President Trump in three very different settings over the past few days reminded us how unsuited he is for the job. Increasingly, his presidency is defined by blatant lies, an empathy deficit and a frightful lack of ability to navigate through dire international crises. Each has been on display.
In the lies department, none quite measured up to his accusation that former President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower. All but cloddish sycophants like Sean Hannity knew this was preposterous. On Friday evening (when else?) the Justice Department acknowledged in a court filing that there are no records “related to wiretaps as described by the March 4, 2017 tweets.” Presumably, some taxpayer money and government personnel were diverted to track this down, which in and of itself is reprehensible.
In this case, Trump’s actions are unforgivable. Trump’s crude effort to throw the country and investigators off the trail in the Russia scandal (like his lie about tapes of conversations with James B. Comey) is indicative of a man for whom facts are fungible and no lie is too ridiculous to deploy to protect himself. He’s bluffed and blustered his way through decades of real-estate dealings where he was virtually never held to account. Now, lies upon lies (more than 1,000 in seven months) have piled up, rendering his utterances automatically suspect, at least for the more than 60 percent of voters who keep telling pollsters he is not honest. His lies now entail adverse political consequences and legal peril, both of which increase by the day.
Then we are reminded that Trump does not think and act like normal humans. He grins and mugs his way through a do-over visit to Texas to visit victims of Harvey. Soon things take a bizarre self-congratulatory tone. “It’s been very nice. It’s been a wonderful thing. As tough as this was, it’s been a wonderful thing,” Trump said. “I think even for the country to watch and for the world to watch. It’s been beautiful.” The word he was looking for, perhaps, is “heart-breaking.”
In the midst of a tragedy — in which the media behaved in exemplary fashion — he finds it necessary to denigrate reporters. (“Think of it, almost 11,000 people by going into winds that the media would not go into,” Trump said. “They will not go into those winds, unless it’s a really good story.”) The language of empathy is foreign to him. His unhinged narcissism deprives him of the ability to convey warmth or genuine emotion. (He is either furious or gleeful, the former when he feels victimized and the latter when he feels vindicated.) He remains the most tone-deaf modern president.
And most worrisome, we see in his reaction to North Korea’s possible hydrogen bomb test his inability to maintain for more than one scripted remark a serious, sober tone that inspires confidence among our allies. The Post reports:
In a pair of tweets issued Sunday morning, Trump wrote: “North Korea has conducted a major Nuclear Test. … North Korea is a rogue nation which has become a great threat and embarrassment to China, which is trying to help but with little success.”
Trump also delivered an admonishment of sorts to South Korea, saying that “appeasement with North Korea will not work” and suggesting that more severe steps must be taken to influence Kim’s regime.
In addition to threatening to pull out of a trade deal with South Korea (now of all times?), Trump seems unable to show solidarity with friends or avoid feeding the cycle of warnings and threats. His over-the-top public rhetoric does not intimidate Kim Jong Un; it appears to provoke him. Making empty, vague threats only diminishes America’s credibility and leads our allies to fret as to whether he’s so unstable and undisciplined that it will lead to a confrontation that does not stop with angry words.
One is left, still, agog at Trump’s dishonesty, narcissism and inability to project the calmness and discipline we expect from a president. Those who thought he’d grow in office or who perpetually think he’s “pivoting” or “becoming presidential” have engaged in dangerous delusion. One wonders how long we can muddle on with a president this unsuitable without provoking a constitutional or international calamity.