American politics has boiled down to the worst traits of human nature. Here are two books that put them in a nutshell.
The First Book of the Week is “how to rig an election (sic), Confessions of a Republican Operative” by Allen Raymond with Ian Spiegelman, published in 2008.
The author, originally from New Jersey, started his political career in the early 1990’s. He worked on a Republican campaign there in which “… we smeared them [the opposing candidates] as Trenton insiders who fired people, screwed you out of your money, and gave kickback deals to people who donated to their campaign.” Creativity in committing evil is an essential trait for a political operative. This author had it in spades.
For, the smearing part was outrageous lies in the form of attack ads. And they were cleverly timed, spread far and wide and believed by voters so that the victims couldn’t defend themselves or strike back easily. This is now what American campaigning is all about.
By 1995, the author had done his sleazy job so well, he was named chief of staff of a freshman New Jersey Congressman. He was one of the youngest of his kind, with blank-check security clearance in the Capitol. His boss was assigned to the Transportation Committee. Members of that Committee preside over an industry with big-money political donors who pay to play.
Raymond dodged a bullet when he wasn’t convicted for launching a robocall campaign that misled voters with slurs that completely misrepresented the candidates opposing his client, at a politically sensitive time period.
The author’s philosophy, when he was caught committing what was considered a crime by the Justice Department, was this: Everyone in politics can behave (or misbehave) as they please, as long as they don’t get caught breaking the law. The author didn’t (!) consider himself unethical when he “… obstructed a political party’s ability to contact voters.”
More specifically, during an election, his political-telemarketing business jammed phone lines of Democratic candidates. To his credit, beforehand, he checked with an attorney to learn whether that act was legal, and was initially told that it wasn’t illegal.
Read the book to learn the details (hint– Raymond didn’t pass Go, and he didn’t collect $200).
The Second Book of the Week is “Team of Vipers, My 500 Extraordinary Days in the Trump White House” by Cliff Sims, Former Special Assistant to the President, published in 2019.
Sims was born in Alabama. His father was a Baptist pastor. He started as a blogger writing on politics. In 2016, his influential “Yellowhammer” was instrumental in ousting Alabama’s governor for having an affair.
The author founded a media company before going to work for the Trump administration. In August 2015, Sims hosted a radio interview with the future president. This was two months after the candidate had thrown his hat into the ring.
Sims asked tough questions such as what had led Trump to change his views, since “He [Trump] had come under scrutiny for his many contributions to Democratic candidates over the years– including the Clintons…” And his utterances had been on the liberal side of the political spectrum. Trump waffled in answering that question, and in a downright cringeworthy way when asked about abortion.
Nevertheless, Sims’ communication skills and contacts led him to be tapped to become a close aide to Trump prior to election day. In October 2016, with the surfacing of a horribly embarrassing 2005 video clip featuring a Trump who was shamelessly, crudely expressing his sexist views– his election chances were suddenly judged to be almost nil. Sims proved to be particularly loyal to the candidate, anyway.
Sims described his West Wing workplace as easy in one way. Trump had a hands-off management style because he trusted his minions’ judgement to take action pursuant to his agenda. They could do so without having to get approval from a hierarchy of bureaucracy.
But its internal politics were like a chaotic corporate ladder– not unlike Trump’s reality show “The Apprentice”– a bunch of mean-spirited, petty, vengeful people jockeying for power, who spread vicious rumors, and publicly dressed each other down for their own selfish ends.
The root of the problem was that “Roles, goals and objectives weren’t clearly defined.” The workers had titles without job descriptions. They cooperated to help their employer only insofar as they helped themselves. Trump didn’t want to hear about employees’ petty squabbles. He didn’t care whether valuable people left for nicer pastures. He just wanted to see loyal people.
Admittedly, Sims himself took part in the adolescent antics. Clearly, such an environment is unsustainable in the long run for anyone; it is psychologically exhausting.
Read the book to learn the ugly details of Sims’ West-Wing-insider experiences attempting to do the president’s bidding while trying to avoid the social manipulation of his colleagues borne of jealousy of him– due to his disproportionately high amount of face time with the big boss.