Even President Trump’s supporters do not fully realize the job he has done. As I have written in the past, during the course of a wonderful rabbinic career that has given me so much personal satisfaction and fulfillment and that hopefully has touched the lives of my flocks, I once endured the Twilight Zone interlude of being rabbi of one of the worst Nightmare Congregations in America. (Two of my dearest friends, both Christian pastors, have enlightened me that the experience was not unique, and both pointed me to an extraordinary book, Clergy Killers, that lays out the despicable phenomenon of Houses of G-d of all faiths where outlier ego-driven laity can destroy spiritual harmony as they superimpose their personal social pathologies on everyone in their church, temple, or synagogue.) During that brief thirty-month journey in the Twilight Zone, there was a coterie of only a dozen jerks out to sabotage my every effort despite the warm support and even deep love I enjoyed among the vast majority of that congregation of 250 or so people. But the jerks comprised the inner circle, the “Board of Directors,” comprised of some wonderful people out-shouted by determined ego-driven laity who knew so very little about conducting a religious community but a great deal about internal political manipulations and striving for crumbs of vainglory.
I recount this brief nightmare — and thank G-d Almig-ty it was only a passing phase, a blip in a pulpit career of more than a quarter century — because I therefore appreciate more deeply from that personal experience what President Trump has accomplished against all odds. As a rabbi, I constantly was being harassed by the Gang of Miscreants who were determined to stop my every religious and spiritual initiative. I tried to bring in a marvelous young married couple as Youth Directors, and the Board produced a false budget that showed we could not afford it. Inasmuch as I had spent more than a decade as a trained high-stakes civil litigation attorney, I had more experience than do most rabbis in analyzing a complex budget. It took me days to pierce through the errors and to educate enough sympathetic Board members so that we indeed hired that couple — with plenty of money to spare — but there was grief to endure. There was the case of the person who had harassed two women, but who was very well inter-connected with the powers in charge, and I had to decide whether I make the issue of his removal a central crusade of my rabbinate. I did make it so, and I won, but it came at a severe personal cost that I still never have regretted. If a rabbi will not stand for zero tolerance, who will? There was the case of the Board officer who entered my office and, in my presence, viciously swiped his arm across my desk and sent everything flying: my stacks of papers, my business cards, my holy books. Indeed, each and every sabotage, each and every effort to provoke me, disrupted my longer-term programs. I still accomplished many of my goals, and sixty of the 150 congregational households followed me when I departed from that place and started a new shul, but I often had to delay programs, reduce projects, reorient my schedule, even reschedule important pastoral-care sessions to deal with the daily attacks, investigations, and other harassments. During those years, I uncharacteristically did very little outside writing because something had to give time-wise.
I am going to assume, dollars to donuts, that several of this column’s readers have encountered something similar. Not necessarily at a church or temple, but maybe at a law firm or an accounting firm, a medical department at a hospital, a standard office setting. The internecine petty sabotage of office politics where mediocrities who never achieve anything great choose to live to sabotage those who surpass them. These are the themes of so many of Ayn Rand’s greatest novels:The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged, We the Living — where mediocrities who themselves never could build, design, or even conceptualize a great edifice devote their efforts to tearing down a great architect, where incompetents who cannot run a railroad or a steel mill do all they can to sabotage the successes and achievements of those who can.
This is what President Trump has been dealing with from the day he walked into the Presidency. The Mediacracy’s mediocrities set out to destroy him from Day One. The lies began immediately: He is an anti-Semite. Lie. He took a bust of Rev. Dr. King out of the oval office. Lie. He is a White supremacist. Lie.
No sooner was he at work than the hordes descended on his spokesman, Sean Spicer. Later they would throw the next spokesperson and her family out of a restaurant. And that evil Mueller Inquisition. One of these days, between tomorrow and the end of Mr. Trump’s second term in six years, we will see that Mr. Trump did not collude with Putin, but that Inquisition has taken so much air out of his every day. The President does not lay it out for us, but he surely needs to meet with his lawyers, deal with strategy over whether to give a deposition (Don’t You Dare, Mr. President!), review a gazillion documents. He has to watch friends and supporters get harassed with midnight SWAT raids, thrown into prison over nonsense because every single human being can accidentally have an innocent memory lapse or misstate a fact when subjected to hours of trick questions.
