Trump redux

GAGE SKIDMORE/FLICKR PHOTO

GAGE SKIDMORE/FLICKR PHOTO

The first column I wrote about Donald Trump was in January 2016. At the time, he was seven months into his improbable run for President, and with the primary season about to begin, he was riding high with a solid lead in the public opinion polls over a crowded field of rivals for the Republican nomination.

As I wrote then, I was at a loss to understand the appeal of “the raucous and reckless whirligig” that defined his campaign. With his ethnic slurs against Latinos and Muslims, his outbursts of misogyny and other crass assaults on decency and dignity, Trump was breaking all the rules.

And yet, there he was, at the top of the heap, brimming with confidence.

Faced with a cornucopia of inviting options, I chose to focus that 2016 column on Trump’s chronic mendacity. For already by then, he had acquired a reputation as a serial liar, and I quoted a few of my favorite Trump whoppers.

The headline my editor came up with was “Pants on fire,” perfectly capturing the wise-guy tone of the piece. For in taking on The Donald at that time, I was more amused than alarmed, because I was convinced the Trump phenomenon was a mere distraction, a temporary aberration, and that once serious voting began in caucuses and primaries, his flight of fancy would soon flame out and come crashing down.

I failed to recognize that the Trump candidacy was still on the upswing and gaining so much strength that he would proceed, with almost casual ease, to obliterate his primary foes one by one. Nor did I anticipate that as the Republican nominee, he would go on to defeat Hillary Clinton who, by all the traditional standards of presidential politics, was clearly the more experienced and responsible candidate.

Moreover, Trump achieved these triumphs without cleaning up his act. From the opening bell of the Iowa caucus in February to the big night of reckoning in November, he continued to pollute the political landscape with his boorish and blustering attacks against opponents and others who dared to criticize him.

Finally, I naively assumed that once elected, Trump would at least make an effort to bring to the White House some of the decorum and dignity we associate with previous occupants, even those who, as presidents, were viewed as failures. But it was folly to think that this leopard would even consider changing his spots.

Since his inauguration, many of Trump’s tweets and other rants have been as gross and mean-spirited as any he unleashed during the campaign. And his lying has become so frequent and insistent that it borders on addiction.

One of the most malicious examples of his mendacity was the tweet he sent out last March, in which he charged that President Barack Obama had wire-tapped his phones during the recent election. He then thundered: “This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!” But Trump provided no evidence to back up that calumny for the simple reason that there wasn’t any.

At the time, James Comey was still director of the FBI, and when he heard about that accusation, he told colleagues that he considered Trump to be “outside the realm of normal” and, perhaps, even “crazy.” Not to be outdone, the president eventually came up with a caustic tit for tat. At a meeting with high-ranking Russian officials shortly after he fired Comey, Trump described the now-former FBI director as “a real nut job.”

I don’t know if Trump is “crazy” or not, but there’s no doubt in my mind that the chaos and internal strife he brought to the White House with his helter-skelter style of leadership is serious cause for anxiety. At the very least, the self-proclaimed master of branding has stamped himself and his presidency as a national embarrassment.

Throughout his campaign, Trump kept insisting that given his “amazing” skills as a deal-maker, he would be able to cut through the Gordian knot that has paralyzed Washington politics in recent years. But six months into his reign, he has made no significant strides toward achieving his oft-stated goal “to make America great again.” On the international scene, Trump’s most dramatic move was to pull out of the landmark Paris Agreement on climate change, a decision that alienated most of our allies. Even more striking has been his inability to deal effectively with Congress

Of all his campaign promises, the most urgent was his vow to repeal and replace Obamacare. But that legislation is now in such shambles that it stands out as the president’s most humiliating failure — at least so far.

Nor has there been any serious effort to make progress on his other high-priority campaign promises, such as tax reform and that wall on the Mexican border. Even though his fellow Republicans control both the House and the Senate, no major legislation has been passed by Congress since Trump became president.

A large part of the problem is “the Russian thing,” as folks at the White House angrily describe the investigations into possible collusion between Russian emissaries and members of the Trump campaign team to disrupt the 2016 U.S. election. According to various intelligence reports, the major goal of the covert conspiracy was to undermine the campaign of Hillary Clinton.

Ever since Trump was sworn in, that cloud of suspicion has hovered over the White House, and as it steadily grew larger and more menacing, the president became more and more infuriated. He was given a fresh and more personal reason to be upset earlier this month when his son, Donald Jr., and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, were drawn more clearly into the crosshairs of the probe. (Think of it as a Washington version of “All in the Family.”)

Kushner testified this week before Senate and House committees looking into “the Russian thing,” and Trump Jr. has also been summoned to Capitol Hill. Beyond that, both men are almost certain to face future and more rigorous interrogations by the office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller. So for their sake, I hope Jared and Junior have been have been warned to beware of the perjury trap.

I say that because in their public interviews and statements, they kept changing their versions when asked about their secret meetings with Russian contacts and other matters germane to the investigations. Or to put it more succinctly, they lied.

Like father, like son and son-in-law.

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