Editor’s Note: Jill Filipovic is a journalist based in New York and Nairobi, Kenya, and the author of the book “The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness.” Follow her on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
We know the President isn’t exactly a policy wonk, and that he plays fast and loose with the facts in favor of broad strokes intended to froth up his most loyal supporters. But he’s also shown that he plays fast and loose with peoples’ lives and livelihoods, and doesn’t care who he ruins in pursuit of power – or even just political score-settling.
Those of his used and abused employees who found working in the White House to be less “The West Wing” and more “The Hunger Games” are largely staying quiet about their experiences (or at least not attaching their names to the commentary they whisper to the press). But one woman whose family found itself on the receiving end of President Donald Trump’s factually-challenged ire is speaking out.
Jill McCabe, a pediatrician, former state congressional candidate, and the wife of recently-fired FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe, published an op-ed in Tuesday’s Washington Post detailing the ways in which, she said, Trump’s attacks had harmed her family financially, socially, and psychologically.
Trump claimed, for example, that donations made to Ms. McCabe’s campaign for Virginia state senate by Virginia’s Democratic then-governor Terry McAuliffe influenced the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server. Just one problem: Andrew McCabe, who was supposedly swayed by the money directed to his wife’s run, wasn’t yet the FBI’s deputy director; the position he was in didn’t give him decision-making power over the Clinton investigation. Andrew McCabe didn’t begin work on the Clinton investigation until after his wife had lost her race.
Ethical safeguards are in place for a reason, and there should absolutely be heightened scrutiny on an FBI higher-up whose spouse or other family member is running for elected office. But this isn’t about ethics or scrutiny. It’s about a political gotcha from an unhinged, vindictive President who doesn’t care whose life he torches in a bullying tweet.
How do we surmise this? For several years now we’ve seen Donald Trump attack everyone from teenage girls to professional journalists to sitting senators and prisoners of war. He crosses lines once considered sacred, and his base cheers.
It’s also rich, this concern with ethics and impropriety, coming from a President who has thrown the ethics book out the window. Now seems like a good time to mention that Donald Trump still hasn’t released his tax returns, despite what he promised in the campaign. He owns a hotel near the White House, and his family profits when foreign dignitaries stay there. American taxpayers fund his trips to Mar-a-Lago, his own private club.
His Cabinet members are no better, the most recent example being Environmental Protection Agency director Scott Pruitt, who was caught accepting what can only be termed a sweetheart housing deal from lobbyists and using public money for exorbitant travel expenses. Trump told Pruitt he has his back. Tom Price had to step down from his Health and Human Services post because of his habit of funding private jet travel with taxpayer funds. And Housing and Urban Development chief Ben Carson still has his job, despite ordering tens of thousands of dollars of office furniture on the taxpayer’s dime.
Trump seems to believe the rules don’t apply to him – and to be fair, so far, he’s been right. He was elected President, after all, and has paid virtually no political cost for knowing virtually nothing about policy; for wasting millions of taxpayer dollars on golf getaways; for allegations that he had an affair with a porn star and sexually harassed and/or assaulted other women; and for attacking – largely via Twitter – private citizens like Jill McCabe.
But that doesn’t mean his actions are cost-free. Only it’s others who bear them – human beings swept up in his incoherent and mean-spirited tirades, and regular people like Jill McCabe, who ran for office because, as an emergency room pediatrician, she thought maybe she could help outside of the ER in addition to in it.
Most of Trump’s victims are cowed into silence; we never hear what this has cost them. McCabe’s story, with its visceral details – fearing opening packages from strangers and worrying about her teenage children – should prick the conscience of every American who has given Trump’s bad behavior a pass, either out of political sympathy or simple exhaustion. This is not normal, and it must fall on all of us, not just the bravest of Trump’s victims, to demand consequences.
Malevolent loudmouth attacks on citizens who pursue public service are beneath the dignity of a sitting president. But then, this President has no dignity to lower.