Psychologist Mary L. Trump says her elderly uncle Donald is a "psychologically damaged man" who "without question is going to get worse."
In another circumstance, someone might intervene to aid the old fellow and protect everyone else (think of family members who lovingly take the keys from a dangerous senior driver). But in this case, Uncle Donald happens to be President of the United States, and the people around him are "enablers," per his niece, eager to allow him to act out his worst impulses. No one here is going to hide the keys.
"There are too many enablers who are -- for whatever reason -- continuing to enable him," says Mary Trump. "Bill Barr has gutted the Justice Department. Mike Pompeo has gutted the State Department. We are in serious danger here."
The danger was on display last week when video footage surfaced of officers in military gear swooping in to capture a Portland protester on a city sidewalk. They hustled the individual into an unmarked van and drove away. This incident, called "political theater" by Oregon s governor, represented a new phase in the Trump administration s heavy-handed response to demonstrations sparked by police killings of Black citizens, including George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks and others.
The President and his administration began setting conditions for a political theater road show many weeks ago. On June 1, federal officers commanded by Attorney General William Barr used tear gas, horses, and batons to clear Lafayette Square, a park across from the White House where protestors had gathered. Barr justified this display of federal force, including officers from the department of Homeland Security, by saying the officers had been deployed to protect federal property. (After Trump signed an executive order late last month to protect federal property, the same justification for an aggressive federal response to protests has been used in other parts of the country like Portland, as recently as last week.) The acting secretary of DHS, Chad Wolf, touched on themes that would likely please the President in his remarks, as he said, "DHS and its partners will not allow anarchists, disrupters and opportunists to exploit the ongoing civil unrest to loot and destroy our communities,"
As federal forces were deployed in Buffalo, San Diego and Las Vegas, Barr and Wolf helped create images that matched Trump s obvious desire to be perceived as, "Your President of law and order." Anyone who didn t notice that the President seemed bent on recreating the 1960s culture war over civil unrest missed Trump s use of the phrase, "When the looting starts the shooting starts." This threat was first used by Miami s police chief in response to violence in the city in 1967, and was later echoed by Alabama s racist Governor George Wallace on the campaign trail.
Today s protests, which involve diverse groups of people rallying behind the Black Lives Matter banner, have been relatively peaceful compared to the sixties, when major cities suffered large scale rioting. However, the facts on the ground haven t prevented Barr and Wolf from doing what they can to support the President s fantasy. Why do they do it? They may be acting to please the boss who controls whatever power they wield and can yank it away on a whim. They may actually share Trump s dystopian views of the country they are supposed to serve. Or they are, indeed, the enablers Mary Trump fears?
As used by Mary Trump s profession, enablers amplify the dysfunction of a troubled person out of fear or perhaps because they think there s something to be gained by going along. In Donald Trump s case, his niece has written, family members and others "consistently normalized" his "aberrant behavior." In his business he was surrounded by people "who propped him up and lied for him."
President Donald Trump has fired or driven away many members of his administration who were known for expressing their honest opinions. Long gone are Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Chief of Staff John Kelly, economic advisor Gary Cohn, Secretary of State James Mattis, National Security Advisor John Bolton and many others who had the courage and character to speak truth to power. Their replacements have been notably more compliant. Many remain acting officials who don t enjoy the respect that comes with Senate confirmation. The President seems to see value in keeping members of his team insecure. "I like acting," he once said, "because I can move so quickly. It gives me more flexibility."
One top official who enjoys permanent status, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, happens to be among the more obsequious officials in the administration. Once a stern Trump critic who believed Russia attacked the 2016 election, he has become a staunch defender of the President who downplayed Russia s election meddling. As Secretary of State, he has served the President s cause with his conservative Evangelical base by neglecting the cause of equal rights for the LGBTQ community -- a recent report he released spoke of same sex marriage rights as "divisive social and political controversies."
Pompeo downgraded LGBTQ rights presumably because a good enabler knows what to do without being told. Count economic advisor Peter Navarro in this category too. When he penned an article in USA Today attacking the President s top pandemic advisor Anthony Fauci, Navarro likely thought it would win him points with Trump. When Navarro s attack failed, Trump disavowed it, but in meek terms that did no real damage.
Navarro is safe on the Trump team, thanks to his enabling of the President in his outbursts against China, even suggesting that a Chinese lab created the coronavirus now raging across the country. The pandemic, of course, is a leading cause for the President s struggle in polls, which show his bid for reelection to be in trouble.
Faced with the prospect of defeat, Trump has suggested the upcoming election could be rigged and recently refused to say he would accept the outcome. Expect to see this position, which casts doubt on the validity of the American system for transferring power, to be echoed by his enablers. And when the president says or does the next outrageous thing, they ll support that too. To do otherwise would require courage and character they just don t seem to have.