US President Donald Trump speaks in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC, the US, October 7 2019. Picture: BRENDAN SMAILOWSKI/AFP
US President Donald Trump speaks in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC, the US, October 7 2019. Picture: BRENDAN SMAILOWSKI/AFP

Consider some of the gentlemen working for President Donald Trump.

Trump presides over an administration that has been unusually tainted by political, financial and legal opportunism and malfeasance, and l’affaire Ukraine offers heightened examples of that troika. It is also true, as the old adage goes, that a fish rots from the head. Trump ignores conflicts of interest, so those in his cabinet and elsewhere in his administration follow suit.

Trump’s presidency has been equally animated by a war on facts, expertise and experience and the Ukraine scandal showcases the consequences of devaluing all three when you’re a president who prefers “speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain”. (Trump’s unilateral and ill-considered decision on Sunday night to abandon the Kurds in northern Syria to Turkey offers an equally tragic example of the dangers of flying solo and unprepared.)

It’s too easy, however, to lay this on Trump alone. All of the men who stick out from the pack thus far in the Ukraine debacle didn’t simply choose their path because of Trump’s cult of personality. They joined the administration because they had a little bit of Trump inside them already and they saw Trump as a useful vehicle for some of their own ambitions.

Bill Taylor, a bit player in Trumplandia, is an inspiring counterpoint to the others who have intersected with Ukraine thus far. Like Mike Pompeo, he is a graduate of the US Military Academy at West Point. Pompeo noted during a campaign speech in early 2016 that American soldiers “don’t swear an allegiance” to individual presidents. Rather, he said, “they take an oath to defend our constitution”. Taylor chose to follow that credo, in the most basic and honourable of ways. Pompeo didn’t – and he, along with others on his team, can’t blame Trump for that.

• O’Brien is the executive editor of Bloomberg Opinion.

Bloomberg