FEBRUARY 18, 2019
(THEY MIGHT TRY to kill me for telling you what I know.)
In 2016 or early 2017, Paul Manafort’s 32-year-old daughter Andrea’s cell phone was hacked. A database containing hundreds of thousands of her purported text messages, many in conversation with her sister Jess, was released online in February 2017. Politico confirmed the veracity of enough of the texts to enter them into the public record.
Various excerpts have been used in every subsequent profile written on Manafort — Trump’s former campaign manager, a career Republican operative, and a lobbyist to foreign dictators — who currently sits in jail for bank fraud, tax fraud, obstruction of justice, and financial conspiracy with a foreign power. These articles quote Andrea and Jess contending with their father’s corruption (“He has no moral or legal compass”), what they believe was his active role in the murder of hundreds of Ukrainian protestors (“Do you know whose strategy that was to cause that / To send those people out and get them slaughtered”), his humiliatingly public affair as a sugar daddy to a much younger woman (“He got her A PRIVATE JET AT ONE POINT”), his role on Trump’s campaign (“He is refusing payment. Bc he doesn’t want to be viewed as Trump’s employee”), and their own tormented desire to free themselves from their family complicities (“Don’t fool yourself. That money we have is blood money.”).
Yet one cluster of texts never entered public discourse in the same way. For eight months after these texts were released online — an eon, in internet time — no one wrote about them. The sleaziest gossip outlets, which enthusiastically published other dirty details about Manafort (including his membership in BDSM sex clubs), wouldn’t touch it. Deep transparency conspiracy theorists didn’t Tweet about it. A March 2018 Atlantic profile on Manafort by Franklin Foer only very delicately alludes to the matter, commenting that, “after the exposure of his infidelity, his wife had begun to confess simmering marital issues to her daughters.”
That’s a rather dainty way to refer to over a decade of coercive and manipulative sexual behavior, in which Manafort allegedly forced his wife, vulnerable from having sustained brain damage after a near-death horseback riding accident years before, to engage in “gang bangs” with black men while he watched.
She shouldnt have to do that and i would feel the same way
she keeps saying she has tried so hard
but she can’t keep doing it
and the stuff he has made her do is outrageous
mom thinks dad will end their marriage bc she won’t do it anymore
i don’t even know what to think
Im in shock
This is abuse
Seymour Hersh, the journalist famously responsible for bringing the truth about the My Lai massacre to the American public, received a phone call in 1974 from a hospital in California. A doctor informed him that Richard Nixon, who had recently resigned the presidency, had beaten his wife Pat so badly she had just been admitted. Hersh never published the story, partly so as not to put his source — and, by extension, the hospital — at risk. Over the years, as Nixon’s abuse was confirmed by multiple other sources, Hersh maintained his silence. What did wife beating have to do with the man’s diplomacy in China or his role in Watergate? What did a “bad marriage” have to do with a man’s public life?
At a 1998 event with the Nieman Journalism Fellows at Harvard, Hersh shared the story — about Nixon, about the hospital — and was surprised at the response from women journalists in the room, who pointed out that he chose to not write about allegations of repeated criminal behavior by an American president. Hersh told them, “I did not think it was a story, I thought it was his business.” The event was recorded. After 25 years, both Hersh’s knowledge of Nixon’s abuse and his reticence about reporting on it became a matter of public record.
This past summer, Hersh released his memoirs. He includes the Nixon story and the Nieman Fellows event, framing it, apologetically, as an example of his “ignorance”: “I did not think it [Nixon’s abuse] was a crime.” In subsequent televised interviews, however, Hersh appears frustrated that people keep asking about his being caught in this act of omission, stating repeatedly his regret that the Nieman event had been recorded. Hersh seems equally impatient at himself, for not believing the story was relevant in 1974, and at the people who shared the story after 1998, believing it was.
This is contested terrain, obviously — particularly in the era of #MeToo press stories. In this moment, behaviors previously deemed private and professionally irrelevant are now seen as both relevant and potentially disqualifying. Perhaps Hersh did not want to be responsible for shifting Nixon’s legacy on those terms; perhaps by doing so, he would also be shifting his own.
