Networking in Washington is even more important than it is elsewhere. One would never go to a party here inadequately dressed, which is to say without carrying a resume, ready to hand out at a moment’s notice. Socializing is not personal; it’s hard work. Ambition is a good thing, and we’re swarming with those who have brought their principled beliefs to government to make a difference. At least that’s what they say.
Count me among those who say “Balderdash!” (That’s not what I actually say, but we have to remember the kiddies.) The point is that our nation’s capital is teeming with those who take ambition to a cutthroat extreme, with ideals that are just a subterfuge. In actual fact, they are here simply to put in their public-service time, checking off that requirement on the way to a prosperous career.
Many depart, but many also stick around to mine all the precious opportunities that the swamp has to offer. They accumulate a Rolodex (these days it’s a smartphone-a-dex) full of people they can call to peddle influence as hired guns of whatever corporate or financial bad-guy special interest is impressed by all of their credentials, meaning their contacts. Those whose CV includes time spent on Capitol Hill, to say nothing of former members of Congress, can look forward to a big paycheck in the private sector. That’s the payoff for all the hassles of politics.
If you can hook up with a president’s administration, that’s usually a lifetime ticket to ride on the gravy train. Those who wheedle a Cabinet- or sub-Cabinet-level position or a high-ranking White House job — the more visible the better — generally, when their public-service ordeal is over, get to pick and choose among lucrative offers from those who want to bring prestige and rain-making to their operation.
But what about those who have associated with Donald Trump? What about those who joined on only to learn that this president unleashes such a deluge of noxious garbage that it’s impossible not to get drenched in it. That goes for the ones who are relatively upstanding and certainly includes the bad apples whom Trump picked. With all the scrutiny, they inevitably get caught, their misdeeds exposed by aggressive news media or investigators, most notably special counsel Bob Mueller.
Paul Manafort stealthily made millions of dollars for decades by assisting some really rotten world leaders. But under the withering D.C. klieg lights, his lavish lifestyle — paid for in part by allegedly unlawful financial dealings — was exposed, and he now faces criminal charges punishable by a lifetime of prison. Looking past him and the other Trump patsies who might face the same fate, what about those who survive their time in the administration without indictment?
They may be shocked to discover that the reward may be no reward because they’re too indelibly stained by their association and participation in this nation’s humiliating future. They may be ostracized as accessories after the fact. Make that “alternative facts.” Those who signed on to burnish their reputations in the job world may discover that they suffer everlasting disrepute. They may find, as a result, that their party is over even before it begins.
(Bob Franken is an Emmy Award-winning reporter who covered Washington for more than 20 years with CNN.)
© 2018 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.