The Fury of the Wraiths

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It would be entirely normal for someone like Mitt Romney, who had excoriated the incoming president in such blistering and personal terms, to be passed over when it came to putting together a new administration. Some criticisms and breaches are just too hard to get past. But the current drama over Mitt Romney’s possible nomination to be Secretary of State points to something quite different: the ritual humiliation of opponents, critics and all who have resisted that Trump yoke that is central to the Trump world. We saw it repeatedly during the campaign and it continues into the transition.

If you haven’t kept up on this little sub-drama in the Trump mega-drama, Trump staffers have been floating word for days that Trump will require Romney to publicly apologize if he wants to be Secretary of State – almost literally a ritual humiliation to enter the Trump inner circle. More pointedly, Trump’s campaign manager Kellyanne Conway – now some sort of senior advisor to the transition – has repeatedly said in public that if Trump chooses Romney it would be a betrayal of Trump’s supporters. She said this most recently and floridly this morning on the CNN Sunday morning show.

Pundits are now debating whether Conway is actually being so audacious as to box Trump in by whipping him publicly on the issue or whether this is just stagecraft and Kabuki theater orchestrated from above to drag out Romney’s public humiliation. I have no idea which it is. My best guess is that it’s more organic or tacit than orchestrated. Dignity is the kryptonite of the Trump world. The dignity wraiths who have bowed down to Trump and given him their all instinctively look to destroy anyone who hasn’t. Like a mob capos who appear more eager to defend the boss’s honor and power than the boss himself But this mystery is beside the point.

Competence certainly but also worldview seem largely irrelevant to Trump’s personnel deliberations. Loyalty is the only criteria. Conway seemed to state this explicitly in her comments on CNN: “There are concerns that those of us who are loyal have [about Romney].” (emphasis added) This is of a piece with the central role of Trump’s children, his son-in-law and the open effort to turbocharge Trump’s licensing, management and construction business with the presidency. The entire presidency looks set to be personalized, with the difference between the president’s personal and public interests not a matter of conflict but simply an irrelevance.

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