Devin Nunes, chairman of House Intelligence Committee and clownish White House errand boy, has had to step aside from the House investigation into Russian involvement in the 2016 election. He is now himself under investigation by the House Ethics Committee for improperly disclosing intelligence while trying to gin up a fake scandal targeting Barack Obama’s national security adviser, Susan Rice. Millenarian racist Steve Bannon, Trump’s erstwhile Svengali, has been kicked off the National Security Council, and Politico reports that he was so upset about his diminished status that Rebekah Mercer, his far-right billionaire patron, had to convince him not to quit the administration. According to CNN, Kellyanne Conway, another Mercer ally, “has largely been sidelined.” Elsewhere, Politico tells us that there’s an escalating “civil war” between Trump loyalists and establishment Republicans throughout the federal government, “and increasingly the president’s allies are losing.” At this point in the administration, one former campaign aide is quoted saying, “it is very obvious that no one cares what happens to the people who worked for the campaign or who have loyalty to the president.”
The political situation in America is still perilous, but there is finally a tiny crack of light in the black cloud hanging over Washington, D.C. We might be seeing the berserk horror of Trumpism giving way to the slightly lesser horror of normal conservatism.
Things are, of course, still bad. Nunes’ replacement on the Russia probe is Mike Conaway, a Texas Republican who compared the Russia scandal to Democrats using Mexican entertainers at campaign events, since both involve “foreign people” influencing the vote. Several of the figures gaining the upper hand in the administration are ambitious plutocrats rather than fascist weirdos, which is an improvement if not exactly a cause for celebration. All the same, we can take a tiny bit of comfort in realizing that Trump has been unable to suspend all the norms governing American political life.
The House investigation into the Russia scandal will now proceed, and while other Republicans will surely be tempted to cover for Trump, Nunes, in his disgrace, will serve as a warning against blatantly breaking rules on the president’s behalf. Meanwhile, if Bannon’s fortunes continue to decline, so will a certain sinister mystique that’s surrounded the administration, a sense that it can create its own reality and act with impunity.
Perhaps we’re moving from the President Bannon phase of the Trump nightmare into a President Jared Kushner period. Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, is now apparently in charge of Middle East peace, fighting opioid addiction, criminal justice reform, China diplomacy, and innovation. The Daily Beast reports that Bannon calls Kushner a “cuck” and a “globalist” behind his back. With Jared, Ivanka, and former Goldman Sachs executives Dina Powell and Gary Cohn forming a socially moderate but powerful faction inside the White House, it must sting for Bannon to realize that after all he did to elect Trump, the globalist cucks are suddenly ascendant.
Under any other circumstances, it would not be a source of relief to have Kushner—a callow would-be media mogul with no government experience—shaping presidential policy. Better him, however, than Bannon, a fascist would-be media mogul with no government experience. If nothing else, maybe some fraction of Trump voters will be disillusioned when they realize they voted for America First nativism and got a government of nepotistic dilettantes and Manhattan bankers instead. For them—as for Nunes, Bannon, and various Trump campaign staffers—it could be a useful lesson in what loyalty to Trump is worth. Suck it up, buttercups.