Donald Trump’s Response to John McCain’s Death Reminds Us Just How Petty He Is

the enmity between the two men was long-standing and bitter. After the Helsinki summit, earlier this year, McCain called Trump’s joint press conference with Vladimir Putin “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American President in memory.” If, after all this acrimony, Trump had said something positive about McCain, it would have rung hollow.

But messing with the flag that flies above the White House was different. The flag represents the United States and the office of the Presidency, not Trump personally. After the death of a prominent U.S. politician, such as a former President or prominent senator, it is standard practice for the sitting President to issue a proclamation ordering the flag to be lowered to half-staff until the burial, which, in this case, will be next Sunday.

Whatever one thinks of McCain’s political views, his record—five and a half years in a Vietnamese prisoner-of-war camp, thirty-one years in the Senate, and two Presidential bids—surely merited such an honor. As Mark Knoller, of CBS News, noted on Monday morning, Trump failed to order the proclamation. Evidently, there is no limit to his smallness.

The outcry was immediate and broad-based, and, in this instance, Trump backed down.

.. Who persuaded Trump to change course? Was there a rebellion in the West Wing? The initial reports about the reversal didn’t say. But it was clear that the last thing the White House needs right now is another public-relations disaster. Although McCain’s death knocked the saga of Michael Cohen’s guilty plea off the front pages, at least temporarily, the past week was a disaster for the White House, and a reminder that Trump’s pettiness is only exceeded by his deceitfulness. Is there anybody in the entire country who now believes anything he says about the payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal that Cohen helped orchestrate?

.. For habitual liars, telling untruths is “partly practice and partly habit,” William Hazlitt once wrote. “It requires an effort in them to speak truth.” Trump seldom makes the exertion.

.. Some of Trump’s defenders are complaining that the Feds, having failed to nail the President on the charge of conspiring with Russia to influence the 2016 election, are now “trying to Al Capone the President”—that is, get him on a technicality. Others in the Trump camp are falling back on the legal argument that a sitting President can’t be indicted, or that Hillary Clinton’s campaign also violated campaign laws. But, apart from Trump himself, virtually nobody seems to be claiming that he didn’t direct the payoffs.

.. Here’s a quick reminder of the rap sheet. Turning a blind eye to money laundering at his New Jersey casinos. Operating a bogus university that bilked middle-income seniors out of their retirement savings. Stiffing his suppliers as a matter of course. Selling condos to Russians and other rich foreigners who may well have been looking to launder hot money. Entering franchising deals with Eastern European oligarchs and other shady characters. For decades, Trump has run roughshod over laws and regulations.

To protect himself from whistle-blowers, financial cops, and plaintiffs, Trump relied on nondisclosure agreements, lax enforcement, and his reputation for uncompromising litigiousness.

You can tell who Trump is through the company he keeps

what the trial reveals is something very damning, in the ethical if not legal sense: namely, what kind of people Trump surrounds himself with.

There was no secret about Manafort’s record as an influence-peddler on behalf of corrupt dictators and oligarchs when he went to work for Trump. On April 13, 2016, Bloomberg columnist Eli Lake wrote a prescient article headlined: “Trump Just Hired His Next Scandal.” Trump couldn’t have cared less. His whole career, he has surrounded himself with sleazy characters such as the Russian-born mob associate Felix Sater, who served prison time for assault and later pleaded guilty to federal fraud charges, as well as lawyer-cum-fixer Michael Cohen, who is reportedly under investigation for a variety of possible crimes, including tax fraud.

.. These are the kind of people Trump feels comfortable around, because this is the kind of person Trump is. He is, after all, the guy who paid $25 million to settle fraud charges against him from students of Trump University. The guy who arranged for payoffs to a Playboy playmate and a porn star with whom he had affairs. The guy who lies an average of 7.6 times a day.

.. And because everyone knows what kind of person Trump is, he attracts kindred souls. Manafort and Gates are only Exhibits A and B. There is also Exhibit C: Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), the first member of Congress to endorse Trump, is facing federal charges of conspiracy, wire fraud and false statements as part of an alleged insider-trading scheme. Exhibit D is Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who has been accused by Forbes magazine, hardly an anti-Trump rag, of bilking business associates out of $120 million.

.. In fairness, not all of Trump’s associates are grifters. Some are simply wealthy dilettantes like Trump himself

.. Among the affluent and unqualified appointees Trump has set loose on the world are his son-in-law Jared Kushner and his former lawyer, Jason Greenblatt, who are somehow supposed to solve an Israeli-Palestinian dispute that has frustrated seasoned diplomats for decades. No surprise: Their vaunted peace plan remains MIA.

.. ProPublica has a mind-boggling scoop about another group of dilettantes — a Palm Beach doctor, an entertainment mogul, and a lawyer — whom Trump tasked as an informal board of directors to oversee the Department of Veterans Affairs. None has any experience in the U.S. military or government; their chief qualification was that they are all members of Trump’s golf club, Mar-a-Lago. 

