In another time, in a different circumstance, there would perhaps be room to pity such a person.
The most revealing answer from Donald Trump’s interview with Fox News Channel’s Chris Wallace came in response not to the toughest question posed by Wallace, but to the easiest.
At the conclusion of the interview, Wallace asked Trump how he will regard his years as president.
“I think I was very unfairly treated,” Trump responded. “From before I even won, I was under investigation by a bunch of thieves, crooks. It was an illegal investigation.”
When Wallace interrupted, trying to get Trump to focus on the positive achievements of his presidency—“What about the good parts, sir?”—Trump brushed the question aside, responding, “Russia, Russia, Russia.” The president then complained about the Flynn investigation, the “Russia hoax,” the “Mueller scam,” and the recusal by his then–attorney general, Jeff Sessions. (“Now I feel good because he lost overwhelmingly in the great state of Alabama,” Trump said about the first senator to endorse him in the 2016 Republican primary.)
Donald Trump is a psychologically broken, embittered, and deeply unhappy man. He is so gripped by his grievances, such a prisoner of his resentments, that even the most benevolent question from an interviewer—what good parts of your presidency would you like to be remembered for?—triggered a gusher of discontent.
But the president still wasn’t done. “Here’s the bottom line,” he said. “I’ve been very unfairly treated, and I don’t say that as paranoid. I’ve been very—everybody says it. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens. But there was tremendous evidence right now as to how unfairly treated I was. President Obama and Biden spied on my campaign. It’s never happened in history. If it were the other way around, the people would be in jail for 50 years right now.”
Just in case his bitterness wasn’t coming through clearly enough, the president added this: “That would be Comey, that would be Brennan, that would be all of this—the two lovers, Strzok and Page, they would be in jail now for many, many years. They would be in jail; it would’ve started two years ago, and they’d be there for 50 years. The fact is, they illegally spied on my campaign. Let’s see what happens. Despite that, I did more than any president in history in the first three and a half years.”
With that, the interview ended.
Such a disposition in almost anyone else—a teacher, a tax accountant, a CEO, a cab driver, a reality-television star—would be unfortunate enough. After all, people who obsess about being wronged are just plain unpleasant to be around: perpetually ungrateful, short-tempered, self-absorbed, never at peace, never at rest.
But Donald Trump isn’t a teacher, a tax accountant, or (any longer) a reality-television star; he is, by virtue of the office he holds, in possession of unmatched power. The fact that he is devoid of any moral sensibilities or admirable human qualities—
- a desire for justice—
means he has no internal moral check; the question Is this the right thing to do? never enters his mind. As a result, he not only nurses his grievances; he acts on them. He lives to exact revenge, to watch his opponents suffer, to inflict pain on those who don’t bend before him. Even former war heroes who have died can’t escape his wrath.
So Donald Trump is a vindictive man who also happens to be commander in chief and head of the executive branch, which includes the Justice Department, and there is no one around the president who will stand up to him. He has surrounded himself with lapdogs.
But the problem doesn’t end there. In a single term, Trump has reshaped the Republican Party through and through, and his dispositional imprint on the GOP is as great as any in modern history, including Ronald Reagan’s.
I say that as a person who was deeply shaped by Reagan and his presidency. My first job in government was working for the Reagan administration, when I was in my 20s. The conservative movement in the 1980s, although hardly flawless, was intellectually serious and politically optimistic. And Reagan himself was a man of personal decency, grace, and class. While often the target of nasty attacks, he maintained a remarkably charitable view of his political adversaries. “Remember, we have no enemies, only opponents,” the former Indiana governor Mitch Daniels, who worked for Reagan, quotes him as admonishing his staff.
In his farewell address to the nation, Reagan offered an evocative description of America. “I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it,” he said. “But in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it, and see it still.”
A city tall and proud, its people living in harmony and peace, surrounded by walls with open doors; that was Ronald Reagan’s image of America, and Ronald Reagan’s Republican Party.
