“He’s a low-information voter who became president.”
-Jon Favreau, former Obama speech writer on Donald Trump
If you are still a Trump supporter, and the polls say there are still a lot of you out there, you must be getting your news from somewhere other than traditional news sources. But how silly of me to think otherwise, because of course you are. You’re getting your news from Hannity and his pals at Fox News, and from the neo-fascists at Breitbart, and from Rush and his sound-alikes, or maybe even from the blogs, Facebook posts, or tweets that just flat-out make up stuff and pass it off as news.
Those “alt-news” folks are the sources of the pro-Trump line that has continuously provided cover—by reporting “alternative facts,” by ignoring serious news stories, by accusing legitimate reporters of bias and dishonesty, and by vilifying Democrats for being obstructionists—for his gross incompetence and flagrant abuse of his presidential prerogatives. The rest of the Fourth Estate, what folks like me call the mainstream media, have been reporting the increasingly alarming tale of a man who is completely ill-suited for the presidency, both in terms of competence and temperament. The result, to this point, is an administration that is either on the verge of self-destruction, or is taking the country perilously close to an international crisis, or both.
But how could it have been otherwise? Is anyone who really paid attention to Donald J. Trump during his campaign at all surprised to see how little knowledge he has about the work of being president? Or of how little he cares to educate himself? Or of how easily he flies off the handle when he perceives someone to have slighted him? Or of how full of himself he truly is?
The man who is now the president of the United States is exactly the same man who ran for the office. Then he was a blowhard for whom the truth about anything was a trivial nuisance to be cast aside in favor of loudly proclaimed lies, mischaracterizations and ad hominem attacks. Now he is a buffoon who lies, mischaracterizes and engages in ad hominem attacks. The only significant difference between then and now is that then he was repulsively entertaining; now he is frighteningly embarrassing. He should be losing support, but he continues to be buoyed by those of you who cling to the hope you see in his populism, the faith you have in his image, the trust you have in his biography.
But many of us view that hope, faith and trust as woefully misguided, and we fervently wish you would see the man as he is and not as you have allowed yourselves to be convinced he is. He certainly continues to give you ample opportunities to change your perception. In fact, even as I was beginning to pen this essay—the one you are reading right now—yet another report about Trump’s incompetence was revealed. This one has him sharing highly classified intelligence with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador during that Oval Office meeting Trump had the day following his firing of James Comey as FBI director. News cycles reverberate so suddenly and continuously with Trump’s actions or statements or tweets that what seems shocking one day is quickly replaced in the national consciousness with an even more shocking action or statement or tweet the next. And, indeed, the day after the revelation about the classified intelligence breach was revealed, a memo by Comey was leaked that indicates Trump asked Comey to drop the FBI investigation in Michael Flynn. That one sounds like obstruction of justice and has some insiders whispering the “I” word.
The unveiling of Trump’s catastrophic presidency began on Monday last week when the former acting Attorney General Sally Yates testified that she had warned the White House (presidential counselor Don McGahn) that then National Security Advisor Flynn had lied to the administration about what he had said to the Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak a full 18 days before Trump fired him. That testimony raised once again the ongoing suspicion about possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian efforts to affect the presidential election.
The very next day, however, Trump buried that story when he fired Comey in the most unceremonious of ways (and with the most bizarre of letters, about which more in a moment), with his spokespersons claiming that the president had made that decision because of Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email story during the presidential campaign and upon the recommendation of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who had penned a three-page memo recommending Comey’s removal. That claim raised these questions: first, why had Trump applauded Comey at the time for re-opening the email investigation eleven days before the election?; second, if Trump truly believed Comey had acted improperly with respect to the email investigation, why did he wait three and a half months to can him?; and third, why had the firing come just a week after Comey had testified that the Russian investigation was continuing and that the evidence of Trump campaign collusion was part of that investigation?
But then just days after the firing and after Trump loyalists had parroted the line that the firing was due to Comey’s mishandling of the Clinton emails and was based on Rosenstein’s recommendation, Trump stepped all over that line by flatly stating in a national television interview (to NBC’s Lester Holt) that he had fired Comey because of the Russian-election-collusion investigation and that he had made up his mind to do so before he received the Rosenstein memo. And so he succeeded in making himself look even worse than he had just a few days earlier.
Trump’s termination letter to Comey opened with what appeared on the face of it to be a self-serving non-sequitur. Basically Trump began by thanking Comey for assuring Trump on three separate occasions that Trump was not under investigation for the Russian-election-tampering/campaign collusion. Most reactions to that line were like mine: a ridiculously obvious attempt to create a false narrative or, at least, a preposterous way to fire a person of Comey’s stature, since for Comey to have said anything relating to an ongoing investigation to the head of the campaign the agency was investigating would have been inappropriate at best and unethical at worst.