Because when we are given access to evidence of a man’s most private acts and desires, we reread his public conduct through the lens of this information. It is revelatory of an entire ecology of behavior.
During his early years as a Republican strategist, Paul Manafort was responsible for Ronald Reagan’s decision to launch his 1980 presidential campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi — site of the murder of three Civil Rights activists — as a racist dog whistle to white Southern voters. He then built his fortune making dictators and strongmen like Ferdinand Marcos and Jonas Savimbi — torturers and killers of their own people — palatable to American politicians doling out foreign aid. This subject was addressed as early as 1992 in “The Torturer’s Lobby,” a report published by the Center for Public Integrity. In the same year Spy Magazine ranked Manafort’s firm as having the highest “blood-on-the-hands” score in the Beltway.
Manafort’s job before joining Trump’s campaign was as a longtime consultant for Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Putin candidate he helped get elected president of the Ukraine. Manafort allegedly contributed to Yanukovych’s decision to attack dissidents with deadly violence. WikiLeaks has claimed that the hack of Andrea Manafort’s cell phone was carried out by Ukrainian intelligence. Whether this particular accusation is true or not, it seems certain that Manafort’s sordid personal life was exposed, to some level, as a consequence of his sordid political activity.
When I asked one journalist why he hadn’t written about those texts, he became extremely defensive. What does it matter, he asked, what gets Manafort’s dick hard? The journalist saw the material as Manafort’s private business — not evidence, meriting consideration, that the man was a sexual abuser.
In July 2018, transparency journalist Emma Best rereleased Andrea Manafort’s texts as a searchable database. She claimed, somewhat defensively, that the information “has already been exposed. […] [T]abloids and trolls have already mined the transcripts and exploited them. While this release may result in a small resurgence of this, the real damage has long been done and mitigated.” She asserts that, “[w]hile some personal details may seem lurid, they are ultimately meaningless. People have bodies which sometimes itch, people have sex and personal lives.”
Like the defensive journalist I spoke to, Best clearly wants to believe that Manafort’s behavior toward his wife expresses merely the idiosyncratic cravings shared in an intimate relationship. While she believes that, “in some instances, the personal messages shine a light on things of more significance,” those things reside solely, for her, in the connections between Manafort’s conduct and potential criminal activity related to Trump’s election.
In the months since Best rereleased the texts, two published articles have attempted to address the fraught topic of Manafort’s sexual treatment of his wife. A July 2018 essay in Psychology Today discusses the underpinnings of conservative men’s desire to participate in the “cuck” fetish of wife-sharing. It explores what might be behind Manafort’s sexual fantasy but does not touch upon issues of race, marital rape, abuse, or manipulation. By contrast, an article in The Spectator argues that the texts are critical to understanding Manafort’s criminality yet does not really know how to prove the case. Regarding Manafort’s marriage, it lands by quoting the old French proverb, “no man is a hero to his valet,” concluding that the texts merely describe the “banal truth” that “everyone saves their worst behaviour for those closest to them.”
Manafort’s worst behavior may be many things; “banal” hardly seems one of them. Something terrible happened, and no one knows how to say it.
“He was like a Soviet spy” [said] one source who had knowledge of Manafort’s modus operandi. […] “He used information as leverage.”
— Alexander Cockburn and Ken Silverstein, Washington Babylon (1996)
In the weeks and months after the 2016 election, former Tory MP Louise Mensch became our leading Trump/Russia conspiracy theorist. A conspiracy theorist links seemingly unrelated occurrences, revealing (or creating) patterns that explain how the world works. Like artists, conspiracy theorists produce space for meaning-making for their readers or viewers — who, in connecting the dots, get to write the story in their own heads.
One of my favorite of Mensch’s theories came in early 2017, in a series of tweets vaguely insinuating that Obama and Dubya shared a secret, post-election mission to save the country from incoming Russian spies. Dubya handled domestic affairs — Obama, international ones. Actually, Mensch proposed, the Obamas’ post-inaugural vacation to Richard Branson’s island was actually a “work” trip since Russian oligarchs were docked there at the same time. Thus, between windsurfing and cocktails, Obama saved the Republic, though Mensch can’t yet share with us exactly how. But she assures us that, for their secret acts, we will one day know these two men to be true American heroes.
