Trump’s ‘revenge bender’ of perceived enemies was enabled by the GOP's 'willful blindness': CNN's Avlon
Donald Trump (Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

On Thursday, CNN fact-checker John Avlon explored all the ways President Donald Trump has vilified and demonized not just political opponents, but career public officials and even members of his own party.

"Once upon a time, Sen. Lamar Alexander was really worried about enemies lists," said Avlon, playing a clip of him saying, "I want to make what I hope will be a friendly suggestion to President Obama in his White House, and it is this: Don't create an enemies list."

"That was good advice, rooted as an experience working for Richard Nixon, but seems kind of quaint in hindsight," said Avlon. "Because now we've got something to work with. President Trump is on a revenge bender, one week after his impeachment trial acquittal with no witnesses that Sen. Alexander helped secure."

"Hoping that Trump would be chastened was willful blindness, because Donald Trump loves obsessing over his enemies," said Avlon. "In his book 'Team of Vipers,' former Trump aide Cliff Sims captured the president's early purges. Quote, 'Give me their names,' he said Trump said. 'I want these people out of here. We're going to get rid of all these snakes, even the bottom feeders...' Sounds like a stable work environment, right? Well, Trump talks a big game about loyalty, but it's always been a one-way street."

"So let's take a look at some of the people who've been in his crosshairs lately," said Avlon. "Chief among these are some of the usual suspects. Adam Schiff, Nancy Pelosi, Jerry Nadler, Mitt Romney, and of course even his former national security adviser John Bolton. But then some of his biggest enemies were his biggest boosters. Like one-time fixer Michael Cohen, first senator who ever endorsed him and AG Jeff Sessions, chief strategist and frenemy Steve Bannon, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Sec. Jim Mattis. He even rails against current appointees, like Fed Chair Jerome Powell."

"But for a guy who campaigned as a law-and-order candidate, Trump also loves targeting law enforcement and the intelligence communities," continued Avlon. "Like fired FBI Director Jim Comey, Obama-era CIA Director John Brennan, former DNI Jim Clapper, the FBI's Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, the Justice Department's Sally Yates. And of course Robert Mueller. It's no secret that Trump can't quit hating on Democrats like Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Joe Biden. They're in the top tier of his negative Twitter mentions according to Factbase. But it's not like Republicans have been spared his wrath, like former Sens. Jeff Flake and Dean Heller, both replaced by Democrats incidentally, former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, now-independent Congressman Justin Amash. The past three GOP nominees, including John McCain."

"Now, some former Trump critics like Lindsey Graham have worked their way into Trump's good graces by doggedly defending the president," said Avlon."But taking a gander at this list is exhausting. Evidence that Trump targets anyone who dares question him, from the right or left. And that's why it's strange that so many Republican senators live in fear of the president, and try so hard to appease him."

"Winston Churchill famously defined an appeaser as 'one who feeds a crocodile hoping it will eat him last,' said Avlon. "Which is why another public servant, former Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, deserves the last word, from a speech she gave last night. 'An amoral, keep-'em-guessing foreign policy that substitutes threats, fear, and confusion for trust cannot work over the long haul,' she said. 'Truth matters.' And that's your reality check."

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