Columns » Ernest Dumas

Beyond contempt

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Before he implemented it last week, Donald Trump had let it be known that he would fulfill Karl Marx's spooky proverb that history repeats itself, "the first as tragedy, then as farce," but with the order of the outcomes reversed. He planned to spend the summer and fall reliving the "Clinton scandals" of the 1990s, this time with Hillary Clinton as the victim.

But something weird happened just as Trump revisited Rush Limbaugh's old libel that Hillary Clinton or her husband had Vince Foster, her former law partner and close friend, murdered in 1993 to prevent him from telling something awful about the Clintons. Trump wasn't necessarily saying it was so but, you know, some people were still saying it, just like some people were saying Ted Cruz's daddy was involved in President Kennedy's assassination.

Trump, the lewdest presidential candidate in history, had an unexpected collaborator, Kenneth W. Starr, the sanctimonious Republican politician and prosecutor who pursued the Clintons for seven years, starting with the Foster investigation, and got the president impeached for trying to mislead grand jurors about oral sex in the Oval Office.

But far from piling on, Starr, who early last week was still the Bible-thumping president of Baylor University, told a forum on the presidency that Clinton actually was a great man of genuine compassion who strove to do good works for people in the United States and all over the world. He seemed to apologize for dragging out "the unpleasantness" of Whitewater, "which we all lament," and for tarnishing the president.

Something else became known the next day. The Baptist deacons on the Baylor board were firing Starr as president along with the football coach for tamping down complaints of rape and other assaults on women by the supermen the university recruited for its athletic teams. Starr was stripped of all his authority except raising money, at which he had been hugely successful by building Baylor's reputation as an athletic super-school.

Trump should have known he was on shaky ground. Five investigations found that Foster committed suicide. The first independent counsel, who was appointed to investigate Foster's death and a 1978 Ozark land deal, concluded it was suicide. Two Republican judges supervising the prosecutor then fired him and named Starr. Starr probed and probed and, four years after Foster's death, released a long report concluding that Foster indeed had killed himself and listing all the evidence for it and the lack of any hint of foul play. Then Starr told the FBI to go after the sex rumors.

If Trump had remembered some of that, it might have prepared him for the devastating column that Foster's older sister, Sheila Anthony, wrote for the Washington Post, which began, "It is beyond contempt that a politician would use a family tragedy to further his candidacy ... ." She said it was cynical, crass and reckless to insinuate that Hillary Clinton had her brother killed to hide something. Trump had said Foster's death was "fishy" and the theories he was murdered were "very serious."

His sister, with whom Foster lived his first months in Washington, recounted her brother's desperate phone calls about his depression and his fear that if he got counseling he would lose his security clearance and his job. She gave him the names of three psychiatrists he might see privately. The Clintons and other friends told of similar efforts to console him. Then Anthony recounted the family's redoubled grief as Clinton opponents spread stories about murder and secret scandals and the harassing telephone calls to her heartbroken mother and other family members.

But Starr supplied the coup de grace, by sort of exonerating Clinton for the sex scandals on the eve of his own unmasking for covering up far worse sex scandals at Baylor. It reminded people of how the Clinton sex tragedy of the '90s ended in farce, with tormentor after tormentor — House Speaker Newt Gingrich, his successor Bob Livingston, Clinton's chief impeachment prosecutor, a Senate juror who was brother of the deputy prosecutor, and others — were revealed to be adulterers, sometimes with members of their own staffs.

In North Dakota last Thursday, Trump decreed that Foster's suicide must not be discussed in the campaign.

But it's on to the boys on the tracks, drugs at the Mena airport, Herschel Friday's airplane crash, Hillary's futures trading, the travel office firings. What else?

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