The greatest immediate threat to American democracy isn’t Russian intervention in our elections. It’s Donald Trump. So if you’re searching for a term to express the dangers posed by Trump’s presidency, don’t invoke “Russiagate.” Think instead of “Trumpgate.”
Although I am not the first to use the Trumpgate label, the tag has not yet gained wide currency. But rest assured, if the recent past is any prologue to the future, it will.
So let’s begin by defining Trumpgate as the ever-expanding cluster of scandals, ethical infractions, and criminal conduct that Trump has triggered, abetted, and committed since the earliest days of the campaign, coupled with the President’s very real and severe personal pathologies.
This is not to minimize the importance of the investigation conducted by Justice Department special counsel Robert S. Mueller III into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. The Mueller probe is vital, but it’s only part of a much bigger picture.
The Mueller probe is vital, but it’s only part of a much bigger picture.
To-date, Mueller and his team have secured convictions of seven individuals of federal crimes, ranging from lying to the FBI to tax evasion and bank fraud. Among those adjudicated guilty, by plea or trial, are Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, and Michael Flynn, his first director of National Security.
Mueller also has filed two lengthy and detailed indictments against twenty-five Russians and three Russian companies, charging them with conspiracies to defraud the United States during the 2016 election. They are accused of manipulating social media and hacking into the computers of the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Congressional Committee, and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
In addition, Mueller is investigating Trump for obstruction of justice. That aspect of the inquiry includes the May 2017 firing of former FBI Director James Comey; Trump’s attempt in July 2017 to rewrite Donald Jr.’s false account of the Manhattan meeting with a Kremlin-connected lawyer in June 2016, and the ongoing threats to fire both Mueller and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
But Mueller’s greatest success may be the guilty plea the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York has obtained from Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime consigliere and personal fixer, in a case that Mueller referred to that office. On August 21, Cohen admitted to committing two campaign finance felonies related to hush money payments to Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels in the fall of 2016. As Cohen stated in open court, the hush money was doled out “in coordination with and at the direction of” Trump, in an attempt to influence the election. In effect, Cohen’s plea rendered the president an unindicted co-conspirator, à la Richard Nixon circa 1974.
Russiagate and its related spinoffs are and will continue to be core components of Trumpgate. But there is more, so much more, to the totality of Trumpgate.
Heading into the midterms, Trump faces renewed calls for his impeachment and removal. While current Justice Department policy precludes prosecuting a sitting President, impeachment is not limited to indictable offenses. As Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist Paper 65, impeachment extends to serious violations of “the public trust.”
In November 2017, Congressman Steve Cohen, Democrat of Tennessee, and five other House Democrats introduced articles of impeachment against Trump. These cite him not only for obstruction of justice in connection with the Russia probe, but also for violating the foreign and domestic emoluments clauses of the Constitution by using his office for personal financial gain, and for his attacks on the judiciary, the media, and the rule of law.
RootsAction.org regularly updates an even more comprehensive catalogue of potentially impeachable offenses on its website. The initiative accuses Trump of such additional misconduct and corruption as inciting violence at his campaign rallies, illegally threatening to wage nuclear war against North Korea, targeting Muslims for discrimination, promoting violations of voting rights, abusing the pardon power, and using Gestapo-like tactics along the U.S.-Mexican border to separate asylum-seeking immigrant children from their parents.
But arguably the most critical component of Trumpgate is a factor that unites and propels the seemingly endless acts of malfeasance—the President’s deteriorating mental state.
Arguably the most critical component of Trumpgate is the President’s deteriorating mental state.
On September 5, The New York Times published an op-ed written anonymously by a senior Trump administration official, entitled, “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration.” In it, the author claims: “The root of the problem is the president’s amorality. Anyone who works with him knows he is not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making.”
The anonymous official also asserts that “there were early whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment, which would start a complex process for removing the President.”
Other writers have explored similar themes. In his new book, Fear, Bob Woodward, the celebrated investigative journalist of Watergate fame, depicts what he calls a “nervous breakdown” of Trump’s presidency.
Trump’s personal psychopathology is explored in depth in The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, published in 2017 as a collection of essays penned by Tony Schwartz (the co-author of Trump’s best-selling Art of the Deal), along with Dr. Bandy X. Lee, a faculty member of the Yale School of Medicine’s Law and Psychiatry Division, and several other nationally recognized mental-health experts. Among the insights Lee and her colleagues offer is that Trump’s behavior suggests he suffers from a malignant form of narcissistic personality disorder.
There are untold numbers of malignant narcissists in America and throughout the world. But only one has at his fingertips the codes that could ignite a nuclear holocaust.
There is little likelihood that Trump will submit to a comprehensive mental-health examination, much less therapy, or that he will follow in Nixon’s footsteps and resign. That’s what makes “Trumpgate” the overarching scandal of the present era. It’s time to start using the term to help bring down our dangerous President before he destroys the last vestiges of our democracy.