When Reagan died in 2004, the conservative columnist George Will wrote a moving tribute to his friend, saying of America’s 40th president, “He traveled far, had a grand time all the way, and his cheerfulness was contagious.” Reagan had a “talent for happiness,” according to Will. And he added this: “Reagan in his presidential role made vivid the values, particularly hopefulness and friendliness, that give cohesion and dynamism to this continental nation.”
There were certainly ugly elements on the American right during the Reagan presidency, and Reagan himself was not without flaws. But as president, he set the tone, and the tone was optimism, courtliness and elegance, joie de vivre.
He has since been replaced by the crudest and cruelest man ever to be president. But not just that. One senses in Donald Trump no joy, no delight, no laughter. All the emotions that drive him are negative. There is something repugnant about Trump, yes, but there is also something quite sad about the man. He is a damaged soul.
In another time, in a different circumstance, there would perhaps be room to pity such a person. But for now, it is best for the pity to wait. There are other things to which to attend. The American public faces one great and morally urgent task above all others between now and November: to do everything in its power to remove from the presidency a self-pitying man who is shattering the nation and doesn’t even care.
If Donald Trump leaves office before four years are up, history will likely show the middle weeks of May 2017 as the turning point.
.. If Trump has nothing to hide, he is certainly jumpy whenever the subject comes up and his evident worry about it has caused him to make some big mistakes.
.. Though younger and more composed, Kushner is a lot more like Trump than is generally understood.
- Both of them moved their father’s businesses from the New York periphery to Manhattan.
- Like his father-in-law, Kushner came to Washington knowing a lot about real estate deals but almost nothing about government.
- Both entered the campaign and the White House unfamiliar with the rules and laws and evidently disinclined to check them before acting.
.. Thus, Kushner has reinforced some of Trump’s critical weaknesses.
.. Kushner, who has a high self-regard, has taken on a preposterous list of assignments.
.. He was able somehow (likely through his own leaks) to gain a reputation—along with his wife, Ivanka Trump—as someone who could keep the president calm and prevent him from acting impulsively or unwisely.
.. Richard Nixon, who was a lot smarter than Trump is, similarly misread the way the public would react when he arranged for the firing of his special prosecutor, Archibald Cox
.. Mueller’s investigation is limited to considering criminal acts.
.. His purview doesn’t include determining whether Trump should be held to account for serious noncriminal misdeeds he or his associates may have committed with regard to his election
.. of the three articles of impeachment adopted by the Judiciary Committee against Richard Nixon in 1974, the most important was for “abuse of power.”
.. Unless a single act is itself sufficiently grave to warrant impeachment—for example, treason—a pattern of behavior needs to be found. That could involve, for example, emoluments or obstruction of justice... Many of what seemed disparate acts—well beyond the famous break-in in the Watergate complex and the cover-up—were carried out in order to assure Nixon’s reelection in 1972, and they amounted to the party in power interfering with the nominating process of the opposition party. That way lay fascism... By definition, impeachable offenses would appear to concern conduct only during a presidency. But a number of constitutional law scholars, including the Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe, who was dubious at first, believe that if a president or his associates working on his behalf acted corruptly and secretly to rig the election, then the preinaugural period should be included... Trump asked for Flynn’s resignation only on February 13, after stories about Yates’s warning appeared in the press—and then, two days after he fired him, the president called Flynn “a wonderful man.”.. weirdly, recently told aides that he’d like to have Flynn back in the White House... Flynn, in conversations with outgoing national security adviser Susan Rice during the transition, asked that the Obama administration hold off on its plan to arm Kurdish forces to help the effort to retake Raqqa, the ISIS capital in Syria. Since Flynn was a paid lobbyist for the Turkish government, which strongly opposed the plan, this action could possibly lead to a charge of treason... Flynn was leading the Russians to believe that they’d receive much better treatment under a President Trump and the Russians went along... A big question is whether Flynn discussed such important policy matters with the Russians without the knowledge of the president-elect... Trump tweeted: “Great move on delay (by V. Putin)—I always knew he was very smart!”