Frankly, I don’t know how he has achieved so much so fast. ISIS was spreading into a caliphate, and he finished them. North Korea was launching ballistic missiles, and he stopped it, even getting the Doughboy to return the remains of American heroes who had fallen there half a century earlier. He got back that pastor from Turkey. He has imposed brutal sanctions on Putin and started arming Ukraine after Obama kowtowed to Putin and ended our promised missile defenses that we were supposed to provide Poland and the Czech Republic. He ended our insane cash flow to terrorists of the Palestine Authority, which was using your and my millions to finance the families of convicted murderers, bombers, and other terrorists while producing schoolbooks that teach eternal hate to children. He turned America from an energy net-importing country to net-exporting country. He reversed the stagnancy of the Obama Wasted Decade’s dead economy and made it robust. The tax cuts. Manufacturing in the Rust Belt that was deemed hopelessly dead has revived. Our aluminum and steel industries are back. Veterans have new medical choices for care. The Obamacare tax penalty is dead. An unprecedented rush of new conservative federal judges have assumed their lifetime bench appointments in the federal district and appellate circuit courts, with another 54 now nominated and proceeding through The Resistance. He has wiped out scores of Obama regulations that stagnated the economy and our lives, even as he got us out of the Obama Iran Giveaway, the Paris Climate Accord that imposed on America but not on China, India, or anyone else. He got us out of the TPP and renegotiated the disastrous NAFTA. And oh how valiantly he has fought to prop up our southern border and to stop the flow of opioids, human trafficking, and gang thugs and terrorists.
Through all this he has had to deal with The Resistance, false charges of Russian collusion from people who themselves colluded with Russians, an Obama-and-Clinton stacked Ninth Circuit court of appeals, a murder of crows at CBS, NBC, ABC, MSNBC, CNN, the NYT, and WaPo that will not give him a chance. They attack everything he does, everything he says. One week they make an Omarosa their hero. The next week Avenatti — until he gets charged with battering a woman. The pole dancer whose main legal accomplishment so far has been to lose lawsuits against the President and get stuck with paying the President’s attorneys’ fees in the six figures. One week it is a Michael Cohen who, when not giving the media the anti-Trump quotes that make them salivate, is being imprisoned for one crime or another, with a rap sheet that goes to taxi medallions. Another week a lie that the President suborned perjury. Meanwhile, every time he gets a physical exam that results in a doctor innocently announcing that the President is in good health, the same Mediacracy mediocrities set about to destroy the doctor. Abort them!
It is amazing that this President has achieved so much so soon. I know from my Twilight Zone congregation of thirty months what it was like trying to get a job done when mediocrities set up daily obstacles, investigations, and demanded endless reports. But that is “small potatoes” compared to turning around the United States and the course of our country’s history. It is amazing that he has achieved so much.
They mock his wife. Go ahead and mock an African-American accent the way that Jimmy Kimmel has done in blackface. Go ahead and mock a Hispanic accent, as once was permitted in the days of Dick Tracy and Go-Go Gomez, or Bill Dana and Jose Jimenez, or The Frito Bandito. You can’t do that anymore — and, OK, fine. Let us indeed be copacetic with respecting cultures and accents. But Chelsea Handler may mock Melania Trump’s accent, even though Melania is twenty times smarter than a Chelsea Handler and speaks more languages than Handler even knows exist. Then they analyze Melania’s clothes, and they publish page-one stories about every outfit’s “hidden message” — invariably that she is about to ask for a divorce. Or where is she? Why is she hiding? They hound her; who can blame her for staying out of their glare for a few days or weeks? Let her recuperate from surgery. So then they go after his son. Then after his daughter, then after his son-in-law. They even go after the tall-but-still little kid when poor Barron falls asleep or closes his eyes. They write that he is autistic. Who goes after kids like that in a civil society? They are vicious.
Let us be forthright: Here is the President’s one flaw, and Chris Christie has been spot-on, though self-serving, through his book tour. Donald Trump came to Washington. D.C. too cockamamie-sure that he knows everything about everything and therefore can navigate anything on his own. He took on a chief of staff and a press spokesman blithely because, oh, may as well. He picked cabinet members based on considerations — and I do get it — as to what would satisfy the Mediacracy wolves’ thirst for blood. So he owed Jeff Sessions eternal gratitude — he really did — for being the only United States Senator to back him during the rough-and-tumble GOP primaries, and made him his Attorney General. He put Rex Tillerson in charge of State because Tillerson had carved a phenomenal career in dealing effectively with the Russians including Putin on energy issues. He put Mad Dog in charge of defense because the name sounded good, and Gen. Mattis seemed the guy. In all these, Mr. Trump failed to appreciate that, no, you cannot be maximally effective as President without help you can count on — help that is the best of the best, and that is the most loyal of the loyal, and people who share precisely your vision, not aiming to advance their own.