.. Beyond the swindlers and dilettantes, there is a third group of people who have no business working for Trump or any other president: the fanatics. The most prominent of the extremists was Stephen K. Bannon, the notorious “alt-right” leader who was chief executive of Trump’s campaign and a senior White House aide. He may be gone, but others remain. They include Peter Navarro, who may well be the only economist in the world who thinks trade wars are a good thing; Stephen Miller, the nativist who was behind plans to lock immigrant children in cages and bar Muslims from entering the United States, and who is now plotting to reduce legal immigration; and Fred Fleitz, the Islamophobic chief of staff of the National Security Council. They feel at home in the White House because, aside from being a grifter and a dilettante, Trump is also an extremist with a long history of racist, sexist, nativist, protectionist and isolationist utterances

The Great Distractor

Donald Trump’s ‘look over there’ media strategy is a trap that keeps Democrats from focusing public attention on his bad policies.

We didn’t hear much about the administration’s secret plan to bypass Congress (and common sense) to give a giant tax break to Wall Street investors, a possible violation of the constitution and a betrayal of the president’s promises to stand up for the little guy. It’s the result of what I call the “Trump Trap.”

  • He pledged to clean up the D.C. swamp, but he made it swampier.
  • He said he would make health insurance better, but he actually asked a judge to strip it away from people with serious diseases like cancer and diabetes.
  • His tax cuts ballooned C.E.O. salaries and stock buybacks, but real wages are still frozen

.. But you wouldn’t know it from watching the news. That’s because his unnecessary insults and controversies create a constellation of outrages that deflect accountability for his actions.

.. A person you probably don’t remember is Cheryl Lankford, who also spoke at the convention. She lost her husband, Army Command Sgt. Maj. Jonathan Lankford, to a heart attack while he was serving in Iraq. Left alone to raise their son, Ms. Lankford used her survivor benefits to enroll in Trump University, hoping Mr. Trump’s advice could jump start her career. After paying more than $30,000 in tuition, she got no training. Like so many Americans, she thought Mr. Trump could improve her economic future, but he swindled her and thousands of others. Now the swindle is happening on an epic scale.

.. we tried to get out of the way of the negative coverage of Mr. Trump and his outrageous comments about Mr. Khan.

But the result was that people heard his message, not ours. So much so that after the election, some people thought Mrs. Clinton never talked about people’s economic lives. But she did. It just went into the black hole of the Trump Trap.

.. Mr. Trump never attacked Cheryl Lankford or the other people suing Trump University. Instead, he disparaged the Latino judge in the case, so we spent a week talking about how racist he is, not about how he had cheated working people.

.. Mr. Trump will say and do things that demand a response from anyone who values decency and morality. The result is that he decides what gets attention — and he’s not held accountable.

.. Third, we Democrats have to pick fights that highlight Mr. Trump’s malfeasance. When the president seeks to take away health insurance from seniors or people with cancer, we can’t let that go unnoticed.

.. Candidates: Beware the Trump Trap. The president has promised to spend a majority of his time campaigning this fall. He will call you names. He will come at you with outrage after outrage. It will be very tempting to wear this as a badge of honor to reap the rewards of social media attention and campaign donations. You will think he is drowning in backlash. But

Candidates: Beware the Trump Trap. The president has promised to spend a majority of his time campaigning this fall. He will call you names. He will come at you with outrage after outrage. It will be very tempting to wear this as a badge of honor to reap the rewards of social media attention and campaign donations. You will think he is drowning in backlash. But he will really just be making the debate about anything other than his own failings or the lives of the voters you wish to represent. Your vision and motivations will be obscured and vulnerable to subterfuge.

Before you give Mr. Trump more rope, make sure the debate is on your terms, not his.

‘The President Speaks for Himself’

To most people with any awareness of Arizona politics, Mr. Arpaio is an abomination to the rule of law, the principle of equal justice and plain decency.

.. abusing and humiliating them, refusing to stop even after a federal judge told him to, and arresting journalists for reporting on it all.

.. Yet to President Trump, Mr. Arpaio is a role model: a man for whom the “rule of law” means that he can do what he wants when he wants, who humiliates those weaker than him and mocks those who try to constrain him, who evades scrutiny and accountability — in short, a perfect little tyrant.

.. The Arpaio pardon is not only morally reprehensible on its own, it is also in line with Mr. Trump’s broader attitude toward law enforcement. Consider his affection for the Milwaukee County sheriff, David Clarke, an Arpaio in waiting who has called activists in the Black Lives Matter movement “terrorists” and who runs a county jail where inmates have a tendency to die under suspicious circumstances.

.. During the presidential campaign,

  • Mr. Trump endorsed the use of torture on terrorism suspects,
  • encouraged supporters at his rallies to assault protesters and
  • made racially tinged comments about a judge overseeing a case involving Trump University.

In his seven months as president, Mr. Trump has

  • attacked federal judges who ruled against the administration’s travel ban;
  • tried to impede investigations into his allies, including Mr. Arpaio;
  • and exhorted police officers to treat suspects roughly — which earned a quick rebuke from his own Justice Department and police officials around the country.

But this is Donald Trump’s rule of law — a display of personal dominance disconnected from concerns about law and order, equality or the Constitution.