(Bloomberg Opinion) – Anyone who still clings to the idea that Donald Trump is a cunning strategist who pursued his goals by corrupting everyone around him during a vindictive and unbridled presidency might want to consider, instead , that Trump himself has often been played – at least in terms of some of the signing policies that will define his administration. To be sure, Trump unleashed torrents of dangerous vitriol that allowed his party and supporters to embrace racial, economic, and cultural divisions in a more open and enthusiastic manner. And Trump’s staging was certainly sui generis, tied to myth-making and serial fabulism. But other than the spread of a personality cult, Trump’s performance art rarely revolved around political debates or goals. Everything revolved around him. On the political frontier, where voters’ lives are shaped and institutions reshaped, others were in the driver’s seat. These people most likely viewed Trump as a useful foil, someone easy to manipulate or foil if you had the stomach and the patience. There are a myriad of examples, but for now let’s focus on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Attorney General William Barr, and Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell. the way. They could be cunning (McConnell, Barr, Powell), cowardly (McConnell, Barr), or courageous (Powell), but needed at least one of these attributes to achieve their goals. History is also likely to judge each of them by the extent to which their particular vices or virtues have guided policy and procedure. as important as that, ”McConnell, a history buff, told The New York Times after pushing Justice Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court in October. McConnell sees his conservative overhaul of federal justice as his iconic achievement, and his legacy extends far beyond the Supreme Court. He urged the Senate to uphold at least 229 federal court appointments during Trump’s presidency and, for the first time in 40 years, left no vacancies in district and circuit courts – even if that meant the repopulation of the judicial system. with young white men with threadbare resumes. Trump did not have a sophisticated and informed view of the judiciary before he became president. But he let McConnell transform traditionally liberal venues like the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals because the senator backed him in other ways. McConnell meddled when Trump was impeached. He helped woo Trump’s incendiary political base. He remained in the shadows when Trump attacked the Black Lives Matter movement. He remained silent when Trump undermined the integrity of the presidential election. McConnell, according to those close to him, held Trump in low esteem but still protected him to nurture his own political ambitions, further fuel his fundraising apparatus and dismantle the federal government. . McConnell’s loyalty and machinations came home to roost this year when Trump failed to respond effectively to the Covid-19 pandemic and the Senate was left so broken it seems unable to pass a second coronavirus relief program even if it enjoys bipartite support. It is not yet clear. if McConnell, content to wield power only for power, will pay penalties for cuddling Trump. But there is no doubt that he has run the president like a pinnacle for the past several years whenever any of his own goals were involved. Then there’s Barr, who, when he’s got it. Asked last year whether his neighborhood warden’s plea for Trump had tainted his legacy and reputation in the legal community, responded with marked indifference: “I’m at the end of my career.” … Everyone dies. Barr is a long-time supporter of a frenzied Imperial presidency, and those views took root long before he met Trump. But he went out of his way to audition for his post at the Justice Department because he undoubtedly viewed Trump as a useful vehicle to achieve those goals. Among other things, Barr helped Trump end Special Advocate Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia, gave Trump leeway to abuse federal force on the streets of the United States, helped protect White House advisers on the wrong side of the law, federal prosecutors on their knees investigating cases close to Trump and helped give early credibility to Trump’s claims that the presidential election was rigged before turning around later. Trump grew tired of Barr after the attorney general refused to rush a Justice Department investigation into how law enforcement conducted the president’s investigation, but Barr began the investigation because that he shared Trump’s belief that the Deep State was here to have it. Barr is said to have worked hard to ensure that a federal investigation into President-elect Joe Biden’s son Hunter was kept under wraps during the election, but one wonders, given Barr’s case, how the investigation was launched. in the first place. Trump nurtured authoritarianism. designs long before he crossed paths with Barr, but it was Barr who tried to build a throne for the president – and taught Trump how to do it. Powell, inhabiting the wobbly, cloistered confines of the Federal Reserve, is the brightest story here. An articulate, compassionate and relatively gentle member of Trumplandia, Powell heads a financially powerful institution that Trump has repeatedly tried to strengthen during his presidency. “Who is our biggest enemy, Jay Powell or President Xi? Trump once asked. Powell endured it all with great calm and confidence, managing to be hailed as one of the best Fed executives of the modern age. He was also directly responsible for helping the US economy overcome the Covid-19 pandemic. He is well aware that the Federal Reserve Act is meant to protect his independence from the White House, and he has shown repeated bravery in forging his own course despite Trump’s interference. Him, Powell said three times that he wouldn’t. “The law clearly gives me a four-year term, and I intend to serve it,” he replied. Trump pressured Powell to pass rate cuts that would fuel the economy in the near term, but Powell has largely made such substantive calls. He has also become one of the strongest voices in government for using federal powers to support the financial well-being of average workers as well as the lives and livelihoods of those devastated by the pandemic. To get there, he essentially ignored Trump – and broadened the Fed’s mandate and mission along the way. Powell’s tenure is a reminder that Trump cannot bribe people willy-nilly. They must be prepared for this beforehand. And bad things didn’t happen during Trump’s tenure because he landed in Washington with a fully realized plan. Bad results took root because Trump was surrounded by bad actors, some of whom knew exactly how to play him.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Editorial Board or of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Timothy L. O’Brien is Senior Columnist for Bloomberg Opinion.

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