From One Psychodrama to Another

Michael Wolff and his media-hyped blockbuster—that supposedly game-changing landmark of a book Fire and Fury—are now ancient history.

Fading similarly is Karen McDougal, Playboy‘s 1998 Playmate of the Year, and her National Enquirer grifter lawsuit that was also supposed to destroy the Trump presidency.

We are by now mostly tired with Stormy Daniels and her unhinged lawyer Michael Avenatti, who at least proved more entertaining than his porn-star client.

Consiglieri Michael Cohen, the Trump attorney who secretly taped his own client and apparently has been flipped to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s side in his veritable war against Trump, is also sliding into the netherworld of no-news coverage and a legal morass.

Cohen now competes with the narcissist Omarosa Manigault, entering from stage left with her trunkful of tapes and gossip to demand her own proverbial 15 minutes of fame. She promises to release never before told, shocking, unprecedented, flabbergasting dirt on Donald Trump that will ensure his impeachment, indictment, and jail time—or reify the dreams of celebrities who have variously voiced desires to hang, dismember, smash, blow up, stab, shoot, and ignite the president.

Hangers-On and Hucksters are an Historical Phenomenon
Trump is said to have associated with so many disreputable sorts like Omarosa and Cohen that his current den of released hissing snakes was inevitable. Perhaps so.

Or as likely, Trump is having one of these somewhat typical presidential moments—far more reported on in his case and perhaps occurring more frequently, but still similar in essential ways to past comedies. Recall, for example, President Obama’s Van Jones embarrassment. Jones, remember, was the 9/11 “truther” and “green czar” who had no real White House job it seemed other than screaming about Republican “assholes.”

In some sense, every president gets caught at some time with the likes of an Anita Dunn. She was the Obama media guru and D.C. power broker who named Mao Tse-tung, the 20th-century’s greatest mass murderer, as one of her “favorite political philosophers.”

Reggie Love was Obama’s “bag-man” who one day was irreplaceable, the next abruptly gone. Love later turned up to claim quite astounding things, including that a bored Obama played spades on the night of the Osama bin Laden raid. Love further insisted that Obama had whined about the bother of having to go downstairs to monitor the mission in real time: “Most people were like down in the Situation Room and [President Obama] was like, ‘I’m not going to be down there, I can’t watch this entire thing,’ So he, myself, Pete Souza the White House photographer, Marvin, we must have played 15 hands, 15 games of spades.”

Sometimes fools are credentialed and mellifluous. There was also Obama health care advisor Jonathan Gruber, the MIT economist who boasted that voters were simply too stupid to figure out how they had been snookered by the passage of the Affordable Care Act: “And basically, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever, but basically that was really, really critical for the thing to pass.”

Young Ben Rhodes, the former deputy national security advisor and would-be novelist, bragged about how he also had deluded the obsequious know-nothing press corps to tout the otherwise unpassable Iran Deal. Rhodes preened, “The average reporter we talk to is 27 years old, and their only reporting experience consists of being around political campaigns . . . They literally know nothing.” Rhodes went on to boast that he easily could manipulate pseudo-experts to complete his circular con of both manipulating the news: “We created an echo chamber . . . They were saying things that validated what we had given them to say.”

The Carnival Barkers of Alternative History and Real Threats Today
There are certainly differences between Trump’s embarrassing hangers-on and those of past presidents. For example, once Obama got elected, he was far better in disowning the more raw and crude street hustler cronies like the Rev. Wright, Bill Ayers, and Tony Rezko.

Trump’s small F-troop is more like colorful carnival barkers of the midway than earlier big-time, big-money, big-career Democrat White House crooks such as Bert Lance or Webb Hubbell. They are more akin to the sorts who surrounded, and would have surrounded President Hillary Clinton—Huma Abedin, Cheryl Mills, Justin Cooper, Bryan Pagliano, and Sidney Blumenthal—who likely all skirted or broke U.S. laws.

In addition, the media despises Donald Trump. Stormy and Omarosa are center stage and drown out daily news in a way the psychodramas of Van Jones and Reggie Love or Sidney Blumenthal never quite did or could.

For example, over the last two weeks it is not really concurrent news that Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee and would-be next attorney general of Minnesota, has now been accused by one, and possibly two women, of prior abuse or harassment over the past decade. The #MeToo movement has apparently either crested, or concluded that it has been too injurious to progressive candidates. No one much cares that an assaulter may be the top law enforcement officer of Minnesota. If a third story emerges about Ellison, will his dilemma eclipse Omarosa? Not likely.

