WASHINGTON — For a quiet summer Friday, there was quite a cacophony. Donald Trump crashing around. Clarence Thomas cashing in. Hunter Biden spinning out.
News about these men rocked the capital. Yet there is something inevitable, even ancient, about the chaos enveloping them. Fatal flaws. Mythic obsessions. Greed. Revenge. Daddy issues. Maybe a touch of Cain and Abel.
It’s all there, part of a murky cloud reaching from the E. Barrett Prettyman United States Court House to the Supreme Court to the Justice Department to the White House.
On Thursday, ProPublica dropped a scalding piece about the abominable behavior of Clarence Thomas, following up on its revelations about Harlan Crow paying for Thomas’s luxury trips, his mother’s house in Georgia and private school tuition for his grandnephew. This one is headlined: “The Other Billionaires Who Have Treated the Supreme Court Justice to Luxury Travel.”
In the old days, there was shame attached to selling your office. There was a single word that encapsulated such an outrage: vicuña. President Dwight Eisenhower’s chief of staff, Sherman Adams, accepted a vicuña coat from a Boston textile manufacturer doing business with the federal government. He lost his job and scarred his reputation.
Now Thomas sneers at the law by failing to disclose gifts from billionaires eager to gain influence. (The gifts also benefited his wife, Ginni Thomas, who tried to help Trump overthrow the government.)
ProPublica told the ka-ching: “At least 38 destination vacations … 26 private jet flights … a dozen V.I.P. passes to professional and college sporting events … two stays at luxury resorts … and one standing invitation to an uber-exclusive golf club overlooking the Atlantic coast.”
Thomas is abiding by the adage that living well is the best revenge. He never got over the humiliation of the Anita Hill hearings, even though his allies smeared Hill as he lied his way to Senate confirmation. (Thanks, Joe Biden!) He came out of it feeling angry and vindictive. He got on the court, muscling past questions about his legal abilities and ethical compass by pushing the story that he was a guy who worked his way up from poverty.
The justice polished that just-folks image over the years by going on R.V. vacations with his wife to escape the “meanness” of Washington. But as The Times reported last weekend, the $267,230 Prevost Le Mirage XL Marathon R.V., which Thomas told friends he had scrimped and saved to afford, was actually underwritten by Anthony Welters, a friend who made a bundle in health care.
Thomas is ruining the court’s image and, with the help of other uber-conservatives, he’s undoing our social constructs, causing many Americans to rebel.
At a hearing Friday, the federal judge overseeing the case against Trump for conspiring to purloin Biden’s election victory made a brisk start. “The fact that he is running a political campaign has to yield to the administration of justice,” Judge Tanya Chutkan informed Trump’s lawyers. “And if that means he can’t say exactly what he wants to say in a political speech, that is just how it’s going to have to be.”
This will be tough for Trump because, as David Axelrod says, “the sense that he is being tried for political reasons is the essence of his campaign.”
The judge warned Trump’s lawyers, “To the extent your client wants to make statements on the internet, they have to always yield to witness security and witness safety,” adding, “I will take whatever measures are necessary to safeguard the integrity of these proceedings.”
Trump was warped by a father who told him, You’re either a killer or a loser. He couldn’t tolerate losing in 2020 so he concocted a scheme to become a killer — of democracy.
Trump reminds me of fairy-tale figures — like Midas or the ballerina in “The Red Shoes,” a movie drawn from a fairy tale — who crave something so badly, they follow it down a destructive path. Trump refused to let go of the spotlight. He wanted all the attention and now it’s going to crush him.
Like Thomas, Trump is driven by revenge. We shouldn’t hand power to people whose main motive is doing bad stuff to other people.
A few blocks from Judge Chutkan’s courthouse, Merrick Garland emerged Friday with an announcement that surprised the White House — he was elevating the Hunter Biden prosecutor to a special counsel.
This ratchets up the White House family drama. Beau was the ballast for the Bidens. Now he is his father’s hero, which is bound to make the troubled Hunter feel like a zero.
Joe Biden should have reined in Hunter when he began living off his dad’s positions and connections. But the president, who lost two kids and nearly lost this one, is clearly paralyzed when it comes to Hunter.
With Hunter likely going on trial, and the 2024 race underway, it will be harder for the president to argue that Trump is the one with all the legal and ethical albatrosses.
Hunter is staining his father’s campaign, as Thomas is smearing the Roberts court, as Trump is dragging down the G.O.P.
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