News & Politics

With the 'Adults' Banished from the Oval Office, Trump’s Wingnuts Take Control

Determined to win Ann Coulter back, Trump has surrounded himself with far-right enablers. It’s gonna get ugly.

Photo Credit: a katz / Shutterstock.com

Keeping with the old American tradition of lying, slagging immigrants and threatening America's southern neighbor in order to celebrate Passover and Easter Sunday, the president of the United States spent the weekend tweeting:

On his way to church later that morning, the president elaborated further:

For many Americans and other people throughout the world, this might not have seemed like an appropriate day to deny hundreds of thousands of young people the security of living legally in the only country they have ever known. But our president is laboring under a tremendous pressure to deal with the worst crisis facing his still-young administration: Ann Coulter is very, very upset.

That is just one of dozens of scathing Coulter tweets and columns excoriating Trump for his failure to build the wall. One can understand why he felt he needed to address the problem on the Christian world's greatest day of celebration.

All the leaking from the White House indicates that Trump has now taken the reins and plans to do exactly what he wants. But just because he is rejecting the advice of actual experts and professionals does not mean there's no one around he will listen to. There are still people he respects, namely hardcore right-wing gadflies like Coulter, along with other ideological extremists, cynical media toadies and sycophants from the fever swamps. Those folks he still trusts.

This really isn't anything new. Think about it. Before Trump ever ran for president his closest buddies were the likes of legendary McCarthyite lawyer Roy Cohn and wacko Nixonian dirty trickster Roger Stone. When he seriously considered a run for president in 2011, he positioned himself as a fringe conspiracy-theory player, the king of the birther movement, waging a crusade to find Barack Obama's supposedly missing birth certificate. We all remember Trump's semi-victorious 2016 campaign, which featured the issues that have animated him since the 1980s -- paying back foreigners for "laughing" at the United States and "treating us unfairly," along with draconian criminal justice and civil liberties crackdowns, including a sharp increase in capital punishment. Frankly, those are the only topics in which Trump has ever showed much interest and his beliefs about them have always been based on simplistic "guy at the end of the bar" observations, never informed by real facts or expertise.

Some ideas came up in the 2016 race that were simply instructive, like, "Torture works, don't let anyone tell you otherwise" and "I'd bomb the shit out of 'em and take the oil." You don't need to read a briefing book to hold such lizard-brain beliefs. But the rest of Trump's alleged populist agenda was gleaned mostly from talk radio and presented to him in the form of reports about what the far right cares about. Everything from immigration to the Muslim ban to Common Core and the border wall came from that indoctrination into the thinking of Wingnut Land. That was the basis for Trump's ideology, such as it is.

New York Times columnist Frank Bruni referred to Coulter as Trump's "muse" and "oracle" in an interview this weekend, correctly noting that it was her book “¡Adios, America!” that inspired  Trump's anti-immigration rhetoric claiming that Mexicans rapists and criminals were flooding into the country. His adoption of Coulter's xenophobic rants led her to declare at a 2015 rally, “Since Donald Trump has announced that he is running for president, I felt like I’m dreaming” and to support him enthusiastically throughout the primaries. She explained to Bruni:

Every day, you’d wake up and they’d be arguing about anchor babies and sanctuary cities. We never saw that before, not on Fox, not on MSNBC. You never saw people talking about it.

That's true enough. But right-wingers had been talking about it on talk radio nonstop, along with crackpot conspiracy theories about the "NAFTA Superhighway" and Sharia law taking over the country and a generalized fear of foreigners of all persuasions, which dovetailed nicely with Trump's long-held prejudices. By that time, Breitbart News had been on the racist xenophobic beat for several years as well. White nationalism has always undergirded the ideology of the far right, but it had bubbled up very close to the surface before Trump came along to give it some star power.

Bruni's Times interview with Coulter confirms that she has been to the White House to advise the president in person. Apparently, she was the only one who would tell him he came off like Eva Perón for hiring Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, whom she despises, when others like Corey Lewandowski, Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller and Peter Thiel all refused. (No doubt Trump was confused about why Coulter claimed he reminded her of a Broadway singer.)

This wasn't unusual, of course. Even Trump's professional political staff were creatures of the far right. Kellyanne Conway, David Bossie, Bannon and Miller, among others who worked on the campaign, had been involved in right-wing smear operations or were ideological extremists. But once in office Trump did manage to hire a handful of more mainstream figures who most people hoped might tutor him and sand off some of the worst hate-radio edges. We know how that worked out.

As the Washington Post put it in this comprehensive round-up of all the recent changes: "White House stabilizers gone, Trump calling his own shots." He's doing that to be sure, but he's getting a little help from his friends.

Trump took yet another extended weekend at Mar-a-Lago over the Easter holiday, and when he wasn't playing golf or watching "Fox & Friends" he spent it dining with people he trusts. He had dinner with the boxing promoter and pardoned killer Don King, who reassured him that the Stormy Daniels story was "ridiculous." (One wonders what King thought about Trump's furious tweets condemning California Gov. Jerry Brown for pardoning five immigrants.) He also spent time with former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and former deputy campaign manager David Bossie, both of whom can be counted upon to tell him exactly what he wants to hear.

On Good Friday, Trump dined with the man who might just be his most trusted adviser of all these days, Fox News host Sean Hannity. According to a club member, the president "seemed very, very happy," which makes sense since nobody in this world loves Donald Trump more unconditionally than Hannity.

All these far-right extremists and fringe characters are delivering the same message: Let Trump be Trump. What they really mean by that is to let Trump do what they want him to do, which also happens to be what he wants to do. He is one of them, and he's now decided they are all the help he needs to run the country.

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Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.