“A lot of my liberal friends would say he’s the same person that he was in 2015, but I don’t see it that way, because back then, he had a lot more personality, and believe it or not, he could be self-deprecating and he had a sense of humour,” he told me. “What’s happened to Trump is the power and perceived attacks on him. There’s something in Trump’s personality where he’s not capable of rolling with the punches. So, he’s a counter puncher, it’s almost like he drank a potion that made him the Incredible Hulk, a power puncher, you know.”
Before the chain of events that catapulted him into the world of electoral politics, Mr Trump was just a famous businessman, running The Apprentice.
“He was not a candidate running for president”, Mr Scaramucci began, recounting how a change in Trump began to evolve. “At that time, there was a jocularity about Trump, a less serious side that was very entertaining. Once Trump became the candidate, the attacks kept coming in. Attacks on him that were no more or less than what the attacks on Obama, George Bush or even Bill Clinton, but Trump didn’t handle it well.”
Breaches of civility became the new normal of Trump’s presidency, with the Oval Office as his bully pulpit. By calling the press “the enemy of the people” and his opponents “stone losers,” “sleepy” and “crazy,” President Trump forced all his conflicts and freshly baked political dramas into the daily lives of Americans through their TV sets.
“Trump did things that are pathologically associated with people who act like dictators and tyrants,” Mr Scaramucci said. “Just go down the list. What did he do? Number one, he started to viciously attack the press. Number two, he started to throw out anybody in his path in the administration that he thought was one syllable off of what he thought, so there couldn’t be anything but uniform thinking. Everybody had to be like a Politburo, unanimous voting around him. And then the last thing he’s doing that’s also a very important part of that change is that he has dialled up the anger and racist license in the country. He’s gone full tribal.
“The greatness of America rests on the ability to unify people that are not from the same tribe, not from the same culture, not from the same religious perspective. The best leaders understand that they need to be a beacon, a metaphorical glue to help keep the country together. Truman said he was the president of all people. Trump is not about that. This is one of the many reasons why he’s so dangerous because Trump is disavowing the higher aspirations, the higher ideals, of what the country should be.”
Mr Scaramucci’s fragments on Trump’s America are autobiographical. His highly publicized estrangement from President Trump, to which Bill Maher was privy, made quite the splash on the news cycle. Still, there are moments in his volatile relationship with Trump, that the former White House Communication director has still not given away.
“I am just gonna say something to you now that I’ve never said to anybody”, he began. “I’m not saying it is a bombshell or anything, but I’ve never said this to anybody. The last time I talked to President Trump was Easter Sunday of last year. And he was a little miffed at me for the article that I wrote in The Hill about the press not being the enemy of the people. I explained why the press is not the enemy of people and I said to him: ‘I think you’re making a mistake. You’re very popular with your base, but moderates do not like the attack on the press nor the independents.’ Trump’s response, I’ve never told this to anybody, was ‘I am going to worry about my base and everything else will take care of itself.’ That’s a direct quote, ‘I’m gonna worry about the base and everything else will take care of itself.’”
Mr Scaramucci paused.
“Trump’s got great political instincts, which led him to be president. The question is, are these instincts malevolent? Are they well-intended or are they with bad intentions? That’s the question.”
The former White House Communications Director has his fair share of misgivings about Mr Trump.
“The biggest one is that Trump is providing a license for anger and a license for division in the country,” he said. “So, that is by far my biggest misgiving, because if he ruptures the country, you know, you could have too big of a split in the country. You don’t want, in this era of the 21st century, to split the country. The second thing is that, despite the economy doing well, Trump has mishandled the economy. And he has mishandled the trade situation.’
Whether the effects of Trump’s economy to the world are of any concern to his voters, whose deeply seated grievances a real estate developer from Queens was able to speak to, is yet to be seen. Trump has been consistent with America First. Contrary to any other respectable or solitary opinions, the MAGA base is likely to respond with the hottest zeal: “It’s America First, we do not care about any of those countries.”
“I don’t think anyone’s ever laid out and explained what Trump’s world view is. Trump is intellectually vacuous. He is not someone who can explain a world view. But Trump knows it when he sees it, and then, when it is presented to him, he acts on it. And let me tell you what his world view is. I really believe this. Trump wants to take America back to the 1890s where America was producing 98 per cent of everything it was consuming or needed. So, this is a manufacturing America. This is a production-based, less service-oriented America. Trump would literally like to wall off America from the rest of the world. What Trump is doing is a literal walling off, and it’s physical walling off, like, actually creating a wall.”
While the great American debate about the President is a normative one, what’s missing in the public conversation is the explanatory account about the underlying logic of his presidency. Why is President Trump doing what he’s doing?
“Why is he like that? Well, there’s inherent racism in that, and there’s an inherent distrust in others. And then, the last reason why he’s like that is that he thinks that we were a better, stronger America when we had more manufacturing versus where we are now. We manufacture about 15 per cent of what we’re actually consuming today. So, you know, we’re buying our cars and our televisions and we’re buying our telephones and things like that from other countries. A lot of that stuff was made in America in the ‘40s and ‘50s. The last thing about Trump’s world view, which I think is important, you know, you give him another five years, he’ll be able to continue to push that world view. And you know, the United States is a very rich, well-endowed country from its natural resources, etc. The United States could probably pull off what Trump would want: this America first, America alone sort of thing. But it would cripple the rest of the world. It would cripple the rest of the world and would put the rest of the world in an economic recession and or poverty. That, I think is a disaster.”