.. Brennan testified he was worried that the Russians may even have recruited some Americans to cooperate with their effort to tilt the election... Intelligence analysts picked up conversations by Russians in which they bragged that they’d cultivated Flynn and Manafort and believed they would be useful for influencing Trump. (This doesn’t prove guilt on the part of either man.).. Laurence Tribe is gathering what he believes are impeachable offenses committed by Trump.2.. Tribe sees Trump flouting the constitutional ban on accepting “emoluments”—.. Trump’s firing of Comey for, as he ultimately admitted, “this Russia thing.”.. Trump’s saying to Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and to Ambassador Kislyak, of firing Comey: “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”.. There were also Trump’s efforts very early in the administration to get Comey to pledge “loyalty” to him.. In another form of pressure, Trump asked Comey when the FBI would announce that he wasn’t under investigation. Comey didn’t respond... Before it was revealed that Comey had taken notes of their conversations, Trump made a not-very-veiled threat that Comey “better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations.”.. Where are all the leaks coming from? Many Republicans want to make this the issue rather than what the leaks reveal, but the fact that they keep coming is a sign of the state of near collapse of the White House staff... It’s not an exaggeration to say that Trump has the most unhappy staff ever, with some feeling a higher duty to warn the public about what they see as a danger to the country... Trump is a nearly impossible person to work for:
- he screams at his staff when they tell him something he doesn’t want to hear;
- he screams at them as he watches television news for hours on end and sees stories about himself that he doesn’t like, which is most of them.
.. Leaks are also being made by the intelligence community, many of whom see Trump as a national menace.
.. McMaster has yet to recover his reputation from having emphatically refuted things the Post story didn’t say.
.. Trump’s reckless act is believed to have endangered the life of an Israeli intelligence asset who had been planted among ISIS forces, something extremely hard to pull off.
.. Rosenstein found himself in a meeting with Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions (who had supposedly recused himself from any dealings on the campaign and the Russia matter) and under pressure to write a memo expressing his own strong negative views of how Comey had handled Hillary Clinton’s e-mail case. The choices before Rosenstein were to write the report, knowing that Comey was going to be fired anyway, or refuse to and resign or be fired. Then what use could he be?
.. he spoke melodramatically of his anguish in having to decide between two choices: to “speak” or to “conceal.” But many observers believed that he had a third choice: quietly to get a warrant and check out some of the e-mails that had traveled from Clinton’s laptop to her close aide Huma Abedin’s to that of Abedin’s then-husband Anthony Weiner before reopening an investigation, much less announcing one and perhaps affect the outcome of the election.
.. Comey’s testimony also angered Democrats by wildly exaggerating the number of Clinton’s e-mails that had landed on Weiner’s laptop—“hundreds and thousands,” he said, when actually there had been just a handful.
.. Comey’s comment that the thought that his actions may have affected the election made him “mildly nauseous” enraged Trump.
.. Everyone who hewed to the White House line that the firing had been based on Rosenstein’s memo, including Pence, was now embarrassed and lost credibility with the press and the public.
.. the respected Cook Report anticipates substantial Republican losses in the House. Republicans are starting to panic.
..Their challenge is how to overcome the twin blights of
- Trump’s chaotic governing and
- his lack of achievements on Capitol Hill
.. unlike Nixon, he can also make use of social media, Fox News, and friendly talk shows to keep them loyal.
.. Trump is, for all his deep flaws, in some ways a cannier politician than Nixon; he knows how to lie to his people to keep them behind him.
.. The critical question is: When, or will, Trump’s voters realize that he isn’t delivering on his promises,
- that his health care and tax proposals will help the wealthy at their expense,
- that he isn’t producing the jobs he claims?
- His proposed budget would slash numerous domestic programs, such as food stamps, that his supporters have relied on heavily. (One wonders if he’s aware of this part of his constituency.)