The wraiths to come


Josh Marshall at TPM coined the term “Dignity Wraith” to refer to the humiliated victims of Donald Trump’s will to power and desire for dominance. Here’s the phrase in the context of Trump’s vice presidential decision:

Coming into the orbit of Mr Trump, taking his yoke as it were, requires not only total submission, a total relaxation of every muscle and defense but a farewell to all independence and dignity.


Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch’entrate …


Look at Chris Christie, a once strong-arming figure now reduced to being the iconic symbol of a shudder-inducing, oddly voluntary and seemingly perpetual cycle of abject humiliation. In addition to all the ‘hostage Christie’ memes we saw over recent months, Trump forces made sure to tell numerous reporters that as recently as Thursday night – last night – Christie was literally pitching himself to Trump on the phone, again begging to be picked for Veep even after the decision for Pence had apparently already been made. As recently as Friday morning, according to the Times, Christie still thought he was still in the running. It seems quite likely Christie only finally learned his fate from Trump’s twitter. As the Times put it with some understatement in a separate article dedicated entirely to Christie’s public humiliation, “Mr. Trump appeared to relish poking fun at his effusive booster.”


It is a genuine mystery what sort of hold Trump was able to take over Christie. But it seems to have been total. Like a vampire, Trump drained Christie of all dignity and filled the space he once occupied with a raked carcass of dignity loss.

As it was with Christie, so it was with Gingrich, and Romney, and Pence, and the rest of the craven and cynical men who slobbered over Trump in order to acquire a cabinet position or vice presidential nomination.

But, of course, the humiliations don’t cease after one attains power within the Trump administration. They then become a prerequisite for holding onto that power. Trump requires a steady stream of sycophancy to sustain his own massive but fragile ego. If feeding that ego requires sacrificing your principles, integrity, and dignity, then that’s the price of power.

And it’s in this context that we should think about not just the latest Dignity Wraith, Rod Rosenstein, but indeed about the entire Republican Party, from the politicians to the intellectuals, from the donors to the media propaganda machine.

Take this stunning interview in The Economist, for instance. Lots of laughs have been had over Trump’s apparent belief that he invented the phrase “[to] prime the pump”. But the whole interview is truly ludicrous. Trump is being asked about his economic beliefs by one of the premier business/economics publications in the world. Since he’s clearly not up to the job intellectually, Gary Cohn, Steve Mnuchin, and Hope Hicks all accompany him. Hicks is a White House press flack who has no dignity to begin with. But Cohn and Mnuchin are apparently quite well-respected. Cohn was President and Co-Chief Operating Officer at Goldman Sachs from 2006 to 2017, when he was nominated by Trump to lead the National Economic Council. He is a registered Democrat and has been praised by the Washington Post as a “moderate voice” in the Trump White House and a counterweight to the hard-right Breitbart faction. (He has also been subjected to anti-Semitic abuse by this same faction, which calls him “Globalist Gary” and suggests that he would be “too liberal [even] for the Obama administration”.) Mnuchin is another Goldman alumnus and has been involved in the finance industry for over three decades (including working for George Soros!). Even if their ideology is uniformly terrible (more tax cuts, deregulation, yada-yada), you would think Cohn and Mnuchin could bolster Trump’s arguments or at least prevent him from saying something undeniably stupid.

But, alas. Here’s Mnuchin echoing Trump on his claim that China’s currency manipulation stopped the moment The Donald called them out on it:

Trump: You know, since I’ve been talking about currency manipulation with respect to them and other countries, they stopped.

Mnuchin: Right, as soon as the president got elected they went the other way.

(In case you’re curious, here are the actual facts:

China has been intervening in currency markets “since and before Trump came to office,” said Chi Lo, senior economist for Greater China at BNP Paribas.

“But the intervention has come in the form of propping up the renminbi on the back of capital outflows from China,” Lo said. “So the facts are at odds with Trump’s argument.”

Here’s Cohn saying nothing when Trump decides not to answer a question about a “fair” version of NAFTA and instead spews some virtually incomprehensible twaddle about his great relationship with Canada and Mexico:

The Economist: What would a fair NAFTA look like?

Trump: I was all set to terminate, you know? And this wasn’t like…this wasn’t a game I was playing. I’m not playing…you know, I wasn’t playing chess or poker or anything else. This was, I was, I’d never even thought about…it’s always the best when you really feel this way. But I was…I had no thought of anything else, and these two guys will tell you, I had no thought of anything else but termination. But because of my relationship with both of them, I said, I would like to give that a try too, that’s fine. I mean, out of respect for them. It would’ve been very disrespectful to Mexico and Canada had I said, “I will not.”

Here’s Hope Hicks trying and failing to remind Trump of his original excuse for not releasing his tax returns:

Trump: Oh, at some point I’ll release them. Maybe I’ll release them after I’m finished because I’m very proud of them actually. I did a good job.

Hicks [White House director of strategic communication]: Once the audit is over.

Trump: I might release them after I’m out of office.

And here’s Mike Pence (who enters towards the end of the interview), yessiring Trump for saying that no one will “die in the streets” under his plan (and he really means it now, unlike when he said it during the campaign):

Trump: So I know exactly the speeches you’re talking about. I said, “I’m not going to allow people to die on the streets”, and I said it over and over and I meant it more than anything and I probably mean it more now than even when I made the speech. We’re talking about the high-risk pools, Mike, and we just added $8bn to the high-risk pools.

Pence: Yes, sir.

Trump: People are going to have…they’re going to have great insurance. Now, we have one more step to go. You know we have to go through the Senate and we’re refining it even further. But I will tell you, Mike, I just spoke to a few of the senators and they have some great ideas also and they want to get it there.

The only thing that gives me solace in these dark political times is the joy of watching the dignity being sucked out of the Republican Party (if it had any dignity left). Jim Comey, the Republican who pretended he was above politics, followed in the footsteps of Jeb!, Marco and Lyin’ Ted by becoming Trump’s latest Republican humiliation. Paul Ryan, the intellectual leader and mythological wonk of the Republican Party, has become a sort of press flack for Trump, like Hope Hicks. (Asked about the Comey firing, he explained, “The president made a presidential decision.”) Nikki Haley, a rising minority star within the GOP, echoed him, saying that Trump is the “CEO of the country” and can “fire anyone he wants”. Fox News covered Comey’s firing, as Slate explained, from an “alternate reality”. And Peggy Noonan, Pulitzer Prize winning opinion writer, breezily explained that no one in real America cares about the Comey firing because people at Liberty University were wearing MAGA hats.

But once my schadenfreude subsides, I start to wonder about these people, particularly the ones who should know better, like Haley and Mnuchin and Cohn. I wonder if they ever cringe, at least on the inside, when Trump attains new depths of stupidity. I wonder how much they are roiled by internal conflict, how much they have to resist the small voice in their heads that urges them to insert a modicum of rationality and sense into the conversation. I wonder when they lost their souls, if they ever had them to begin with. I wonder whether, if Planned Parenthood is repealed or Dodd-Frank is gutted or the estate tax is axed, they’ll finally reach contentment. But most of all, I wonder: when their own humiliation is complete, two months or two years from now, what will they tell themselves? How will they explain how they went to the White House, eager to use the stupidest man in Washington to advance their own agendas, and somehow came away his latest victim?


2 thoughts on “The wraiths to come

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s