Mr Scaramucci once was Trump’s supporter and staunch defender. That was a period of their lives when they embarked together to walk through the wall of the political-power establishment for better or for worse. Publicity was astounding. The America of many contradictions was about to unfold. It was a historical moment Mr Scaramucci walked into without quite knowing whether he’s gonna end up in a safe harbour or a political shipwreck.
“I worked for him. I believed, incorrectly, that he was going to do the right thing. There’s a moment in our history right now. Where there’s an opportunity for a transformative leader to knit back the tribes. There’s a moment right now where, if white, blue-collar workers have not felt [that they have received] appropriate advocacy, there’s a moment to help them, while, at the same time, not ignoring the other issues that are being faced in the US. I thought that Trump was going to do that because he wasn’t a politician. I thought that he would be capable of doing that. But you know, ultimately, there’s a disease called power. And it’s a heavy narcotic and once you start imbibing it, you start to act like the other politicians. He got totally sucked into that.’
“I was out supporting him for two years. I spent two years of my life trying to help the guy. But for me, the red line, the absolute red light for me, was when he went after those four Congresswomen. And it became impossible. He was moving the goalposts so much for his supporters that it became impossible to support him because you can’t be from an immigrant family like I am, where your grandparents were told to go back to the country that they originally came from. You can’t go back to the country that you originally came from.So, now you have to make a decision. It’s less about a profile in courage, frankly, it is more about making a better decision of who you are as a person, and who you are as a father, who you are as a son and a grandson. I’m not going to disavow my entire family’s history and roots and my integrity by pretending what Trump said was not racist.”
Urging everyone to re-examine their relationship and role they played in the making of Trump, Mr Scaramucci began talking about behind-the-scenes of Trump’s presidency.
“There are Fox news anchors. There’s Rudy Giuliani and there are others. They will always come down to the following moral equivocation, they’ll say, ‘well, he’s good for the economy. Or what’s the alternative? We can’t have socialism. Let’s give him a license for anger, a license for impunity, a license for tribal division, because the alternatives are worse than him.’ But I don’t think like that. I think, forget about the alternatives. This guy is not the right guy to be running the office of the presidency. So let’s figure out a way to find somebody that could be that person, man or woman that has a different skillset at different traits than this person in terms of humanity. In terms of unity and also respect.
“Would Trump stop at anything morally, to get himself re-elected? That’s the question. And the answer to that is no. Of course not. So, therefore, if you want to stay with Trump, you’re going to have to test your own morality. And he’s going to push you in a direction that he’s willing to go in.
“’China, if you’re listening, investigate Joe Biden. Russia, if you’re listening, investigate Hillary Clinton. President Zelensky, I am holding back this money until you put out a statement trying to cripple Joe Biden.’ That, to him, was the perceived threat at that moment. Trump’s outside the bounds of any normal behaviour that is principle-centered or anchored to any morals. And this is the tragedy of guys like John Kelly or HR McMaster, because, you know, knowing them, they wanted to serve. They were not interested in power. You can say whatever you want about me, I wanted to serve. I grew up in a blue-collar neighbourhood. I am the product of the American dream. I wanted to serve. But I didn’t want to serve something twisted. But I did not know, back then. So as it becomes twisted, it becomes more twisted, you’re in this dilemma. You’re in this knot with the twisting. So, if you’re a John Kelly or an HR McMaster or Jim Mattis, you are like: OK, I want to help the country or try in some way to save the country from this crazy person, but then, in other ways, I don’t want to be overly tarred by this man.”
Mr Scaramucci’s standing as a representative of Trump’s unapologetic critics, makes one wonder about the foreclosure of dissent within the Republican party. Even those like Lindsey Graham, who were once known for not sparing Trump a critique, have become proud members of his squad of defenders. Can it be that people are afraid to speak up and go against the party grain?
“I think there’s a lot of that. Trump is intimidating. He’s also now signalling that he’s gonna go after people using the Justice Department. And these are things that police states do. I know more than one business executive who says this guy’s terrible, but I would never speak up about it because I don’t want to be targeted by him. Trump is the first modern president that has decided he’s going to rule the country as opposed to serving the people. Remember the quote from Voltaire: ‘tell me who I cannot criticise, and I can tell you who runs the state.’ Trump is now telling people that they cannot criticise him. Foreclosure of dissent, that’s what he wants to impose. And so that’s on that list. Look at what he is doing to the members of the press and members of the political opposition.”
Mr Scaramucci feels very much at home with his decision to break away from Trump. What would he tell him, I enquired if the president called him today?
“Well, I mean, look, it’s personal for me. Forget everything else: the fact that I gave him an obscene amount of money for his campaign, the inauguration, etc. Three years of my life, hundreds of hours of media advocacy to try to help him. And then, we’re in a disagreement over the Congresswomen and he goes to attack my wife from the presidential Twitter feed? You can’t do that. That’s where I would start the conversation. So if he called me I would probably lead the conversation by letting him know that I’m not Ted Cruz.”
A White House official described Mr Scaramucci’s charges as baseless, but declined to comment further.