Do I — or did I ever — believe Louise Mensch is, like, factually correct? That’s not what this is about. Rather, Mensch inserted herself into the public imaginary of a stunned nation by telling us what we wanted to hear: dirty tricks were played, and it’s all connected. Her storytelling was supported by our desire to believe it was true, but also by the incredible outpouring of legitimately reported stories about coordinated Russian attempts to hack American political life — from targeted online disinformation campaigns and election interference to Jared Kushner’s attempts to set up “back channel” communications with Russia. Recently, Paul Manafort’s lawyers, in a poorly redacted court filing, inadvertently revealed that, during Manafort’s time as Trump’s campaign manager, he shared campaign polling data with Konstantin Kilimnik, an operative with ties to Russian intelligence. Two years after the election, it still becomes ever easier to believe an alternative political reality has been attempting to penetrate our system.
Mensch also reintroduced the narrative erotics of the Cold War into our current political discourse — in particular, the explosive concept of kompromat. Without her flamboyantly leading the charge, we wouldn’t have the subject being written about in measured, serious terms by Adam Davidson in The New Yorker and Ben Judah in The Atlantic.
Kompromat refers to compromising material that would expose a person in some irrevocably mortifying, career-ending way: financial crimes, sexual indiscretions. Unlike opposition research, which exists to be “dumped,” kompromat exists to be held over the person, so he or she doesn’t step out of line. An ongoing concern regarding Trump’s many-tentacled relationship with Russia is the possibility that Putin is holding some kind of kompromat over him — e.g., the notorious “piss tape” referenced in the Steele Dossier.
Notably, kompromat doesn’t have to be real. It just has to seem real enough for the shame of its possible exposure to undo someone, permanently. Perhaps no one wants to write about Manafort, in part, because the data has already been dumped — and we don’t want to belabor his attachment to such humiliating desires.
but apparently he has a thing for black men
one time it was 6 black men in a hotel room
i hate him jessica. i think i hate him.
she asked why so many black men and he said bc they are the ones willing to do it
Cuck. It’s a great word. Aurally palindromic, beginning and ending with those nicely hard “k”s. It sounds nasty, a combination of cunt and fuck. Cuck is the Reddit, 4chan, fringe-right descriptor for leftist and liberal men. As has been written about extensively by a fascinated and aghast mainstream media, the term is a shortened version of cuckold, referring to a man whose wife has been fucked by another man — which itself comes from the cuckoo, a bird that lays its egg in another bird’s nest. By implication, a cuckold might be sexually, genetically, and financially violated: supporting another man’s child in his own home.
As has also been exhaustively discussed, “cuck,” as deployed in the right-wing manosphere, has racialized overtones: in other words, not only has a cuck’s wife been fucked by another man, but specifically by a black man. The baby in your nest does not belong to you — there has been an intruder, and what if the whole world can see it. The cuck thus compromises his standing among his fellow whites by supporting an alien interloper — which is why even conservative men who appear willing to negotiate with liberals get labeled “cuckservatives.” In this worldview, all that matters is white superiority demonstrated through white male ownership of white women, and any other kind of compromise (even political) gets experienced as a sexual violation.
The appearance of the right-wing use of the term “cuck” tracks with a simultaneous and explosive rise in the popularity of online “cuckold” and “interracial” gang-bang pornography — websites like Blacked or the ever-expanding Dogfart Network, a website of porn channels focused almost entirely on interracial gang bangs. Both websites are owned by white Jewish men — Blacked by Greg Lansky and Dogfart by Cable Rosenberg (which is why they sometimes pop up on neo-Nazi websites as proof of a Jewish-black conspiracy). It’s as if black lives insisting they matter — the coming end of white supremacy — triggers rage and fear among white males, and this in turn triggers the erotic impulse to act out those fears by putting black desire under their control.
