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As the Trump presidential circus lurches uncontrollably through the latest crisis, I have a few thoughts on where things stand now:
1. If the Trump presidency eventually crashes and burns, it won’t be because of some shadowy conspiracy of deep state communist jihadis or whatever, but because of his own hubris, incompetence, and unwillingness to learn from his mistakes. I have no doubt that there are elements of the permanent bureaucracy that are all too happy to leak damaging information about Trump. Moreover, clearly the media is not about to cut Trump the same breaks that they would (and did) give to Obama or Clinton. But none of that would matter if Trump didn’t spend every other morning shooting himself in the foot. Yes, Trump has enemies. And, he is all too willing to hand them additional ammunition.
2. On the larger charges, I very much doubt that Trump was directly and personally involved in colluding with the Russians. Yes, the Russians clearly preferred Trump to Hillary, and also wanted to sow distrust with American democracy in general. But they didn’t really need to coordinate with the Trump campaign. After all, Hillary was doing a fine job with her own version of Trumpian self-immolation. And, as he has shown as president, Donald Trump doesn’t have the attention to detail or strategic aptitude to coordinate a conspiracy with the Russians. He’s just not that “hands on.”
3. That doesn’t mean there is no “there” there. Almost certainly some lower level aides like Roger Stone, Carter Page, and Paul Manafort had some type of contacts with the Russians. Whatever they did was probably pretty minor in terms of “collusion” – with the exception of Manafort, they really didn’t have enough influence or authority to collude – but we will have to see where this all leads. And, former national security advisor Michael Flynn is an especially sleazy special case. If there is any criminal culpability in all this, it looks like Flynn is most in jeopardy. And it looks like a fair amount of what he is accused of was about his personal enrichment, not election meddling.
4. As usual in Washington, the cover-up is worse than the crime. Trump’s bumbling attempts to stop the various investigations may or may not reach the level of obstruction of justice – which legally is both vague and hard to prove – is at the very least unseemly and does serious damage both to his presidency and to American institutions. I have no particular affection for James Comey, who was indeed something of a showboat, and whose Hamlet act on both the Clinton and Trump investigations was wearing thin, but you simply don’t fire the man leading an investigation that may implicate you. And when you do, you don’t lie about your reasons.
5. Trump’s behavior seems to be driven by two things. First, ego and resentment. Trump’s opponents continue to insist that he is not a legitimate president, that somehow Russia-Trump collusion “stole” the election from Hillary Clinton. This is just silly. Clinton lost because she was an abysmal candidate who had no vision for the future of America beyond vague left-wing sloganeering. She ran for president because “it was her turn.” It turns out it wasn’t. But every time Trump’s critics attack his legitimacy, he becomes more determined to prove that there was no Russian involvement, that he won fair and square. After all, this is a guy who keeps a map of the county by county vote results on the Oval office wall.
6. More troubling in the bigger picture, Trump still doesn’t understand the presidency isn’t like being king – or being on a reality television show. He thought he would win the election, give a few orders, things – “great things” – would happen, and he would bask in the applause of an adoring public. Now he continues to find out that governing is “hard.” He refuses to do his homework, or to try to learn how government works. Aides report that they have to slip Trump’s name into every third or fourth paragraph of his national security briefings, because it’s the only way he will keep reading. He still doesn’t understand that you can’t just fire anyone who displeases you, demand that Congress act a certain way, or deliver an applause line even if what you say is untrue.
7. By the way, for Trump supporters, enough of the “whataboutism” arguments. I agree that Hillary and Obama did all sorts of terrible things. But so what? Trump is president now, not either of them. It is his conduct that counts now. How does Hillary’s server, for instance, justify anything that Trump has done? If what Trump did is wrong or stupid or both, it is wrong or stupid or both, no matter how many wrong and stupid things Hillary, or Obama, or Andrew Jackson, for that matter, did.
8. For Trump opponents, please take a deep breath and calm down. We are a long, long way from impeachment. We are not experiencing a constitutional crisis. This is not Watergate. We may yet find out that crimes were committed – or not. So far, the checks and balances in our system are working just fine. And, the more you hyperventilate, the more Trump’s supporters – around 40 percent of the country according to recent polls – circle the wagons. Also, please note that “I really hate him” is not an impeachable offense.
9. Finally, the appointment of a special counsel could actually be good thing for Trump’s agenda. This could end the daily drip, drip, drip of new revelations, and allow the White House to change the subject back to their agenda. We still need an Obamacare replacement, tax reform, deregulation, and so on. Trump could start talking or tweeting about these things, and simply deflect other questions by pointing to the ongoing investigation. Of course that would require a certain amount of self-discipline – oh hell, what am I talking about.
There are times when simple moral decency requires one to rise above politics.
When Donald Trump implied that all Mexicans immigrants were rapists, Republicans rationalized that Hillary Clinton was worse.
When Trump made misogynistic comments about women, Republicans soothed themselves with the possibility that he might make good Supreme Court appointments.
When he threatened to ban an entire religion from this country, Republicans talked about the failures of Barack Obama.
When Trump re-tweeted racist nonsense about black crime, Republicans talked about party unity.
As trump welcomed the Alt-Right and openly avowed racists and anti-Semites into the ranks of his campaign, Republicans endorsed him.
But Trump’s recent attacks on a federal judge for the offense of being “a Mexican” is as morally offensive as any action by a presidential candidate in modern history. Set aside the fact that Gonzalo Curiel, was born in Indiana, and is as American as you or me. Set aside the fact that Judge Curiel is a courageous man who was actually forced into hiding after taking on the Mexican drug cartels. Set aside, even, the impropriety of a presidential candidate trying to intimidate a judge in a case where he is a litigant.
Set aside all that. Trump’s attack on Judge Curiel is plain and simply racist. The idea that Americans are defined by the ancestry and that people of certain ethnicity cannot be trusted to do their jobs, is the very heart of racism. It is wrong. More than wrong, it is morally repugnant.
So to my Republican friends, I say this is no longer about whether Trump might be slightly better than Hillary on this issue or that one. We would not have said, “well, David Duke had great views on the Second Amendment,” “I like George Wallace’s tax policy,” or “The Klan has a point about quotas.”
This is now about conscience. To continue to support Donald Trump is to acquiesce in the darkest impulses of mankind and stains the American soul. It is not about politics, it is about right and wrong.
I have known Paul Ryan since he was a legislative staffer. I know he is a fundamentally good and decent man. But in continuing to support Trump, he diminishes himself. The same is true for all those other Republicans, from Marco Rubio to John McCain to Bob Corker, who have sold their moral credibility for the sake of party unity or some other temporary political gain. It must stop.
When, someday in the future, your children or grandchildren ask you where you stood today, how will you answer them?