So Donald Trump is going to bring his newly hired director of communications, Bill Shine, to his summit with Vladimir Putin. Forget, for a moment, the predictions about what might happen: Will Trump defect? Will Putin give him (additional?) instructions about how to undermine American democracy? Instead, take a look at the symbolism. Shine’s rise to this position illustrates just how debased our politics have become and whom this government really represents.
Consider the following. Trump has, over the course of his career, proven himself to be a profoundly ignorant racist, nativist, loudmouthed con man who, having inherited some $40 million from his KKK-supporting father, proceeded to fail upward. He ripped off people as he exploited the idiocy of tabloid media to build a “brand” based on a constant stream of bullshit. He repeatedly denigrated women as “pigs” and “dogs”—when he was not bragging about grabbing their private parts. Trump was also accused, lest we forget, of rape or attempted rape three times, including by his ex-wife Ivana (since walked back), and of sexual misconduct at least another 16 times.
Now take a look at Shine. The Daily Beast’s Scott Bixby reports that he acted as Roger Ailes’s “butler,” “henchman,” “enforcer,” and “executioner” for two decades at Fox News. Ailes inherited his power from Australian billionaire Rupert Murdoch, and proceeded to use it to spread lies and misinformation on behalf of the racist, sexist, and nativist agenda the two men share. (Poll after poll has demonstrated that people whose primary news source is Fox are the most misinformed individuals in the country.) In doing so, they earned billions for Murdoch and made Ailes a kingmaker for the Republican Party.
Along the way, Shine worked to enable Ailes during his reign of sexual terror at Fox. This allegedly included Ailes’s blackmailing of former Fox booker Laurie Luhn, who claims that Ailes coerced her into dancing in lingerie while being filmed. Shine made Luhn’s travel arrangements for their secret rendezvous. When Ailes grew concerned that she might complain, according to reporting by Gabriel Sherman in New York magazine, Shine recommended a psychiatrist (because, naturally, she was the crazy one) and monitored her e-mails to protect Ailes’s reputation. (Shine has denied monitoring Luhn’s e-mails.)
As Fox’s president, Shine also apparently did nothing to interfere with Bill O’Reilly’s persistent sexual harassment of his female underlings, which resulted in $45 million in hush-money settlements to six women. Shine also reportedly supported O’Reilly in his battle with Megyn Kelly, who sought to prevent the network from standing behind the accused sexual predator.
Fox contributor Julie Roginsky also alleges that Shine retaliated against her because she “refused to malign” Gretchen Carlson, a former host who had sued Ailes for sexual harassment. Her lawsuit claims Shine “aided and abetted” Ailes’s harassment.”
In yet another lawsuit, African-American former Fox reporter Kelly Wright described Shine as having “demonstrated an obsession with race.” Wright claims in the suit that Shine was always asking him, “how do Black people react to you?” and “how do you think White viewers look at you?”
Meanwhile, Shine’s wife, Darla, recently deleted her Twitter account, which demonstrated a fixation with black people who use the N-word: “Remove every rap song that has the N word in it. Take them off the air. If we ban Gone with the Wind, racist rap music goes too.” She also insisted on Twitter that “1 out of 10 black boys has autism,” and objected to the existence of transpeople on Facebook, because, I kid you not, “Manmade vagina is still not as good as the real thing!”
Typically for the Trump administration, Shine has no actual experience in the job he has been hired to do. He gave virtually no interviews during his two decades at Fox, doing all his dirty work behind the scenes. His single selling point appears to be his mind-meld with Trump, and the fact that he comes highly recommended by Sean Hannity (who, oddly for a top male Fox News personality of the Obama era, has not been credibly accused of engaging in or enabling sexual predation).
With Chief of Staff John Kelly having nine toes out the door, we can expect that it will be left to Shine to take charge of future Trump staffers who are discovered to be serial domestic abusers, as former top deputy Rob Porter was, when Kelly first covered up for him and attacked his victims for revealing their abuse. We can also expect a similar level of support the next time Republicans nominate an accused child molester for national office, as was demonstrated in the case of Roy Moore, who received the full backing of the White House despite at least nine credible accusations of such actions against girls as young as 14.
The fact that Shine’s hiring was not much more than a one-day story offers another opportunity for us to take a step back and ask ourselves if we are living an actual nightmare: A president, credibly accused of rape, who has been under investigation for, among other things, hush payments to his victims, hires an executive who was fired for enabling sexual abuse and hush payments. Both men are working in service of a political agenda based on the persecution of brown-skinned people and the denigration of women, powered by deceptive and dishonest propaganda.
If we can tolerate this, what can’t we tolerate? And can we even imagine where all this will end?
Here’s something I never imagined I’d be doing: quoting The Weekly Standard’s William Kristol for a reason other than his being spectacularly wrong. Kristol tweeted, “I say this as someone who was on Fox for a decade and had no beef (though little interaction) with Bill Shine: It’s a disgrace that a man who, it turns out, enabled and covered up truly repulsive behavior by Roger Ailes, would get a senior White House job.”
“Repulsive”? Absolutely. But also deeply dangerous. Our politics are like a downhill roller coaster with no guardrails and no visible exit and the constant demand that we look elsewhere—at this tweet, at that outrage, at Alan Dershowitz’s social calendar—as our democracy disappears in the distance.