced knuckle-breaker, schooled in the arts of the cosa nostra, the response of every patriotic American should be, “Thank God!”
Whatever the Justice Department inspector general’s report ultimately reveals about alleged partisan misbehavior within the FBI, we are coming to learn mind-boggling truths about the administrative state—that it is Machiavellian in its unscrupulous lust for power, and corrupt on the scale of the Medicis. To the degree that the lawfully elected Trump must defend his office and his country with the tactics and tricks he learned in Brooklyn, his hardball attitude may be just what is needed given the challenges he faces.
Abraham Lincoln’s effort to save the Union was beset by Copperhead opposition, even sabotage; and Thomas Jefferson’s administration faced unique challenges after the election of 1800, implementing the world’s first peaceful transfer of government power from an opposition party. But neither Jefferson nor Lincoln faced the difficulty of transforming nominal authority into actual control over a massive but recalcitrant administrative bureaucracy and national security apparatus. (When John Adams moved the federal government from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C. in May 1800, the entire workforce of 125 was hardly much larger than Robert Mueller’s team of 17 lawyers plus investigators and support staff.)
The great and overwhelming danger America faces now is that so much rests on the singular efforts of the presidency—the office and the man. History is unpredictable and mysterious; so it may be that Trump’s peculiar virtues will be just what we need. But this is not how our constitutional system is supposed to work. Those on the Left decrying Trump’s “dictatorial” inclinations predictably forget that it was their forebears, the Progressives, who concocted the idea of the president “as proactive government’s innovator-in-chief, one who was best positioned to understand historical tendencies and to unite them with popular yearnings.”
Start Thinking About What Comes Next
Our misshapen executive is but one manifestation of how the Constitution has been bent and distorted in ways James Madison could not have predicted (even to the point that Congress no longer asserts its own institutional powers and interests). In this limited sense, Trump’s lack of constitutional education is not so debilitating as might otherwise be assumed. His instincts are sound, and that might be enough to carry us through.
Of course, this deficiency is still a defect. The next Republican president will surely need different virtues, including a cultivated sense of the habits and principles of statesmanship. We will need to rebuild what Trump—rightly and necessarily—is breaking.
For now, however, Trump’s combativeness, media savvy, unpredictability, and raw energy may be sufficient . . . if those qualities can sustain him through the next few years, which undoubtedly will be brutal.
In the meantime, it would be nice if Republicans in Congress could pull themselves together and support their party’s leader with some spiritedness and backbone. (Devin Nunes for Speaker!)
Trump’s age, his impulsiveness, and the virulence and tenacity of his enemies (who still hold enormous power) all make the future precarious. But we may be encouraged by a line from The Godfather’s Don Corleone: “Never hate your enemies. It affects your judgment.” Trump still seems to be having fun, while his adversaries are becoming increasingly unhinged as their grip on power becomes more desperate. This is dangerous, in the same way that trapped yet vicious animal is a danger; and yet it’s also encouraging. The side that keeps its humor will most likely keep its wits.
Every little bit matters, because . . . it’s gonna be close.
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