The historian Michael Beschloss recently said, when it comes to the American presidency, “there are all the other presidents and then there’s Donald Trump.” The 45th president is in a category of his own and it is not one to which any president should aspire.
Even Trump’s supporters will often allow that while they “like his policies,” they do not appreciate his behavior. By now, we are so used to Trump’s outlandish, anti-social, and often cruel behavior, it has become the background noise of American life. Always there, like a ringing in our ears we decide we have to find a way to live with. But we don’t have to put up with it.
The investigation by the January 6th congressional committee has revealed Trump’s time in the White House — especially the final days — were much worse than even the worst case of tinnitus. For the first time we know of, we had a president who was more than willing to use the power he possessed in the final days of his term to throw out the results of the election that deposed him and cling to office. If he had succeeded, he would have accomplished what no other enemy — foreign or domestic — has been able to do in more than 200 years. He would have turned the nation that sees itself as a beacon of freedom and liberty for the world into a dictatorship.
“This is our 1776 moment,” some of the rioters cried out on January 6, 2021 as they stormed the U.S. Capitol, and we now understand they came very close to turning that date into their own July 4th.
The biggest question surrounding Trump’s ambition has always been; why? Why does he want the power, when he has no interest in the work, or how the power of the office can be used for the greater good? And why do millions of people choose to believe him and choose to believe he is on their side? It appears his main motivation is simply the desire to possess. There is a prize that he perceives everyone wants and he wants to claim it for himself and never let go. The presidency to Donald Trump is no different than a piece of real estate he wants to put his name on.
Throughout Trump’s political career(and by that I mean the last six years), the news media, mainstream politicians and other political observers, have looked to people in his orbit to rein him in and hold him on a path that seems closer to normal. Melania Trump it was hoped would play that role. Ivanka Trump. Her husband, Jared Kushner. Some of the mainstream Washington hands who agreed to join the administration in the misguided belief they could be the ones to make the difference. They all failed. In the case of Trump’s family members, it seems they never even tried.
I remember a high school history teacher telling my class the story of a king who captured the young son of his enemy. His troops asked for permission to execute the child, but the king said no. “Instead, put him in the best room in the palace and give him everything he wants. If he points to it, give it to him.”
As my teacher told the story, the king provided his enemy’s son with this special treatment for many years and on his eighteenth birthday he returned the captive son to his father. The boy, now a man, was so spoiled and had become so craven, cruel and unmanageable, his father was forced to execute him himself.
When I think of Donald Trump, abusing women, cheating in his real estate business, lying to his supporters, stealing their money, throwing temper tantrums and dishes in the White House, encouraging and taking part in violence himself, and attempting to break a Democracy he has never understood — I think of that captured prince and wonder about the environment that created a seventy-six year old rabid would-be dictator.
There are still people who have worked with Trump, who helped him win the 2016 campaign, who staffed his White House, who have found a way to make a living by propping him up in various ways and who try to anoint themselves as the adults in the room. Good people forced to do their best in support of a deeply flawed man who happened to be the most powerful leader in the world.
I do not buy that and I never have.
Before he ran for president the first time, Trump was a well known public figure. He had a reputation for breaking the rules, for being litigious, and for being dishonest in his business dealings and less than honorable in his personal and family life. His known public record was the reason behind the “never Trump” movement within the Republican Party. It should have been enough to disqualify him as a candidate for president, but we know it was not.
During the 2016 campaign, he further revealed himself as someone with little understanding of government, politics, world affairs, or America’s place in the world. This was another opportunity for the political class to intervene and do everything in its power to prevent a Trump presidency. But the political and media elite failed, and Trump won.
Then the even greater fiction began. The treatment of Trump as a president like any other. A president with an unusual personality and unorthodox views, but ultimately, a reasonable man who could be kept, by smart well-intentioned advisers, on a conventional path. There was never any possibility that would happen, because Trump is a fully formed and un-reformable spoiled prince.
One of Trump’s top allies in the 2020 campaign told the January 6th committee he was happy to be described as part of “team normal” inside Trump world, but there was never a team normal around Trump.
There have been many questions raised in recent months about why more people inside the Trump administration, knowing how bad it was and understanding how dangerous Trump is to Democracy; did not resign their positions and come forward to warn the public.
The place to stop Trump was not inside the White House, it was during the period of time before he got there. Let’s not give too much credit to those who only now are coming forward to claim they were standing up courageously inside the administration, on January 6th, or in the hours or days after the attack on the Capitol. To a person, they did too little too late.
Republicans were the first to fail to stop Trump when they stood to the side and let him manipulate the process to become the party’s nominee. Next to fail were those who agreed to go inside what was destined to be a bankrupt, corrupt administration, in the misguided belief — or worse under the influence of their own personal ambition — to give the patina of legitimacy to Trump.
Then there are those who defended Trump through two impeachment trials, who helped him try to win a second term despite the manifest evidence that he was unfit for office, and finally continued to humor his worst instincts after he lost the 2020 election. There are those who joined the administration in its first year, resigned or were fired, and then kept too quiet about what they knew, because staying quiet is perceived as the honorable thing to do under normal circumstances. But these were not normal circumstances.
There is no honor in choosing discretion over transparency when the fate of the country is at stake. There is no honor for those who stayed. There is no honor for those who agreed to take part in it all and now want to be seen as good people trying to do their best.
One of the lessons we are being told we should learn from Trump’s attempted coup is that democracy is fragile and that it requires our participation. This means standing up against candidates like Trump when they first take the stage. The time to stand on principle is when corruption first introduces itself, not after it takes hold.
No one with any sense of right and wrong should have helped Trump in his first campaign. No one with any knowledge of how government works should have joined his administration. No one should have defended him when he fully revealed the extent of his corruption. No one should have stayed until the end, or past the end, to provide him a defense he was not entitled to.
Everyone was offered a choice when Trump declared himself a candidate for president. On that very day the right choice was clear. Those who chose to help despite all the evidence made the wrong choice.
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