Nor this past week was it news—in this age of rampant collusion stories—that U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) now nonchalantly relates, five years after the fact, that her chauffeur of two decades was actually a Chinese spy. The career tenure of the Beijing implant was during a period when Feinstein chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee, and her husband was pursuing extensive financial and commercial interests with Chinese businesses and investments.

In other words, any conversation that the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee had in transit on the ground was in theory easily monitored by the Chinese government for years. We have not heard of security breaches like that since Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, with similar impunity, sent classified information over an illegal home-brewed email server—and then perhaps destroyed some of the likely most incriminating evidence.

Yet the Chinese spy story apparently is no more important that was the 2016 non-news of the ring of Pakistani-American IT “experts” who likely compromised congressional computers, embezzled money, and were inexplicably protected by former DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz.

Selective Outrage of the Fake News Mavens
Do not expect that the latest revelation about Bruce Ohr, the fourth-ranking official in the Obama Department of Justice, is news either. Ohr, we just learned, after the 2016 election, kept a secret backchannel open with the FBI’s discredited foreign informant Christopher Steele, author of the anti-Trump dossier commissioned by Hillary Clinton, on which Ohr’s own wife worked. Apparently, Ohr and the FBI wanted to ensure that more of Steele’s salacious gossip and dirt could still find the light of day—after the FBI had officially fired Steele for lying. In other words, a top Department of Justice attorney was still busy trying to undermine a sitting president with discredited gossip paid for by defeated candidate Hillary Clinton.

As Omarosa teased the media with stories of tapes to come and not to come, Peter Strzok was also just fired. That was another nonmedia story. Who cares that one of the top-ranking FBI officials was formally cashiered due to violations of FBI rules and regulations? Strzok now joins James Comey, Andrew McCabe and a cohort of Justice Department and FBI officials who all have either been fired, retired, or reassigned.

Again, little news. Strzok was seemingly just a nobody who happened to have interviewed Michael Flynn and concluded that he was truthful, before his superiors apparently decided that Flynn should be indicted for being untruthful.

Strzok led the FBI investigatory team looking into the Clinton emails. He had helped to edit James Comey’s summary findings exonerating Hillary Clinton from culpability even before interviewing her. He helped to lead the FBI investigation into Russian-Trump “collusion,” and was a key member of Robert Mueller’s special counsel team. Strzok exchanged thousands of texts with his paramour and fellow Mueller team members Lisa Page, some of which expressed hatred for Trump and his supporters, and alluded to efforts to subvert his campaign and presidency.

According to the earlier and initial 2017 fake news announcements from the special counsel Mueller’s office, Strzok had simply left the investigatory team for normal rotation back to the FBI Human Resources division, in the manner earlier, and separately, Lisa Page routinely finished her tenure as well with the Mueller team.

Again, the media had not much interest in the sudden firing of Strzok that might have reminded the nation that the FBI and DOJ had been weaponized in 2016 to help destroy a political candidate. But then again, the Strzok firing story, at least when in comparison to Omarosa, hardly served the goal of impeachment.

There is déjà vu here with these Trump tabloid stories.

In 2017-18 we went from the “fraudulent” voting machines, to the attempted subversion of the Electoral College, to impeachment writs, to the Emoluments Clause, and on to the 25th Amendment. Each psycho-crisis was hyped as the new magic bomb that would blow up the Trump presidency. The real news of a booming economy, near record low unemployment, the destruction of ISIS, and a recalibrated foreign policy was soon ignored in the pursuit of each new impeachment farce.

Now the psychodramas are personified with the strange cast of characters from Michael Wolff to Michael Cohen to Omarosa, who likewise offer the media hope that each new confessional will lead them to their fondest wish: a Trump-free Washington.

The warping of the national media last week also crested with scant mention that Silicon Valley has redoubled their efforts to label expression it finds non-progressive as hate speech and find ways to ban it on their platforms. At the same time, the national media coordinated its opinion pages in a simultaneous effort to voice its collective and scripted outrage that Donald Trump had done the unthinkable: in crude fashion, he questions the very autonomy and integrity of the media.

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Photo Credit: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

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About Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a distinguished fellow of the Center for American Greatness and the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He is an American military historian, columnist, a former classics professor, and scholar of ancient warfare. He has been a visiting professor at Hillsdale College since 2004, and is the 2023 Giles O'Malley Distinguished Visiting Professor at the School of Public Policy, Pepperdine University. Hanson was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007 by President George W. Bush, and the Bradley Prize in 2008. Hanson is also a farmer (growing almonds on a family farm in Selma, California) and a critic of social trends related to farming and agrarianism. He is the author of the just released New York Times best seller, The End of Everything: How Wars Descend into Annihilation, published by Basic Books on May 7, 2024, as well as the recent  The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won, The Case for Trump, and The Dying Citizen.