Jon Karl has the latest book on how close the country came to collapsing into mere fascist burlesque in 2020, both before and after the election. An excerpt in The Atlantic focuses on a former quarterback from the University of Connecticut who worked himself up from presidential “body man” to de facto prime minister of Bizarroworld. It is a flat-out insane saga that begins with a young assistant at the Department of Housing and Urban Development who liked an Instagram post by Taylor Swift. Now follow along, if you have the stomach for it.
It seems that, if you swiped through, the post in question featured a picture of Swift carrying a tray of cookies bearing the logo of the Biden-Harris campaign. Which meant the assistant got a scary phone call from the administration’s thought police.
Those enforcers—including the eagle-eyed official who had first spotted the offending “like”—worked for the Presidential Personnel Office, a normally under-the-radar group responsible for the hiring and firing of the roughly 4,000 political appointees in the executive branch. During the final year of the Trump administration, that office was transformed into an internal police force, obsessively monitoring administration officials for any sign of dissent, purging those who were deemed insufficiently devoted to Trump and frightening others into silence. (Many sources for this story asked to remain anonymous so they could talk about sensitive personnel issues.) Some Trump aides privately compared the PPO to the East German Stasi or even the Gestapo—always on the lookout for traitors within.
The majordomo of this internal security apparatus was one Johnny McEntee, the former Husky signal-caller who gladly would have hurled himself into the Potomac wearing a belt made of bowling balls if El Caudillo del Mar-a-Lago asked him to do it. As the year went along, serving as a kind of bro-Rasputin in the White House, McEntee found himself at the center of all the mad plans to keep the last president* in power.
McEntee and his enforcers made the disastrous last weeks of the Trump presidency possible. They backed the president’s manic drive to overturn the election, and helped set the stage for the January 6 assault on the Capitol. Thanks to them, in the end, the elusive “adults in the room”—those who might have been willing to confront the president or try to control his most destructive tendencies—were silenced or gone. But McEntee was there—bossing around Cabinet secretaries, decapitating the civilian leadership at the Pentagon, and forcing officials high and low to state their allegiance to Trump.
The rest of the story is too fat with horrible details to excerpt properly, as it traces McEntee’s rise through the ruins to a position of power for which he was completely ill-suited. Which, now that I think about it, is the story of that entire administration from start to finish.
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