Memory and attribution serve me poorly, but I’ll credit the late management guru Peter Drucker for this insight: the cost of working for a corrupt boss is to become corrupt yourself. We don’t work for Donald Trump, but much of our attention since late 2016 has been dominated by his every move. This week as I pondered what it must be like now to work in the White House, it occurred to me that each person there risks the kind of corruption that characterizes Trump.
I don’t mean corruption in its financial sense, but in the sense of moral decency. Neither am I using its frequently trivial sexual sense, but in the sense of commitment to ethical treatment to truth and to protection of rights and processes necessary for honorable national governance.
Donald Trump is corrupt in ways crucial to national leadership. That corruption has been evident since long before his presidency, even before his candidacy. Many others, including myself in this blog, have written enough about his failings that doing so has become a fatiguing, nauseating endeavor. Even so, a substantial number of Americans voted to impose this fact-free man-child on the America they claim to love. Even more so, the majority of Republican Senators and Representatives still refuse to take a stand against his depletion of America’s political leadership, its “capital stock” of public ethics and truthfulness.
It is clear that Drucker’s observation applies to those in the White House and the cabinet. How can his corruption not envelop them? How can they stand committedly behind him in press conferences while he spews inaccuracies and civic immorality? How can the vice president carry his reflection about like a mini-me? Like an odor, Trump’s stench saturates them all.
Some elected officials have been ready to bless Trump’s behavior and mentality by taking advantage of the opening he provides for damaging, uninformed speech. But perhaps more disturbing, some have blessed Trump’s behavior by their silence, their practice of cowardly whitewashing his name from their condemnation of anti-Semites, white nationalists, and other racists in America’s shameful underbelly. Is their behavior what they will try to defend in a few years? Will they excuse their reluctance to save what is good about America? Has being in league with a corrupt president rendered them corrupt as well?
Of course, Trump did not make himself president. Millions of Americans did, due to identifying with his so-obvious unfitness or due simply to their elective carelessness. In a sense, it doesn’t matter. Trump has not only tarnished White House staff and his cabinet, along with elected officials who stand by weakly in the face of his perfidy, but debased us all.