There’s a direct link here between political anxiety and sexual desire (and the reverse, too: political desire and sexual anxiety) and it’s not new. Judith Giesberg’s 2017 book Sex and the Civil War: Soldiers, Pornography and the Making of American Morality, for instance, describes the rise of a pornography that reflected specifically American anxieties and cravings related to race and power. In 1842, Congress banned the importation of illicit material, triggering domestic production of pornography. The growth of American porn over the following decade coincided with the explosion of abolitionist literature, which also strove to trigger visceral sensations in readers — and which was criticized for “appealing to readers’ base instincts.” Disgust, fear, and excitement went hand in hand, and readerly arousal could not be entirely controlled. Scenes of interracial sex — termed “amalgamation” — emerged, “accompanied by violence, explicit or implicit.” In Giesberg’s analysis, “antislavery writing both absorbed and contributed to an expansion of the antebellum erotic imagination.”
The allure — and threat — of interracial sex, particularly involving black men and white women, is central to the history traced in Linda Williams’s classic 2001 study Playing the Race Card: Melodramas of Black and White from Uncle Tom to O. J. Simpson. Williams writes how, for every one reader of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s blockbuster novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, at least five others saw a “Tom show.” These wildly popular theatrical reenactments of the novel were pre-copyright, multifarious, non-standard — and thus untraceable. We will never grasp their full impact on the American social imaginary. Williams describes what were called “double mammoth” Tom shows, which presented the novel twice in a row, with two separate casts performing two distinct versions: first as high sentimentality, then as extreme burlesque. Viewers would experience a range of sensations, from sadness to horror to hilarity — all inextricably entwined.
In Love & Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class (1993), Eric Lott writes: “Because of the power of the black penis in white American psychic life, the pleasure minstrelsy’s largely white and male audiences derived from their investment in ‘blackness’ always carried a threat of castration — a threat obsessively reversed in white lynching rituals.” Part of why we find it so difficult to discuss Manafort’s purported actions is that we cannot help taking a kind of voyeuristic pleasure in it. In so doing, we become complicit in a fetish fantasy based in a conception of black male sexuality that has historically contributed to carceralization of and terror toward black men.
Terror and desire, interpenetrating. We both desire and fear being penetrated by an alternative system that will change us and our relations with one another, irrevocably.
And by the way, I Googled this guy Roger Stone, because he looks like he pays black guys to bang his wife. And I found out in 1996, he was forced to resign from Bob Dole’s campaign for asking black guys to bang his wife. I’m not kidding. Look it up, it’s fantastic. As a black man, I don’t know whether to feel offended, or a little appreciated.
— Michael Che, Saturday Night Live (January 26, 2019)
The above joke, from a recent “Weekend Update” sketch, is the closest the Manafort material has come to reaching a wider audience. Tellingly, it’s displaced from Manafort onto his long-time business partner, Roger Stone, with whom he made the transition from early career Republican dirty trickster to powerful political consultant to, currently, indicted target of the Mueller investigation.
Roger Stone did not ask black guys to bang his wife. He did advertise for “exceptional muscular well-hung single men” to join him in three-ways with his wife (who seemed an enthusiastic participant). The National Enquirer’s exposé on the Stones’ swinging marriage lost Roger his role as Bob Dole’s political consultant during the ’96 presidential campaign. The humiliation appears to have been galvanizing for Stone, who transformed himself into a defiantly flamboyant agent provocateur, rat-fucking on more subterranean levels of the Republican party politic. Stone performs his public self as such an unapologetically sleazy bon vivant (he refers to himself as a “try-sexual” because he’ll “try anything”) it’s easy to make him the target of the joke.
Whole gossip industries run on barely substantiated rumors about the salacious proclivities of public figures. But the entertainment only works when the activity is clearly consensual. Every publication that used the hacked texts lingered over prurient details of Manafort’s extramarital affair — but remained silent about his treatment of his wife. It is precisely because the gang bang texts describe a non-consensual situation that no one wants to touch it.
But perhaps that’s not exactly right either. If Manafort’s wife divorced her husband, or pressed charges, or made any public claim of injury, it would have been fair game. But she did not. She suffered in silence. This lacuna, within the confines of a marriage, defies us to speak. And yet doesn’t it point to an irredeemably compromised morality, important to know about in a man in public life, particularly one who legislates morality over others?
