The celebration of Donald Trump losing his reelection campaign has been gratifying but short-lived for me. It’s been gratifying because holy shit, fuck that guy and all the harm he’s caused. But it’s been short-lived because despite the Trump campaign’s flailing over fabricating voter fraud and legal challenges and the GOP’s not-totally-harmless “humoring” of the situation, the people closest to Trump know this is the end of the road, and are moving on.
They see the walls closing in on them and, much like trapped mice, are considering their exit strategies, attempting to jump or claw their little rodent bodies up to safety. The Trump administration has told these people that if they’re caught interviewing for other jobs, they’ll be fired, which would be hilarious if we didn’t consider the reality that greener pastures await so many of these sycophants and grifters and criminals with open arms.
(There’s also the concern that lower-level staffers will go broke holding out for work, though given that this anxiety was paired with D.C. bootlicker FOMO — “mid to lower…need paychecks and don’t want to get left behind,” according to Axios — I will reserve my empathy.)
We’ve already seen this happen with a slew of people who have departed the Trump administration ahead of the 2020 election: Sean Spicer became a humanized goon on Dancing With the Stars, and has his own fucking talk show called Spicer & Co. on right-wing channel Newsmax. Sarah Huckabee Sanders has been a contributor on Fox News for over a year now, and former ICE Director Tom Homan for longer. Former U.S. Customs and Border Protection commissioner and Homeland Security secretary Kevin McAleenan co-wrote an op-ed on domestic terrorism for the Washington Post last month.
Omarosa Manigault got to edit her post-Trump image with a book deal, as many of these other administration alum have and will do, as well as on Celebrity Big Brother. My googles of Reince Priebus and Tom Price bring up recent media appearances on CNN and CBS. Last year, I wandered into a lounge area during a festival hosted by the Texas Tribune where fucking Anthony Scaramucci was signing books, more than two years after his notorious 11-day tenure in the White House (full disclosure: my editor tells me that our predecessor blog, Splinter, once hosted a somewhat contentious but basically polite interview event with Scaramucci back in the day). The list of Trumpy-returned-to-society-goer goes on.
Because that is just how things go for people like them. Just who among their class will give a shit if Trump fires them for taking meetings with MSNBC and Fox News and law groups and think tanks? They were always going to be OK, recovering from their administration failures as well-paid media correspondents and policy and campaign consultants and speakers and any of the other made-up jobs that give them the opportunity to forge a life after Trump that rehabs away any stigma that might possibly stick to them, and, more importantly, access power without experiencing the same level of scrutiny doled to them as Trump staffers.
I can see it now. Kellyanne Conway and her Lincoln Project shill of a husband will return from their brief but well-timed family leave in order to publish his-and-hers books and Conway will be embraced by Fox News, as will Stephanie Grisham. Kayleigh McEnany will likely be allowed to return to Fox News and CNN, working her way back into punditry.
People like Ben Carson (lol) and Betsy DeVos and Steven Mnuchin and Chad Wolf and Bill Barr all have consultant positions or lobbying jobs or board member duties or smaller political careers to look forward to, where people will pay them a lot of money to bask in their proximity to power and ask them what are the best ways to make poor people poorer and rich people richer and marginalized people more marginalized.
Kirstjen Nielsen and Gina Haspel and Ken Cuccinelli and Mike Pompeo and Mark Meadows will continue to have legal and political careers beyond the Trump administration, the details of their crimes eventually becoming indistinguishable blips recalled by few media folks 20 years from now when Nielsen becomes the president of some private university and Cuccinelli is appointed as general counsel for whatever more competent version of Trump comes along.
I, along with many immigration reporters and advocates, worry the most about Stephen Miller. Not for his wellbeing, but for the wellbeing of all the people whose lives he will surely ruin as a yuppie anti-immigration asshole with a long, scrutiny-free life ahead of him (god, why…). Just, christ, he IS A HUGE WHITE NATIONALIST. Right now, he’s probably thinking of all the wrenches he can throw into our fucked up immigration system with the limited time he has left in the White House.
And I bet, I fucking bet, that he’ll be accepting a position at the anti-immigrant Center for Immigration Studies, through which he’ll also participate in the speaker circuit, traveling to private universities to speak to their Turning Point chapters, or what the fuck ever.
All this is nothing compared to the lifetime of unchecked power that Trump is looking forward to. Secret service, pensions, paid appearances, access to Walter Reed whenever his long-term COVID health complications flare up, and a base that will thirst for him long after he has died. Lots of people are talking about how he’s definitely going to get prosecuted for something and that the consequences are coming. Let me give a big “we’ll see” in response.
This is how they get away with it. Despite all the karma and more that these people deserve, they will never experience an ounce of retribution from the systems that have the power to hold them accountable. They will not be held accountable for the harm they did to immigrants for the sake of harm itself, or for lying and misleading the country, or for participating in the avoidable killing of hundreds of thousands of people during the pandemic, or for their many acts of flagrant corruption and crookery.
They will suffer little if any stigma for the harms caused by the Trump administration, even harms that they are specifically responsible for, and may very well start cashing in their consultant and correspondent checks in time for Christmas.
What’s worse is they know this is how they will get away with it, because Joe Biden’s message of unity and healing is almost identical to Barack Obama’s message of unity and healing when he won the presidency in 2008. Soon after, Obama insisted on looking “forward” and doing nothing about the Bush administration’s torturers. He even welcomed some of those torture supporters, like John Brennan, into his administration. At the same time, nobody, whether in government or in media, paid any price at all for supporting the Iraq War, and George W. Bush himself is now an increasingly beloved figure.
This is a precedent that some Trumpworld residents are very aware of. From Politico, after Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez floated the idea that, uhh, people who ran the Education and Treasury and Homeland Security departments shouldn’t just get to go back to their unbothered rich people lives, emphasis mine:
Many top Trump advisers now say they’re not worried, and they point to the aftermaths of similarly controversial administrations as reassurance. They argue that if the Bush-era politicians and staffers who led the country to war in Iraq survived without being purged from politics, media and corporate America, then Trump’s advisers won’t either.
“The Bush people faced this,” said one of the president’s closest advisers. “Bush left office very unpopular, people thought thousands of people died in an unnecessary war and he was responsible for it. Everybody forgets that now that he’s an artist who doesn’t do partisan politics.”
This person pointed to the wealth accumulated by the two main architects of the war since Bush left office. “Don Rumsfeld did very well for himself when he left government,” said the close Trump adviser, who already has an unannounced book deal in hand. “Dick Cheney? I’ve been to his house in Wyoming!”
This is how it works, and how it was always going to work, even for the most disgusting among them. Because even if there was a possibility that some of these people might be mercilessly bothered by unforgiving former constituents for the rest of their lives, not even the people with the power to shape these narratives on crime and punishment care to see to it that any of these Trump administration ghouls are cut off from future access to power. Just look at CNN’s Jake Tapper, who is already wringing his hands over the idea that anyone is trying to block these people from getting jobs.
Like, give me a fucking break, Jake. Whatever low-level person you’re worried about who has worked for the Trump administration will be virtually untouched by their stint, as will far more powerful people who should be cut off from their future careers in policy and finance. You could make the lives of people who have ruined countless lives during their time in the White House slightly more difficult, and you won’t. Because this is just the way that these things go.