There are not many Trump scandals. There is one Trump scandal. Singular: the corruption of the American government by the president and his associates, who are using their official power for personal and financial gain rather than for the welfare of the American people, and their attempts to shield that corruption from political consequences, public scrutiny, or legal accountability.
The president’s opponents have yet to craft a coherent narrative about the Trump administration’s corruption, even though the only major legislative accomplishment Trump has to his name is cutting his own taxes. But his supporters have, ironically, crafted an overarching explanation to account for how the president they voted for, who came to office promising to eliminate official corruption, has come to embody it. The “Deep State” narrative is no more complicated than an attempt to explain the accumulating evidence of misbehavior on the part of the administration as a wide-ranging conspiracy to frame the president. The more evidence of wrongdoing that comes to light, the more certain they are that the conspiracy theory is true. In their own way, Trump supporters have recognized that Trump’s burgeoning list of scandals is made of branches from the same twisted tree.
The latest Trumptown fable, that the FBI inquiry into the Trump campaign was meant to aid Clinton’s campaign, is as incoherent as it is absurd. The FBI properly kept the Russia inquiry under wraps while high-ranking FBI officials defied Justice Department rules and made public statements about two inquiries into Clinton prior to election day. Neither of those inquiries led to indictments or guilty pleas; the special-counsel inquiry has led to more than 20so far. Had the FBI been motivated by a political vendetta against Trump, leaking the fact of the inquiry on its own, even if it uncovered no malfeasance at all, would have been enough to damage his candidacy. The essential quality of pro-Trump punditry however, is that their perception of reality must be warped to conform to the latest Trump proclamation, even if it contradicts previous Trump pronouncements or established facts. Trump dictates reality, and his supporters rush to justify whatever has been decreed. In this way, Trump manages to corrupt not just those in his immediate orbit or inner circle, but even those who have never met him, who endeavor to reconcile the insurmountable gap between his words and the world as it exists.
I want to emphasize that not everything the administration is doing that I believe is bad is a scandal, which I am defining as official wrongdoing or corruption. The president’s ongoing immigration policy, an attempt to displace, through aggressive deportations of otherwise law-abiding undocumented immigrants, and the cancellation of Temporary Protected Status and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, is a moral travesty but not necessarily a misuse of his official powers. Trump’s immigration policy is a reflection of his belief that these people from “shithole countries” are inferior, and therefore offer little to the United States. He is hardly the first president to pursue such a policy on such a basis; but a policy can be morally repugnant without being a scandal.
The president’s unwavering commitment to this ethnonationalism persuades his followers that he is incorruptible, despite his use of his own powers for personal gain and profit. “You know, I tried to talk about good roads and good schools and all these things that have been part of my career, and nobody listened,” the segregationist George Wallace once said of his rise to power. “And then I began talking about niggers, and they stomped the floor.” (These days, they stomp the floor for “son of a bitch” or “animals.”) Any effective hustle persuades the mark that they’re the ones profiting.
For those Americans unmoved by such appeals, the ongoing corruption of the official powers of the U.S. government on behalf of ego, avarice, and impunity should not be seen as separate stories. They are the same story, and it is the story of the Trump presidency.