At this post-Kavanaugh moment, it can be surprising to remember that throughout the Clinton era, it was Republicans who most strongly asserted that private morality constituted one’s fitness for engagement in public office. In a strange plot twist, they came to this position partially by virtue of their changing relationship to Russia. From the arms race of the 1960s to the “evil empire” of the ’80s, Cold War anxiety provided 20th-century conservatives with a big enough enemy to cover for their reactionary policies in response to the rise of the Great Society and the Civil Rights movement.
When the Wall fell, the Party’s raison d’être evaporated. With what monster could they replace the USSR? Bill Clinton’s slippery moral weakness. The GOP made the various accusations against Clinton, from his extramarital dalliances to his purported harassment of Paula Jones to his alleged rape of Juanita Broaddrick, central to their public discourse, mimicking feminist concerns right at the moment when feminists became willing, for political expediency, to allow Clinton his serial sexual abuses of power. In so doing, post–Cold War Republicans, led by Newt Gingrich, in many ways unwittingly lay a plank in the foundation of the #MeToo movement that arose 25 years later.
I can call up any one of several lady friends and tell her that I heard from the Flexy Straw, and she will know exactly who I am talking about. This is my name for a man I once dated whose penis, even at its most tumescent, never got entirely hard. My last sexual encounter with this man was over 15 years ago.
One of the more surprising things to me about the #MeToo moment is the fact that so many men seem shocked to learn that women share such sexual details with one another. Women carry encyclopedic knowledge of the people who have (to any degree) pleasured and damaged us. We know where all the bodies are buried, including our own. What we do with this information — well, that’s another matter. Over the past year, we have witnessed not only a renegotiation of the borders between public and private life, but also a revelation of the coping strategies women have always used to deal with men.
In 2015, Elliot Rodger’s incel massacre at UC Santa Barbara triggered the mass narrative explosion of #YesAllWomen — what might be termed a collective Convulsion of Stories. In the succeeding months, other hashtags provoked similar convulsions: #whenIleft and #whyIstayed, about abusive relationships; #theemptychair, triggered by New York magazine’s cover story on Bill Cosby’s victims; the blog “i believe you / it’s not your fault,” in which young women share stories and older women respond with advice and support. These all lay the groundwork that eventually propelled Tarana Burke’s longstanding social media campaign, MeToo (which started on MySpace in 2006), into the national consciousness following the release of the first blockbuster stories about Harvey Weinstein. All of this excruciatingly intimate personal storytelling — bursting into the public sphere — made individual experiences feel like the expressions of a system at work.
But this story sharing isn’t a new tactic, of course, any more than my “Flexy Straw” discussions were. Second-wave feminist “consciousness raising” was all about women sharing personal stories in order to understand how they are connected to larger systems of oppression. To see the conspiracy; to connect the dots. And yet, even as we revive the ’70s rallying cry that “the personal is political,” we struggle to integrate private experience into public space and public systems of discourse.
One thing that has become clear, in these repeated narrative convulsions, is that the legal system’s form of due process more often than not does not work on behalf of the women who have been wronged or violated, professionally or personally. Rape kits go untested, police find fault with accusers, prosecutors don’t proceed for lack of evidence or because they know that only the most “ideal victim” can stand up to hostile scrutiny of their motives. Similarly, proto-legal systems — university administrations, HR departments — allow many powerful men to slip through the cracks.
The past year of #MeToo has made public storytelling itself the site for a new kind of due process, one based in the dynamics of investigative journalism. A blockbuster exposé of a serial abuser happens only when a journalist has enough women, abused by the target, who are willing to go on the record as sources. Every source must have backup in the form of witnesses who contemporaneously heard about the abuse at the time of its occurrence. Direct testimony is elaborately and assiduously scaffolded with as much documentation as can be collected. Because abusive behavior is rarely something that happens only once, that first story usually triggers subsequent reportage, which generally appears in the time it takes to both locate and confirm additional victims.
In this regard, it has been fascinating to watch the documentary Surviving R. Kelly, all the more so because so few (if any) of the stories shared in it are new. Instead, the film reviews 30 years of publicly known allegations. What is new is that the filmmakers present these stories in a journalistic framework that makes the pattern they reveal feel undeniable.