His great mistake was that — quite the opposite of his public persona — he was too nice a guy, too willing to make others happy and play to others’ expectations. So he put faith in Paul Ryan to be an improvement over John Boehner, and that was a mistake. He brought in Reince Priebus, a wonderful guy, and Sean Spicer — but those jobs were above their pay grades; he should have begun with Gen. John Kelly. Omarosa should have been made his Secretary of TV Shows and stationed in Bosnia. Mike Pompeo should have been his Secretary of State from Day One. John Bolton belonged on the inside from the outset. Nikki Haley proved a shockingly great United Nations ambassador, but he blew it with the A-G. It should have been Chris Christie, or the ever-tongue-slipping Rudy Giuliani, Joe diGenova, or even the best we have had in years, Michael Mukasey. That one last botch — picking the wrong Attorney-General — will be recorded in history as his worst mistake. It doomed so much of his first term. Look how great Eric Holder was for Obama, followed equally by Loretta Lynch. Each knew how an A-G with guts and fortitude, bold and brash, fast and furious, on the tarmac and off the tarmac, can make or break so much of a President’s agenda. Indeed, that is why John Kennedy decided that “Gee, nepotism may look bad, but I want my brother in that role.”
Donald Trump came in with no prior legislative experience. If he had known then what he finally has learned now, he would have shoved that border wall down Ryan’s throat, and he would have gotten it. If he had had the right A-G, he would have crafted his entry ban a bit more cleverly, and each of his subsequent Ninth Circuit debacles would have been more elegantly situated for Supreme Court review. Indeed, if he had me— and I am utterly not qualified, nor would I want it because I like being a rabbi and law professor, and I hate participatory politics — but if he had had even me, I would have advised him that, every single time he issues a new Executive Order, he should counter-intuitively have the pro-Trump Texas or Louisiana Attorney General race immediately to the Fifth Circuit to attack him and his Executive Order… so that the first court that rules with a national injunction would be the pro-Trump, pro-conservative Fifth Circuit. Race to the Fifth before the Left gets to the Ninth. That would have changed the whole dynamic on everything from the Keystone XL Pipeline to the various issues on the southern border.
We now enter the era of the Democrat House investigations. They want his taxes? Well, America wants Adam Schiff’s taxes. And Nancy Pelosi’s taxes. And the taxes not only of Dianne Feinstein and Maxine Waters but also of their husbands who have become very, very rich. Schiff and the other Democrat House committees are going to demand for the next two years. That is not “oversight.” We all have been employed or have employed others — or both. Oversight is when an overseer assures that the underling is coming to work on time, not stealing from the petty cash, doing an honest day’s work for an honest day’s dollar, not dawdling all day playing solitaire on the computer or scaring off the customers or disconnecting phone callers. That is oversight. By contrast, oversight is not persecuting someone — demanding his taxes, his kids’ taxes, trying to drive him crazy and tie him up with sabotage all day every day to prevent him from getting his work done.
As these next two years unfold, I hope that gutless GOP Senate committees, if only to save their own hides, start subpoenaing every Clinton thing they can think of: Clinton Foundation, Clinton speaking fees and secret speeches, back to Benghazi, back to the 33,000 yoga and wedding-dress emails. Investigate who lied to the Senate Judiciary Committee during the Kavanaugh hearings and make them roommates with Manafort and Cohen. Get Lois Lerner back; we miss her. Investigate Comey and all his crew: Macabre McCabe, Strzok, Page. Investigate that Obama CIA director, John Brennan, who voted for Gus Hall, the Communist candidate for President. (Did we actually just have a CIA director who had voted for a pro-Soviet Communist President of America? And that guy is accusing others of treason and collusion with the Russians?) And, taking a cue from Mueller, just name a Special Investigator to investigate “the Clintons” — with the proviso that he or she is authorized to follow the trail wherever it leads. It will lead everywhere.