Opinion

Renée Graham

The ‘Badfellas’ presidency rolls on

MOVIES: Actors, from left, Ray Liotta, Robert DeNiro, Paul Sorvino, and Joe Pesci are shown in scene from the 1991 Warner Bros. film 'Goodfellas'. (AP Photo) United States -- 28mobtvmovies

Associated Press/File

From left: Ray Liotta, Robert DeNiro, Paul Sorvino, and Joe Pesci in “Goodfellas.”

Don T whacked Jimmy C, and the poor sap never saw it coming. By the time Jimmy realized what was happening, it was already over. Don even did the job himself, like he needed to make sure this guy was really gone. That’s how it goes down when the boss marks you as a snitch and a louse, when doing your job suddenly makes you a problem that’s gotta be permanently fixed.

This is how Donald Trump’s “Badfellas” presidency rolls.

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Since Trump became president, there have been countless comparisons between the bellicose billionaire, Adolf Hitler, and Richard Nixon. Indeed, the shocking firing of James Comey as FBI director has a faint echo of “The Night of the Long Knives” in 1934 when Hitler had executed those he saw as threats to his consolidation of power. In 1973, “The Saturday Night Massacre” saw Nixon fire special prosecutor Archibald Cox during the Watergate investigation, which would lead to Nixon’s resignation less than a year later.

Yet Trump’s isn’t merely a crooked administration. This presidency operates like a criminal enterprise, the likes of which we’ve only witnessed in Martin Scorsese gangster films.

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Consider how Trump targets those he perceives as enemies. Comey is the most high profile, but he isn’t the first — and if recent history is any guide, he won’t be the last. Sally Yates, the former acting attorney general, was fired after she refused to enforce Trump’s unconstitutional Muslim ban. Yates also warned the White House that then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn lied about his Russian contacts and could be susceptible to blackmail.

Preet Bharara, former US attorney for the Southern District of New York, was fired after refusing to resign. (More than 40 other US attorneys were also asked to resign.) At the time, Bharara was investigating suspicious stock trades by Tom Price, now Health and Human Services secretary.

Comey’s firing however, was a hit with a message: Cross this president, and you’ll get got. No one is safe. Irked that Comey wouldn’t drop the FBI’s investigation into possible collusion between Russia and members of Trump’s campaign team, the president didn’t just want Comey removed; he wanted him publicly humiliated. That’s why Comey found out about his termination like many others did — on television. This was designed to instill fear and cow everyone into silence and compliance. Trump doesn’t have a Cabinet so much as a ruthless crew of scheming coconspirators undeterred by the law.

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This administration flaunts its misdeeds, leading me to wonder that if this is what gets put right in our faces, how many ways are Trump and his fellow racketeers sullying democracy behind our backs? Somehow, he keeps getting away with it — at least, so far.

In New York, a city with an insatiable palate for awful people, Trump began garnering headlines in the 1980s, around the same time as mob boss John Gotti. Dubbed “The Teflon Don,” Gotti was a murderer, and, every time he beat a case, cheering crowds greeted him outside of the courtroom. Trump must have noticed what Gotti certainly understood — fear can be just as much of a wellspring for loyalty and respect as adoration.

Now Trump expects the world to tremble before its new Teflon Don in the White House, where the only rules that matter are those he makes up along the way. (Also, like every person who defies the law, Trump is paranoid about press coverage, obsessed with leaks and wiretaps, and dodges the truth at all costs.)

That’s why Yates, Bharara, and Comey had to go. Trump couldn’t intimidate them, so he removed them. Still, his latest suspect power move could leave the president with more enemies than he has ways or means to silence. What Trump may have forgotten about Gotti is that he was eventually thwarted by hubris, betrayed by one of his own confidantes, and sent to prison where he spent the rest of his days.

The FBI ultimately got Gotti. Despite Trump’s efforts to derail the bureau’s Russia investigation, it may also get Trump, whose dirty, deceitful presidency is creaking under the weight of its own corruption. And like Jimmy C, Don T won’t even see it coming.

Renée Graham can be reached at renee.graham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.
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