(Bloomberg Opinion) -- I have seen the future of Trump administration memoirs, and his name is Joshua Powell.
The former chief of staff to National Rifle Association leader Wayne LaPierre, Powell is the author of “Inside the NRA,” a self-proclaimed “tell-all account of corruption, greed and paranoia within the most powerful political organization in America.” It’s the tale of an earnest, idealistic fellow who liked duck hunting and only wanted to do right. He came to Washington and ended up “a kind of pilgrim who lost his way, who abandoned his principles and lost his footing for a time.”
Along the way, our gun-packing pilgrim encounters liars, snakes, backstabbers, grifters, thugs, propagandists, extremists, still more grifters and quite a few willing stooges of Russian intelligence. Remarkably, all these characters are either his NRA colleagues or close allies of the organization. Why the NRA serves as a magnet to people with fatally compromised ethical systems is just one of the mysteries that lie beyond the book’s scope.
Powell does a fine job regurgitating what outsiders already know. The NRA has been plagued by warring factions and is spectacularly corrupt. Its executives — LaPierre above all — treated the organization’s members as marks to be fleeced. Powell himself admits to around $22,000 in personal expenses that somehow ended up on his business tab, along with a couple sexual harassment complaints against him that he dismisses as political payback. LaPierre famously supplemented his seven-figure salary with private jets to exclusive spots, luxurious perks and a cool quarter million in haberdashery expenses in that hotbed of anti-elitism, Beverly Hills.
“Whenever the organization fell short in its funding drives, Wayne would ‘pour gasoline on the fire’ to ignite donations,” Powell writes. The NRA appealed “to the paranoia and darkest side of our members, in a way that has torn at the very fabric of America.”
Who could have guessed? Not Powell, who required several years of company-expensed stays at the Ritz-Carlton (“there seemed to be a sense of entitlement when it came to travel and hotels”) to discover that the NRA is a vicious scam.
Powell opens his book on December 14, 2012. That’s the day that a 20-year-old mentally ill man, raised in the kind of gun culture that the NRA promotes, and with ready access to the kind of semi-automatic arsenal that the NRA exalts, slaughtered more than two dozen children and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, horrifying the world while initiating a bonanza for gun merchants.
Powell had not yet joined the NRA by then, but he had cultivated a business relationship with Cerberus, a private equity firm with stakes in gun manufacturers. After news of the massacre, Powell and a Cerberus executive fortified themselves with steak and cabernet at Peter Lugar, prepping for a “righteous fight” to safeguard the laws that aid and abet American killers.
LaPierre’s response to Sandy Hook — a hateful rant before journalists who were prohibited from asking him questions — was the sort of performance that prompts sane people to seek out an exorcist. Powell acknowledges that LaPierre’s most famous line from that event — “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” — is untrue. He never really comes clean, however, about why he went to work for the demagogue who uttered it. “Selling the fear — real or imagined — never gets old,” writes Powell. In fact, it was old and ugly long before Powell joined the sales team.
Powell’s book is pretty useless to anyone with a passing familiarity with the “hatred and insanity” lurking within the NRA. It has little to say about how to improve gun politics or gun policy. But as a roadmap to the rationalizations sure to come from Trump administration lackeys seeking to launder greasy reputations, the book is a veritable Baedeker.
Powell portrays LaPierre as a Trump-like kettle bubbling with insecurities, self-pity and cowardice, along with a MAGA level disregard for public good. Should Trump fail in his quest to end American democracy this fall, a gaggle of Trumpist conspirators will no doubt enter memoir rehab. Their stories — how they came to Washington primed to make America great again only to find that the vessel in which they placed their dreams was instead a ghost ship of death and degeneracy — will make for another round of dumb, dishonest reading.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Francis Wilkinson writes editorials on politics and U.S. domestic policy for Bloomberg Opinion. He was executive editor of the Week. He was previously a writer for Rolling Stone, a communications consultant and a political media strategist.
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