As your grandmother might have said, “A fool empties his head every time he opens his mouth.” Or, in the age of Twitter, the fool engages his tiny, upcurled thumbs and taps away. Our hobby president has been on a roll in that regard recently. One Friday earlier this month, Donald Trump thumbed out 59 tweets. And setting some sort of record for a man who claims to have a full-time job, he dispatched 33 in just 20 minutes. Since the beginning of the impeachment inquiry, he has been averaging more than 30 per day. You might well ask yourself, when does he get anything done?
Well, you know the answer. He doesn’t get anything done—anything constructive. Aside from calling for opponents to be impeached or locked up, making “perfect” calls to ask another leader’s help in an illegality, or raging at his beaten-down staff, he’s pretty much part-time at this stage. As this week’s deranged let’s-make-a-deal letter to Erdogan of Turkey and the meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi attest, even part-time may be too much. As Dana Milbank put it in The Washington Post, following the president’s infantile Pelosi meltdown, “Now the world is staring at us, mouth agape.” Indeed, in his “great and unmatched wisdom” Trump has really only made one major decision this month. And it may go down in history as one of the worst military blunders since Gallipoli. The pullout of American forces from Syria has not only unleashed the hounds of hell in the Middle East; it has abetted just about every enemy the West has in the region.
That appears to have been his decision, and his decision alone. The wiser heads in the White House, the Pentagon, and the intelligence services were ignored. On Trump’s more nefarious acts—the ones intended to line his pockets or give him a late checkout in the White House—he has an uncanny ability to get others to do the wet work. It’s a mystery why so many generally upstanding people show up at the White House only to get their heads turned to the point where they’re willing to do Trump’s dark bidding. Theirs is a quest for what? Proximity to power? Relevance? Résumé enhancement? Why a man like William Barr, who had an otherwise savory record, chose to throw his lot, not to mention his reputation, in with Trump is baffling. At this point, how desperate do you have to be to align yourself with him? The ones that do, cower, follow, and act out his orders. And what do they actually get in return? Ruined reputations, legal bills, and, in many cases, orange jumpsuits.
Of course there was a quid pro quo with regard to the Ukraine president. Trump has only one type of relationship, and that is transactional.
His modern-day Roy Cohn, Rudy Giuliani, who is now reportedly the subject of a number of investigations, had been spending an awful lot of time on television—too much for a man who purports to be the president’s attorney. The great irony that he is under investigation by the same office he once ran is delicious to his detractors—of which there are multitudes.
How desperate do you have to be to align yourself with him? What do the ones that do get in return? Ruined reputations, legal bills, and, in many cases, orange jumpsuits.
Back when he was the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, he made a big show of frog-marching the accused out of their offices in handcuffs. When his time comes and Giuliani is led toward his inevitable fate, there will be cheers from all corners of the country. The good news is that elaborate hair products are presumably verboten in federal prison, inasmuch as it appears that Giuliani has been busying himself with the same morning titivations as his main client, with regard to DIY hair coloring. Whereas the president varies between a carroty sienna and a lemony cadmium, Giuliani veers wildly between fiery aubergine and dark cordovan. He’s clearly new at this game. By comparison—and only in comparison to his lawyer—the president looks like he’s just stepped out of the coloring room at Frédéric Fekkai.
As with Barr and others, Trump has a devilish knack for bending people to his own twisted way of seeing the world. He turned his children into miniature versions of himself: entitled, clammy, grasping, and petulant. (Often all at the same time!) He turned any number of associates he has had over the decades into versions of himself as well. The contractors he stiffed with his “So sue me” attitude no doubt passed that down the line to their subcontractors. It’s Trump’s own version of “pay it forward.”
Has any president since Nixon had so many of those around him sent off to jail? If the bullet train of impeachment hearings is any indication, there will be more indictments and jail time for the people around the president. Few will mourn their fates.
Trump has also turned the Republican Party into a version of himself: craven, venal, and blind to the predations of its master. The Republican Party once stood for probity, economic stability, “family values,” seersucker suits, and I’ve forgotten what else at this point. Now it just stands for Trump.
And finally, the president has turned the United States into a version of himself: coarse, unreliable, cowardly, and a friend to no one—unless the situation suits the post-presidency ambitions of Trump’s licensing interests around the world. He is a man who could never leave a dollar on the table. In our trade negotiations with the Chinese and the Europeans, we are becoming that sort of partner as well. With the pullout of American involvement in Syria, Trump has, in that single rash decision, removed all faith in the trustworthiness of the United States. He is us, and whether we like it or not, we are now him. As your grandmother might have told you, “Lie down with dogs … ”