But it is just almost impossible to keep up with this man’s craziness, because while the news of the Holt interview was still being parsed by analysts and politicians (and I haven’t even mentioned the Trump tweet that may indicate Trump had recorded conversations with Comey proving that Comey assured him he wasn’t being investigated) the Washington Post reported that in his meeting with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador, Trump had revealed the highly sensitive classified information relating to ISIS activities. And then, the very next day, the New York Times reported that Trump had sought to have Comey drop the investigation into Flynn’s possible criminal conduct.
If you study the man’s actions (including his tweets and other blathered inanities), you can’t help but feel that he is psychologically challenged. Haven’t you known men like Trump? I’m talking about individuals who cannot allow anything ill to be suggested of themselves and who are always craving praise or at least attention that they can claim is praiseworthy. If you can picture the kind of men I’m describing, you probably are thinking that you’d rather not spend any time with them or be in their presence for very long because they are just plain insufferable.
That kind of person is marginally tolerable in a social setting, but do you want that kind of person leading the country? You might answer that many presidents have had that kind of ego, and you’re probably right. It takes something akin to a Trump-sized ego to even think of running for the presidency. But an unduly inflated ego is not the major problem with Trump. It’s there, and it has to be reckoned with, but if he were otherwise competent, if he just showed that he had the intellectual curiosity to learn what a president needs to know, if he would just surround himself with competent people, there would be hope for his presidency.
Let’s consider, with greater circumspection, the Russian election-tampering investigation. Almost without exception, the intelligence indicates the Russians tried to affect the presidential election. From the outset, Trump has pooh-poohed the idea, only very recently feebly acknowledging the intelligence consensus. But he has continuously opposed the investigation, claiming it is just the Democrats’ way of excusing their loss in the election. And with respect to the possibility of collusion in the Russians’ effort by his own campaign, he is adamant in opposing the suggestion of it, let alone an investigation into it. (And why the excessive efforts to protect Michael Flynn, now, if Comey’s account of the episode is accurate, to the point of appearing to obstruct justice and expose himself to possible impeachment? What does Russia have on the president? Or, if that isn’t the correct question, then why is the president so anxious to appear on good terms with the Russian government?)
As he admitted, unwittingly perhaps, in the Lester Holt interview, he fired Comey over his irritation with the former director’s ongoing insistence on investigating the claim. In fact, whether coincidentally or otherwise, Trump fired Comey only days after Comey requested more resources to support his agency’s investigation.
Now let’s think about this stance Trump has taken since both the first news of the Russian tampering and the claim of collusion by Trump’s campaign surfaced. Why, if he is absolutely certain the claim is bogus, has he been unalterably opposed to the investigation? If he knows his campaign had nothing to do with Russian tampering and hacking, why wouldn’t he want the investigation to proceed to clear himself and his campaign staffers from any hint of wrong-doing?
Let me ask it from a different vantage point: If you’re the president of the United States and your intelligence agencies are all telling you that the country’s electoral system was threatened by tampering efforts by a major international adversary, wouldn’t you want to know how far those efforts went? Wouldn’t you want to learn how such efforts could be thwarted in the future? Wouldn’t that kind of be part of your constitutional duties as the leader of the country’s democratic institutions?
Donald Trump has continuously had exactly the opposite attitude about the possibility of Russian tampering and hacking. But it doesn’t stop there. He has surrounded himself with aides who have had close dealings with Russia. In addition to Flynn, at least a half dozen other Trump confidants and staffers have also had contact, if not open dealings, with the Russian government. Here’s a list just off of the top of my head: Rex Tillerson (Secretary of State, who had close ties with Russia’s government while heading ExxonMobil); Paul Manafort (one-time campaign manager, who was involved with Putin forces in Ukraine), Jared Kushner (son-in-law and most trusted top aide, who met with Russia’s ambassador and a Russian bank executive during the transition), Carter Page (former foreign policy adviser, who spent three years in Russia advising energy companies), Roger Stone (long-time friend, associate and unofficial adviser, who doesn’t deny ties to Russia), Jeff Sessions (current Attorney General, who met with Russian officials during the campaign), and Erik Prince (Education Secretary DeVos’ brother, who met with a close associate of Vladimir Putin to open a line of communication to the Trump administration).
What is behind all of these associations and contacts with a major U.S. adversary? Perhaps they are all just coincidentally Russophiles who also happen to have Trump’s confidence. But even the appearances raise questions, and this president shows no inclination to address them. Instead, he refuses to acknowledge them. And so, instead of tamping out brush fires, he inflames them into full-blown infernos.
His approval ratings have dropped to the high-30s, never having been higher than the mid-40s. Does he not care? Does he not understand that political power comes from the people, and that if they are not in your corner, their elected representatives aren’t going to be either?
Trump has already started to run for a second term. He may still be a viable candidate in 2020 if he can hold onto his base by convincing his fellow “low-intelligence voters” that he is “making America great again.” But in the meantime, his incompetence and his temperament put his administration’s ability to accomplish anything, not to mention his country’s ability to sustain its cherished democratic traditions, at great risk.