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Trump takes his opponents' evils to staggering new heights

Catherine Rampell on

Based on media coverage, government email security seemed to be the No. 1 issue preoccupying the American public last year. In fact, you could be forgiven for thinking the entire 2016 election was a referendum on whether it's OK for public servants to use private email, stored on a private server, to conduct official government business.

The answer was clear: No, it's not OK. Yet somehow, here we are again.

Thanks to enterprising reporters, we now know that President Trump's son-in-law and daughter, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, used not one, not two, but three private email accounts to conduct official White House business.

They appear to have kept the existence of these accounts secret from Senate and House investigators. After news of these emails broke last week, USA Today reported, the couple even rerouted their accounts to private servers maintained by the Trump Organization. If there's a non-fishy explanation for this, I'd love to hear it.

This is no isolated act of hypocrisy.

During the campaign, Team Trump cast itself as the antidote to nearly every scandal and shortcoming (real or imagined) of the Obama administration. Now, 10 months in, the Trump administration has instead taken those sins to imaginative new heights.

Consider the complaint that deep-pocketed lobbyists and donors were using their excessive influence in Washington to strong-arm policymakers.

This accusation was heard incessantly during the 2016 campaign. Then-candidate Donald Trump charged that the Obama administration -- especially alumna Hillary Clinton -- was too cozy with donors, lobbyists and corporate elites, too willing to let Goldman Sachs and other companies buy influence.

So what was Trump's solution to donors, lobbyists and corporate elites having too much influence?

Why, it was to put donors, lobbyists and corporate elites directly into his Cabinet, and into lots of other executive branch jobs, too.

To be fair, cutting out the middleman does offer efficiencies. Policymakers no longer have to do the bidding of Goldman Sachs if Goldman Sachs is empowered to do its bidding itself.

Or consider our foreign policy failures, as portrayed by then-candidate Trump.

Trump often rebuked Obama as a weakling. He was disrespected, manipulated and laughed at by foreign leaders, or so Trump said. Unlike earlier administrations, the Trump administration promised to stand up to our adversaries and extract maximum concessions.

Yet every foreign leader who meets with Trump seems to get the whole cookie jar.

 

Saudi Arabia has repeatedly played Trump, using bread and circuses to get him on board with a sweetheart arms deal, and the Saudi side in a Persian Gulf power struggle. China, the target of endless tough talk during the campaign, has managed to escape threats of trade sanctions. Chinese leadership has even somehow convinced Trump that he's bossing them around, rather than the reverse. Chinese state-run media openly ridicules him.

And of course the Russian government, despite its work to undermine U.S. democracy, has enjoyed audiences with the president, his family and other confederates.

Trump also spent much of the campaign railing against Democratic fiscal profligacy. He pilloried Clinton for proposing fiscally irresponsible policies. He even promised to pay down the debt within eight years (an impossible task).

Now in office, he's pushing an unfunded, multi-trillion-dollar tax cut and dismissing concerns about mounting U.S. debt.

Trump and fellow Republicans also faulted the Obama administration for tyrannical executive branch overreach. On that, too, he's found ways to innovate. On Thursday he even called for a Senate investigation of media coverage he doesn't like.

There's a sort of conventional wisdom among pundits that voters overcorrect for the perceived flaws of incumbent politicians when choosing the next crop. But voters are in for a lot of disappointment if they chose Trump because they thought his administration would drain the swamp, put America first, honor the Constitution, tighten the government's belt, respect states' rights or otherwise avenge the many evils Trump attributed to his predecessor.

Trump's cures are not just worse than the diseases he diagnosed during the campaign; they're deadlier strains of the exact same diseases.

The question, then, is why Americans bought into his quackery in the first place.

Maybe voters are just gullible and genuinely believed he'd fix all the systemic problems they cared about. Maybe the Trump camp thought it could do better than earlier presidents, and only belatedly determined it needed to go native to succeed in the swamp.

Or maybe it was all posturing, and no one ever cared about those deficits or donors or even -- gasp! -- emails after all.

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Catherine Rampell's email address is crampell@washpost.com. Follow her on Twitter, @crampell.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

 

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