For the past 112 days–yes, I am counting the days: aren’t we all?–I’ve lived under the pretense that Donald Trump is my president. I didn’t vote for him, but James Comey elected him fair and square, and from Jan. 20 on, the point was settled. We don’t have to agree with the man to respect the presidency he represents.
Early on after that I heard my son say, “Not my president.” I rebuked him, saying we can disagree with Trump but not question his legitimacy, even if he’d spent several years before his victory questioning the legitimacy and religion of his predecessor, even if he’d wasted no time as president continuing to question the legitimacy of anything and anyone who disagreed with him–the press, the judiciary, union leaders, 175 million Muslims or so, Stephen Colbert, and so on.
"The question isn’t whether Trump will self-destruct but when, and what he will destroy along the way."
I spoke too soon. Trump made the last four months no less a horror show than he had his campaign. This past week we endured the vomitory of his worst impulses. The presidency hasn’t elevated him. It hasn’t inspired him or given us, as his apologists assured us, a team of professionals to blunt his more dangerous convulsions. It has amplified them, along with his and their incompetence. It isn’t the rest of us who are de-legitimizing his presidency. It’s him. Every day, sometimes every hour, thanks to his finger on his nuclear Twitter. He’s exploiting the presidency rather than fulfilling it, and exploiting it as if it were still his corner office in Trump Tower from where he could vilify, fire, humiliate and throw tantrums without damaging more than his circle-jerk of sycophants. Now he’s doing it at the cost of the presidency and what’s left of the nation’s reputation, and more critically, its security, and therefore yours and mine.
Any rookie cop analyzing Trump’s evasiveness would conclude that he’s nose-deep in suspicious behavior. Any first-year psychology student would conclude from brief observation that Trump is a psychopathic personality, what Kurt Vonnegut once defined as “the medical term for smart, personable people who have no consciences.” I’m not so sure about smart and personable. But the black hole of conscience was self-evident well before his recent 180-embrace of Trumpcare and its betrayal of millions of Americans with pre-existing conditions, or the poor, or 24 million more uninsured, if he has his way.
And with Trump’s stunning tangos with Russia and the mass-murdering leaders of Syria and the Philippines and now North Korea, Trump’s own allegiance is in question. Why should he take mine for granted? It was enough to see him welcoming Henry Kissinger and the Russian foreign minister on the same day, immediately after his Nixonian firing of the man responsible for the investigation into potential Russian collusion with the Trump campaign, to be reminded of the sadistic pleasure Trump takes in taunting his critics by toadying to the very emblems of his corruption. The only thing missing from that tableau was the backdrop of one of those ghastly Trump properties.
Analysts’ recurring echo for this week has been the Saturday Night Massacre during Nixon’s waning days as president, when he fired Archibald Cox, the special prosecutor investigating Watergate, causing the attorney general and his deputy immediately to resign in protest. The comparison is apt in some regards, not so much in others. Not so much, because not a single member of the executive branch anywhere has resigned in the wake of Comey’s firing. Not a single Republican in Congress is mirroring the seriousness of a Howard Baker or even Barry Goldwater, the Republican Senate leaders, and John Rhodes, the House minority leader, also a Republican, who became Nixon’s biggest critics over Watergate by placing nation above party and telling Nixon to stand down.
"These are dangerous times when a president is out of control, and with no one there to stop him, the hapless Mike Pence included."
We’re nowhere near that. To the contrary. We are witnessing something more like a Jim Jones hysteria among Republicans, if you remember the nut case who dragged 900 of his cultish followers into mass murder-suicide by Kool-Aid in 1978. So far, Republicans are drunk on Kool-Aid, thinking themselves immune from political cyanide. The immunity is another one of their illusions, at a price. These are dangerous times when a president is out of control, and with no one there to stop him, the hapless Mike Pence included. We’re there. We’ve been there before.
Nixon was drunk, isolated, railing, delusional to the point of begging Kissinger to kneel and pray with him as the investigation was closing in. Kissinger had once told a White House aid that the president couldn’t take a call from the British prime minister because “when I talked to the president he was loaded.” It was the fifth night of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, which had the United States and the Soviet Union on the brink of nuclear war, and a day after his vice president, Spiro Agnew, had resigned. The megalomaniacal Kissinger was essentially the president at that point. Ironically, it was right about then that Nixon’s tax-dodging was revealed, and that he uttered one of his famous lies: “I am not a crook.” It had taken six years, or really 22 years, if we date back the undoing to his slush-fund Checkers speech in 1952.
It’s still only four months into Trump’s tenure. Give him a chance, we kept hearing. We unfortunately did. Nothing is going to change. The embarrassments, the catastrophes, the scandals will pile up, assuming he doesn’t drive an international crisis out of control. It’s not worth waiting for the next half dozen calamities to make a move. Congress and the courts surely will. It’ll be too late. The question isn’t whether he will self-destruct but when, and what he will destroy along the way. At this rate it’s impossible to see him finishing his term. If he does, the presidency as we’ve known it will be unrecognizable. We are witnessing “the unfolding ethical and constitutional disaster that is the Trump administration,” in the words of Andrew Rosenthal, the former editorial page editor of The New York Times.
When Trump begins barricading himself at Mar-a-Lago, the way Nixon barricaded himself at La Casa Pacifica, his home in San Clemente, Calif., we’ll know the end is near. The obsessive weekend escapes to Mar-a-Lago were the first sightings of barricades. The threat to cancel all press briefings at the White House are another, more serious one. His paranoia has always been psychopathic. Threatening Comey Friday over leaking “tapes” may have been more of Trump being Trump. But we’re no longer talking about pussy-grabbing here. Trump still thinks he can adapt the White House to the puddles and piddle of his locker room. So far, no one is telling him no.
"The only thing enabling Trump to still appear as if he were someone to be taken seriously isn’t, god knows, what he does or what he says, but where he says it from."
The only thing enabling Trump to still appear as if he were someone to be taken seriously isn’t, god knows, what he does or what he says, but where he says it from. The only legitimacy he has left is his office. But when a president starts acting more like the head of a junta than the leader of a democracy, as he has with the Comey firing, as he does with his contempt for any fact, any law, any pledge, any person he finds inconvenient, as he continues to do with his refusal to be transparent about his own and his family’s shady business affairs, there’s no president to call one’s own anymore. Trump’s allegiance is to Trump. The presidency is one more means to that end. He is demolishing the institution as if it were any old corner lot in Queens he needs to bulldoze to make room for the next garish monument to himself.
My decision to no longer consider Trump my president has nothing to do with those “sovereign citizen”-like attempts to scam one’s way out of civic responsibility. It’s not even civil disobedience in the defensible Thoreauean model. If anything I believe more than ever in the rule of law, paying taxes, respecting the nation’s governing institutions and its cops, from the lowest officer on a neighborhood beat to the nation’s top cop. Basically, I respect all those things Trump, who’s making as much a conservative of me as I’ll ever be, does not. By renouncing my allegiance to him, I’m merely restating my allegiance to everything he offends, everything he is corroding and ransacking. So if one’s allegiance is to this country, as it very much is mine, then by definition it cannot be to its chief vandal.
Mr. Trump, you are no longer my president.