In some ways, though, this example simply proves that the shift from due process of law to trial by journalism has its own temporal and moral gaps. Manafort’s story is journalistically problematic because there is no way to prove the allegations. One cannot verify these texts weren’t inserted post-hoc. Or access the men in foreign countries who were purportedly paid to participate in the gang bangs. And in this case, the putative victim — Manafort’s wife — has not announced her victimhood nor stated any desire to have a public discussion of her marriage. Andrea Manafort’s texts were not shared on a Tumblr; they were hacked, illegally. Feminism’s tools of “consent” and “choice” are limited in this situation because both remain murky. The story remains illegible.
So too do many other stories of corrupt ethics within intimate relationships, a topic for which we as yet have no real public language. Once we try to start talking about it, the community structures upon which our society depends — marriages, families, friends — get implicated. As do we.
As [Manafort] was escorted from the courtroom to his holding cell, he made eye contact with his wife Kathleen, who had been present every day of the trial. She continued to look at the door he exited after it shut behind him.
— Caitlin MacNeal and Tierney Snead, TalkingPointsMemo
A characteristic arc of the #MeToo-era story is that it begins in innocence, travels through serial abuses of power, and finally (and most importantly) ends. My relationship with the abuser is over. I left him. I left that professional situation. I realized I was being abused. I went to therapy. It’s over. It’s done. I never saw him again. These are stories of survival, escape, resolution, and catharsis.
Life rarely works so neatly, however. The cultural predominance of such narratives can be attributed to a willingness of people to speak only once they are safely finished with a professional or personal relationship. We lack ways to unravel the intricate complicities negotiated when experiencing or witnessing ongoing abusive behavior in the family, in the workplace, among our social networks.
Some of the most agonized #MeToo stories — the ones that tend to come out in public accounts that are personal, not journalistic — involve people confessing to being in abusive situations they never explicitly refused or escaped. Instead of heroic resistance, these are tales of ambivalence, of helplessness, of going along to get along, of privileging financial security or professional livelihood or family peace. The difficulty — for teller and listener — comes from knowing that bad and compromised relationships are collaborations between self-aware and often consenting human beings. The torment comes from the realization that you have been caught in the current of your own choices — from wondering how much those truly were your personal choices. These stories lack a single moment of moral clarity, a stark revelation of bad behavior and its costs — the moment that provides such palpable relief for the people who do have them.
We can see this pained complicity in the texts exchanged between Manafort’s daughters, as they negotiate their father’s treatment of their mother. The situation does not unfold in the narrative order we have come to expect in #MeToo stories — 1) encounter abuse, 2) recognize it as abuse, 3) decry abuse, 4) abandon or escape abuser. Instead, the daughters initially complain about their father’s affair and discuss the myriad ways their annoying mother has driven him to a midlife crisis: her OCD behavior, her fear of technology, her lack of enthusiasm to try new things.
While negotiating their parents’ incipient marital dissolution, Andrea and Jess learn that their mother was an unwilling, manipulated participant in group sex for over a decade. Her recent resistance to these sexual arrangements had led their father to the ultimatum that they were “a condition of their marriage.” Andrea and Jess go through denial, shock, anger. They parse details from conversations with both parents. They argue over their mother’s role:
Its half moms fault
she couldve said no
she thought she had to
to save her marriage
but he is manipulative
and i bet she just never could imagine leaving him
You dont do things that dont feel right to you. She didnt have four children to make him happy
She stopped at two
She has a lot of repression happening. She said used to be afraid of dying and now she isn’t.
He wanted 4.
The sisters gradually come to perceive that their father’s behavior constitutes abuse, and they connect this behavior to his increased access to political power: “mom thinks the power went to his head with ukraine […] that it has turned him into a moral-less ethic-less person.” They try to help their mother — find her a therapist, ensure she won’t remain financially tied to their father.
But then there is a turn, based on their mother’s recalcitrance. Kathleen Manafort takes her husband’s side regarding conflicts over financial help he had promised for Andrea’s wedding.
