In Chinese culture, this will be the year of the rooster. It will be celebrated in the usual style with firecrackers and dragon dances. In the culture of political Washington, this will instead be the year of the chicken. It will be celebrated by mute men, uniformed in dark suits and red ties, nodding insincerely as the president of the United States embarrasses the nation and makes an ass of himself. On second thought, this could be the year of the capon.
Whatever poultry term you use, the year will see rather ordinary people, raised to some prominence by President Donald Trump, not risk their pen and pencil desk set by contradicting the president. They will awake every morning with the fear that yet another tweet is upon the land — something false or insulting or merely incomprehensible, like yet another smooch for Vladimir Putin, virtual dictator of his own nation and invader of nearby ones.
They already appear at the door to Mar-a-Lago or some such place, assuming their position to Trump’s left or right and listening as he mucks up U.S. relations with China, complicates affairs with the Arab world, names a conspiracy buff to be his national security adviser and contemptuously dismisses a CIA finding that Russia interfered in the presidential election. He took the finding about Russia much as the pope once did about Galileo’s heretical astrological discoveries — evidence be damned. Besides, as Trump’s transition team noted, the CIA has been wrong in the past.
And so it has. But so has Trump. Witness his several bankruptcies and his insistence, since retracted, that Barack Obama was not born in the United States. The CIA works for the president, and the next one has not only already insulted it, but also effectively told it not to bring him information he doesn’t want to hear. I can’t imagine he runs his hotels that way.
This is serious business. The United States cannot allow foreign governments to interfere with our elections. Russia today, China tomorrow, and then, maybe, Romania, land of Vlad the Impaler and, worse, hackers. The Obama administration was laggard in this matter, but the incoming Trump one has been determinedly obtuse. Something is up. Something Congress had better look into.
It is the same with Trump’s tasteless praise of Putin. The Russian leader seized Crimea from Ukraine and now holds portions of Ukraine itself. Russia has a historical and cultural claim on Crimea. But Germany had one on western Poland, and settling such matters by invasion not only violates international law, it also leads to war. Europe has had enough of such nonsense.
Yet, for all of this, Trump’s doorkeepers say nothing. They take their cue from Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who, after reminding us all of his commitment to Christianity, threw in his lot with a womanizing, much-married liar of little knowledge and bizarre views. I would put Pence’s face atop 2017’s chicken, but space has to be allotted for Reince Priebus, whose kisses to Trump were at first tepid but are now bursting with ardor. The man has Botoxed his integrity.
There are many, many more — not the ones, like Rex Tillerson, who have just recently joined Trump, but those like the financiers and moneymen who would sell their soul for an additional basis point. They early on endorsed a man they would not, after due diligence, have hired for their own firms.
Trump’s rise was enabled by people who knew he was political trash but were looking for a sinecure or who felt, what the hell, let’s roll the dice on democracy. They include Chris Christie, a parody of a political careerist, and, of course, Ted Cruz, the multi-conscienced senator from Texas who, after refusing to endorse Trump, stood before the GOP convention and said “vote your conscience.” Two months later, he endorsed Trump.
Trump has always been a keen judge of others. He knows how money and power can addle the soul — lessons he learned from Roy Cohn, the Joe McCarthy acolyte who feared only truth. Last year showed Trump how right he was. The new year will open with a parade of empty suits, glib fibbers who will interpret Trump to the credulous — accept his offer of a job and embrace his hollow promises. In the dark of night, they’ll tell the ceiling how they’ll blunt Trump’s hard edges and soften his crudeness but they’ll nevertheless awaken to the strange sounds of a rooster crowing and wonder about the chicken. For that, I paraphrase John Donne: Ask not for whom the rooster crows. It crows for thee.
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