I tried to help my mom and she just put her head back in the sand and is currently happy. Either in ignorance or acceptance. Either way not my choice to judge. It’s her life.
And as long as that shit doesn’t affect my life, whatever.
I know my dad is a horrible and moral-less human. Total selfish sociopath. I don’t ever fool myself or forget. He is a master manipulator
The best part of this wedding is as soon as it’s over, I have not even ONE string tied to my dad anymore.
And Chris is my entire life.
I can’t wait.
Sorry for the mid day drama vent session. I appreciate the ear
This is only about you and Chris, just focus on that! And once the last check clears … f him
It’s ironic that Andrea’s response to the newly discovered brutality in her parents’ marriage is to have her father pay for a dream wedding. Once that last check clears, however, Andrea can’t simply resolve the matter, say, “f him.” Instead, she continues to chew over her father’s behavior. She shares the darker details with her cousin (“He raped my mother Collin”), who offers to bring in his own father to attempt some sort of intervention. Andrea responds:
There’s nothing anyone can do
We keep showing up and eating the lobster. Nothing changes.
Well to be fair nobody really knows what’s going on except your nuclear family
I’m not really blaming the extended family.
So if they knew it would be different
I guess I just don’t think it would be different
Bc if my mom says she is staying w him and she is fine, I feel like everyone would just be like okay cool
At least I know my dad wouldn’t go.
But he’d be there for your mom.
And I feel like if I “out” her and the family refuses to be around him, then I just ruined the family
The cousin believes that, if the family knew and became more involved, perhaps the situation would change. Andrea believes — probably correctly — that it wouldn’t and that, by sharing the story, she would put the family dynamics at risk. She would also undermine the “choice” that, at some level, her mother is consenting to make. There is, in short, no good way to tell this story.
Just a few weeks later, Andrea begins fielding congratulations from her friends about her dad’s involvement with the Trump campaign (“with stone and manafort w Trump, all we need is the ghost of Lee atwater and the whole dirty tricks team is back!!!”). At this point, her mother has returned, entirely, to her marriage and wants Andrea to join the campaign. Andrea remains gimlet-eyed toward her father, but she does offer to connect friends with him in case they want a White House job. She states that she believes Trump to be the best candidate:
And yes generally speaking if you make me pick – trump will enact better policies than bern, hillz or Cruz
Most notably Bc one can easily see that trump will hire the best and most diverse cabinet
Hillz is Obama 2.0. And obamas strategy has not been great
Bern is nuts
Cruz is the fucking worst
Trumps priority is the economy.
Not a wall
At the end of the day, Andrea remains anguished about dancing on her father’s string but can’t give up access to her father’s money, his power, and, ultimately, his values.
Political scientist Alena Ledeneva writes about how Putin’s Russia operates as a system composed of two parallel rule structures: formal and informal. The gap between the law and how things actually get done is bridged by various social control techniques left over from the Soviet era, of which kompromat is one. Surveillance of a person’s inevitable failings — professional corruption, sexual misconduct — is a key political tool, part of the price powerful men have to pay to participate in the system. Kompromat shows the way personal life can be weaponized by a power structure geared to benefit the very few.
By contrast, the Manafort marriage texts would seem to be anti-kompromat. The “secret” information is all out there, in the open, and yet it is not discussed. And yet, in its open silence, the anti-kompromat keeps the system going as well.
The target has not totally escaped the outcome of this humiliating revelation. When Manafort checked himself into a tony Arizona rehab clinic, Andrea writes that “my dad […] is in the middle of a massive emotional breakdown.” It is, perhaps, the breakdown of a man who knows he’s been caught and that he might finally have to face the consequences. Perhaps this explains Manafort’s recent disoriented appearance in court — pushed into the courtroom in a wheelchair, in strange rumpled disarray, without his tailored suits, his once carefully dyed hair graying, missing one shoe. We do see the cracks in the facade of power. But somehow, we know it’s not enough.
Maya Gurantz is an artist in video, performance, installation, and site-specific projects. Her art works and writing interrogate social imaginaries of American culture and how constructions of gender, race, class, and progress operate in our shared myths, public rituals, and private desires. She lives and works in Los Angeles.